Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

Sokrates & greek philosophy

Expand Messages
  • nekkid
    Below is a repost from newsgroups; occasionally one finds a treasure there amidst the chaff: If we may judge from the bust that has come down to us as part of
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 8, 2006
    • 0 Attachment
      Below is a repost from newsgroups; occasionally one finds a treasure
      there amidst the chaff:

      "If we may judge from the bust that has come down to us as part of
      the ruins
      of ancient sculpture, Socrates was as far from being handsome as even
      philosopher can be. A bald head, a great round face, deep-set staring
      a broad and flowery nose that gave vivid testimony to many a
      was rather the head of a porter than that of the most famous of
      philosophers. But if we look again we see, through the crudity of the
      something of that human kindliness and unassuming simplicity which
      made this
      homely thinker a teacher beloved of the finest youths in Athens. We
      know so
      little about him, and yet we know him so much more intimately than
      aristocratic Plato or the reserved and scholarly Aristotle. Across
      thousand three hundred years we can yet see his ungainly figure, clad
      in the same rumpled tunic, walking leisurely through the agora,
      by the bedlam of politics, buttonholing his prey, gathering the young
      the learned about him, luring them into some shady nook of the temple
      porticos, and asking them to define their terms.

      They were a motley crowd, these youths who flocked about him and
      helped him
      to create European philosophy. There were rich young men like Plato
      Alcibiades, who relished his satirical analysis of Athenian
      democracy; there
      were socialists like Antisthenes, who liked the master's careless
      and made a religion of it; there was even an anarchist or two among
      like Aristippus, who aspired to a world in which there would be
      masters nor slaves, and all would be as worrilessly free as Socrates.
      the problems that agitate human society to-day, and provide the
      material of
      youth's endless debate, agitated as well that little band of thinkers
      talkers, who felt, with their teacher, that life without discourse
      would be
      unworthy of a man. Every school of social thought had there its
      representative, and perhaps its origin.

      How the master lived hardly anybody knew. He never worked, and .he
      took no
      thought of the morrow. He ate when his disciples asked him to honor
      tables; they must have liked his company, for he gave every
      indication of
      physiological prosperity. He was not so welcome at home, for he
      his wife and children; and from Xanthippe's point of view he was a
      good-for-nothing idler who brought to his family more notoriety than
      Xanthippe liked to talk almost as much as Socrates did; and they seem
      have had some dialogues which Plato failed to record. Yet she, too,
      him, and could not contentedly see him die even after three-score
      years and

      Why did his pupils reverence him so? Perhaps because he was a man as
      well as
      a philosopher: he had at great risk saved the life of Alcibiades in
      and he could drink like a gentleman-without fear and without excess.
      But no
      doubt they liked best in him the modesty of his wisdom: he did not
      claim to
      have wisdom, but only to seek it lovingly; he was wisdom's amateur,
      not its
      professional. It was said that the oracle at Delphi, with unusual
      sense, had pronounced him the wisest of the Greeks; and he had
      this as an approval of the agnosticism which was the starting-point
      of his
      philosophy-"One thing only I know, and that is that I know nothing."
      Philosophy begins when one learns to doubt-particularly to doubt
      cherished beliefs, one's dogmas and one's axioms. Who knows how these
      cherished beliefs became certainties with us, and whether some secret
      did not furtively beget them, clothing desire in the dress of
      thought? There
      is no real philosophy until the mind turns round and examines itself.
      seauton, said Socrates: Know thyself.

      There had been philosophers before him, of course: strong men like
      and Heraclitus, subtle men like Parmenides and Zeno of Elea, seers
      Pythagoras and Empedocles; but for the most part they had been
      philosophers; they had sought for the physis or nature of external
      the laws and constituents of the material and measurable world. That
      is very
      good, said Socrates; but there is an infinitely worthier subject for
      philosophers than all these trees and stones, and even all those
      there is the mind of man. What is man, and what can he become?

      So he went about prying into the human soul, uncovering assumptions
      questioning certainties. If men discoursed too readily of justice, he
      them, quietly, (to ti?)-what is it? What do you mean by these
      abstract words
      with which you so easily settle the problems of life and death? What
      do you
      mean by honor, virtue, morality, patriotism? What do you mean by
      It was with such moral and psychological questions that Socrates
      loved to
      deal. Some who suffered from this "Socratic method," this demand for
      accurate definitions, and clear thinking, and exact analysis,
      objected that
      he asked more than he answered, and left men's minds more confused
      before. Nevertheless he bequeathed to philosophy two very definite
      to two of our most difficult problems-What is the meaning of virtue?
      What is the best state?

      No topics could have been more vital than these to the young
      Athenians of
      that generation. The Sophists had destroyed the faith these youths
      had once
      had in the gods and goddesses of Olympus, and in the moral code that
      taken its sanction so largely from the fear men had for these
      ubiquitous and
      innumerable deities; apparently there was no reason now why a man
      should not
      do as he pleased, so long as he remained within the law. A
      individualism had weakened the Athenian character, and left the city
      a prey
      at last to the sternly-nurtured Spartans. And as for the state, what
      have been more ridiculous than this mob-led, passion-ridden
      democracy, this
      government by a debating-society, this precipitate selection and
      and execution of generals, this unchoice choice of simple farmers and
      tradesmen, in alphabetical rotation, as members of the supreme court
      of the
      land? How could a new and natural morality be developed in Athens,
      and how
      could the state be saved?

      It was his reply to these questions that gave Socrates death and
      immortality. The older citizens would have honored him had he tried
      restore the ancient polytheistic faith; if he had led his band of
      emancipated souls to the temples and the sacred groves, and bade them
      sacrifice again to the gods of their fathers. But he felt that that
      was a
      hopeless and suicidal policy, a progress backward, into and not "over
      tombs." He had his own religious faith: he believed in one. God, and
      in his modest way that death would not quite destroy him; [Voltaire's
      of the two Athenians conversing about Socrates: "That if the atheist
      says there is only one God." Philosophical Dictionary,
      art. "Socrates."] but
      he knew that a lasting moral code could not be based upon so
      uncertain a
      theology. If one could build a system of morality absolutely
      independent of
      religious doctrine, as valid for the atheist as for the pietist, then
      theologies might come and go without loosening the moral cement that
      of wilful individuals the peaceful citizens of a community.

      If, for example, good meant intelligent, and virtue meant wisdom; if
      could be taught to see clearly their real interests, to see afar the
      results of their deeds, to criticize and coordinate their desires out
      of a
      self-cancelling chaos into a purposive and creative harmony-this,
      would provide for the educated and sophisticated man the morality
      which in
      the unlettered relies on reiterated precepts and external control.
      all sin is error, partial vision, foolishness? The intelligent man
      may have
      the same violent and unsocial impulses as the ignorant man, but
      surely he
      will control them better, and slip less often into imitation of the
      And in an intelligently administered society-one that returned to the
      individual, in widened powers, more than it took from him in
      liberty-the advantage of every man would lie in social and loyal
      and only clear sight would be needed to ensure peace and order and

      But if the government itself is a chaos and an absurdity, if it rules
      without helping, and commands without leading,-how can we persuade
      individual, in such a state, to obey the laws and confine his self-
      within the circle of the total good? No wonder an Alcibiades turns
      against a
      state that distrusts ability, and reverences number more than
      knowledge. No
      wonder there is chaos where there is no thought, and the crowd
      decides in
      haste and ignorance, to repent at leisure and in desolation. Is it
      not a
      base superstition that mere numbers will give wisdom? On the contrary
      is it
      not universally seen that men in crowds are more foolish and more
      and more cruel than men separate and alone? Is it not shameful that
      should be ruled by orators, who "go ringing on in long harangues,
      brazen pots which, when struck, continue to sound till a hand is put
      them"? Surely the management of a state is a matter for which men
      cannot be
      too intelligent, a matter that needs the unhindered thought of the
      minds. How can a society be saved, or be strong, except it be led by
      wisest men?

      Imagine the reaction of the popular party at Athens to this
      gospel at a time when war seemed to require the silencing of all
      and when the wealthy and lettered minority were plotting a
      Consider the feelings of Anytus, the democratic leader whose son had
      a pupil of Socrates, and had then turned against the gods of his
      father, and
      laughed in his father's face. Had not Aristophanes predicted
      precisely such
      a result from this specious replacement of the old virtues by

      *In The Clouds (423 B. c.) Aristophanes had made great fun of
      Socrates and
      his "Thinking-shop," where one learned the art of proving one's self
      however wrong. Phidippides beats his father on the ground that his
      used to beat him, and every debt should be repaid. The satire seems
      to have
      been good-natured enough: we find Aristophanes frequently in the
      company of
      Socrates; they agreed in their scorn of democracy; and Plato
      recommended The
      Clouds to Dionysius. As the play was brought out twenty-four years
      the trial of Socrates, it could have had no great share in bringing
      tragic denouement of the philosopher's life.

      Then the revolution came, and men fought for it and against, bitterly
      and to
      the death. When the democracy won, the fate of Socrates was decided:
      he was
      the intellectual leader of the revolting party, however pacific he
      himself have been; he was the source of the hated aristocratic
      he was the corrupter of youths drunk with debate. It would be better,
      Anytus and Meletus, that Socrates should die.

      The rest of the story all the world knows, for Plato wrote it down in
      more, beautiful than poetry. We are privileged to read for ourselves
      simple and courageous (if not legendary) "apology," or defence, in
      which the
      first martyr of philosophy proclaimed the rights and necessity of
      thought, upheld his value to the state, and refused to beg for mercy
      the crowd whom he had always contemned. They had the power to pardon
      him; he
      disdained to make the appeal. It was a singular confirmation of his
      theories, that the judges should wish to let him go, while the angry
      voted for his death. Had he not denied the gods? Woe to him who
      teaches men
      faster than they can learn.

      So they decreed that he should drink the hemlock. His friends came to
      prison and offered him an easy escape; they had bribed all the
      officials who
      stood between him and liberty. He refused. He was seventy years old
      now (399
      B. c.); perhaps he thought it was time for him to die, and that he
      never again die so usefully. "Be of good cheer," he told his
      friends, "and say that you are burying my body only." "When he had
      these words," says Plato, in one of the great passages of the world's

      he arose and went into the bath-chamber with Crito, who bade us wait;
      and we
      waited, talking and thinking of ... the greatness of our sorrow; he
      was like
      a father of whom we were being bereaved, and we were about to pass
      the rest
      of our lives as orphans. . . . Now the hour of sunset was near, for a
      deal of time had passed while he was within. When he came out, he sat
      with us again, . . . but not much was said. Soon the jailer...entered
      stood by him, saying: "To you, Socrates, whom I know to be the
      noblest and
      gentlest and best of all who ever came to this place, I will not
      impute the
      angry feelings of other men, who rage and swear at me when, in
      obedience to
      the authorities, I bid them drink the poison-indeed I am sure that
      you will
      not be angry with me; for others, as you are aware, and not I, are
      guilty cause. And so fare you well, and try to bear lighdy what must
      be; you know my errand." Then bursting into tears he turned away and

      Socrates looked at him and said: "I return your good wishes, and will
      do as
      you bid." Then turning to us, he said, "How charming the man is;
      since I
      have been in prison he has always been coming to see me, and now see
      generously he sorrows for me. But we must do as he says, Crito; let
      the cup
      be brought, if the poison is prepared; if not, let the attendant

      "Yet," said Crito, "the sun is still upon the hill-tops, and many a
      one has
      taken the draught late; and after the announcement has been made to
      him he
      has eaten and drunk, and indulged in sensual delights; do not hasten
      there is still time."

      Socrates said: "Yes, Crito, and they of whom you speak are right in
      thus, for they think that they will gain by the delay; but I am right
      in not
      doing thus, for I do not think that I should gain anything by
      drinking the
      poison a little later; I should be sparing and saving a life which is
      already gone; I could only laugh at myself for this. Please then to
      do as I
      say, and not to refuse me."

      Crito, when he heard this, made a sign to the servant; and the
      servant went
      in, and remained for some time, and then returned with the jailer
      the cup of poison. Socrates said: "You, my good friend, who are
      in these matters, shall give me directions how I am to proceed." The
      answered: "You have only to walk about until your legs are heavy, and
      to lie down, and the poison will act." At the same time he handed the
      cup to
      Socrates, who in the easiest and gentlest manner, without the least
      fear or
      change of color or feature, looking at the man with all his eyes, as
      manner was, took the cup and said: "What do you say about making a
      out of this cup to any god? May I, or not?" The man answered: "We
      prepare, Socrates, just so much as we deem enough." "I understand,"
      he said;
      "yet I may and must pray to the gods to prosper my journey from this
      to that
      other world-may this then, which is my prayer, be granted to me."
      holding die cup to his lips, quite readily and cheerfully he drank

      And hitherto most of us had been able to control our sorrow; but now
      when we
      saw him drinking, and saw too that he had finished the draught, we
      could no
      longer forbear, and in spite of myself my own tears were flowing
      fast; so
      that I covered my face and wept over myself; for certainly I was not
      over him, but at the thought of my own calamity in having lost such a
      companion. Nor was I the first, for Crito, when he found himself
      unable to
      restrain his tears, had got up and moved away, and I followed; and at
      moment Apollodorus, who had been weeping all the time, broke out into
      a loud
      cry which made cowards of us all. Socrates alone retained his
      "What is this strange outcry?" he said. "I sent away the women mainly
      order that they might not offend in this way, for I have heard that a
      should die in peace. Be quiet, then, and have patience." When we
      heard that,
      we were ashamed, and restrained our tears; and he walked about until,
      as he
      said, his legs began to fail, and then he lay on his back, according
      to the
      directions, and the man who gave him the poison now and then looked
      at his
      feet and legs; and after a while he pressed his foot hard and asked
      him if
      he could feel; and he said, "No"; and then his leg, and so upwards
      upwards, and showed us that he was cold and stiff. And then Socrates
      them himself, and said, "When the poison reaches the heart, that will
      be the
      end." He was beginning to grow cold about the groin, when he
      uncovered his
      face (for he had covered himself up) and said,-they were his last
      words,-"Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius; will you remember to pay
      debt?" "The debt shall be paid," said Crito; "is there anything
      else?" There
      was no answer to this question; but in a minute or two a movement was
      and the attendant uncovered him; his eyes were set, and Crito closed
      eyes and mouth.

      Such was the end of our friend, whom I may truly call the wisest, the
      justest, and best of all the men whom I have ever known."

      The Story of Philosophy
      The Lives and Opinions of the Great Philosophers of the Western World
      by WILL DURANT

    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.