About This Blog

About The 'Socrates 4 Today' Project

Whether we like it or not, we all have important Life Choices to make, and these choices are largely ‘philosophical’ in nature. Knowing about some of the ideas of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle can help us all make more informed life choices today and live happier and more fulfilled lives as a result.

The Socrates 4 Today project is not an official group or institution of any kind, but rather an umbrella banner for a loose collection of friends (and occasionally friendly organisations) to carry out philosophy related activities. These friends all share the idea that the ancient (yet living) ‘real’ philosophy and wisdom of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle has relevance and importance for us all today.

While some of these friends might enjoy a more academic approach to this philosophy personally, they all share the view that philosophy is essentially a ‘practical’ subject, and is something to be applied to the way we live our lives – not just read about in a book. (Even Plato himself says, there is only so much you can learn about philosophy from a book!)

It is hoped that the Socrates 4 Today Project will help to make some of the central ideas and themes of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and some of the other Greek philosophers more relevant to a wider modern audience. ‘Real’ philosophy after all is said and done – is simply about giving people important tips for living a better, happier and more meaningful life. It is about making better and more informed Life Choices today.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

On the nature of Good and Evil - 01

Good and Evil – What is it?

       In the Phaedo, after Socrates has his chains removed, he says that he feels a pleasure from his legs where the chains had been just a short while before. He suggests that pain and pleasure may be part of the same thing - and perhaps joined together in some way with a common head. In other words, he suggests that these two opposites are connected in some way.  Indeed, in the Socratic thought, the connection of various opposites is a common thought - i.e. something can only become hot if it was cooler before; the fast running race horse must have been running slowly to begin with before it was running fast. We can think of many more smaller ‘particular’ examples of this connection of opposites by a common root or thread.
       However, also in the Phaedo, when Socrates gives his first ‘proof’ of why he thinks that the soul exists (from his five proofs) he talks about the proof of ‘generation of opposites’ and that life is generated from death, and vice versa. As a proof that the soul exists, I do not find this convincing, and my reasons are not important for the purposes of this short article on good and evil. Nevertheless, it does suggest another level of ‘opposites’ being connected in some way.

        So, when trying to decide what good and evil are and where they come from - one avenue of exploration and personal investigation is to consider whether good and evil are connected in some way.
       Secondly, we can consider whether good and evil are external forces acting in the world around us – or even throughout the universe. Are good and evil simply just human qualities – since we all seem to have the possibility of good and evil actions within us - but hopefully choose ‘good’ (or at least ‘relatively good’) actions over evil ones. Sometimes the situation gets a little blurred since if you killed 10 enemy soldiers in a war you might well receive a medal from your government for doing so. However, were you to kill the same 10 soldiers after the war had ended as they enjoyed a drink and discussed old stories of the war, you would be arrested and put on trial for murder.
       I would suggest that good and evil may simply be predominantly human qualities, since when the lioness kills the antelope to feed her Cubs - it is not considered an act of evil; but a man killing his neighbours for no apparent reason would probably be considered so by many. Similarly, when an earthquake kills 200 people we do not consider it as an act of evil. However, when the religious fanatic blows up a passenger aeroplane, or leaves a bomb in a bar full of young people enjoying a drink or a concert, then we do regard the killing of the 200 people as an act of evil. As in most philosophical thought, the practical details appear important; or are good and evil ‘absolutes’ of ‘perfect ideas’ and therefore never changing?
       Now in traditional platonic thought (or at least as suggested by the later commentator Proclus some 800 years after Plato) evil as such does not exist; since the whole universe in his view flows out of the one source of everything; and that one source is always good. In this view, evil does not exist - only a lack or even complete absence of the ‘the good’.  In regard to our human concept of evil and evil actions by some people; this idea suggests that evil actions are simply a lack of ‘good judgement’ or the inability to make a ‘good’ rational choice. For example, an otherwise good man might kill another man in a moment of anger - and thus have committed an evil act as a lack of good judgement; and he would no doubt regret his action the following day. Similarly, but somewhat differently, the madman who kills his neighbour over a minor matter would be lacking the healthy and good mind in order to make a good rational choice. Even if he  did not regret his action the next day if in a confused and unstable mental state, in many ways it would be hard to define his actions as a result of some ‘evil power’ operating within the universe, or at least within anthropomorphic part of it. The man was simply unwell and lacking a good healthy mind to make a reasonable action.
       Most organised religions with influence in our modern day promote the idea of evil as being some kind of divine power and give various explanations of how it came into being in the first place (fallen angles etc), and how it operates - and who it operates on and through.
       The above few short paragraphs offer no clear answers – but simply allow us to start our investigation of evil. Socrates advises us in many of his conversations with people, that is wise before you start to discuss something, that you define exactly what you mean by the term being discussed - i.e. evil in this case. Is it a divine and malignant force operating in the universe (as suggested in the Star Wars movies or some major organised religions today) that affects us all if we are not very careful; or is it simply when human beings make badly judged or irrational actions.
       Additionally, if good and evil are in some way linked (as are pain and pleasure as previously discussed above regarding the removal of Socrates chains) it would suggest that all of us have the potential for evil thoughts and deeds unless we are careful with our thoughts and actions - and have control and discipline over our desires, tempers, and other emotions. We might do well therefore, to consider ways that encourage us and help us to keep our emotions under control; and how to avoid things that slowly lead us towards bad and evil acts. For example, the police officer who accepts a small bribe this month from a drug dealer for a small favour- is likely to find him or herself is at risk a month or 2 later of being forced to take another bribe for a much more serious favour. The person who makes small false declarations with their company expenses this month, is more likely in a month or 2 to make bigger force declarations - and risk losing their good name, job and most importantly for philosophers – VIRTUE.
       In my view, we have to be real careful about things that tempt us towards small acts of badness or corruption, since these small steps lead us down the start of a path that may be difficult to stop once we had started.
       As in Plato’s Phaedrus - the charioteer must try to use the horse which is good and noble, rather than that which is ugly, selfish, brutish, and bad in every other way.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

‘Plato’s Academy’ versus ‘The Platonic Academy’

‘Plato’s Academy’ versus ‘The Platonic Academy’

(the quickest of summaries….)

Extract below taken from James’ Monday night talk in Athens:
'Socrates, Plato, Know Yourself and Live Moderately’.

     Although tonight is not a history lesson – I do want to give you now just a few dates and facts now about Socrates and Plato. Socrates lived for 69 or 70 years and died 400 b.c.e. [….or 399 to be precise with the dates... which in most ways we do not need to be as philosophers - rather than historians)   So if we do the maths …. 400’ish B.C.E. less 70 - means Socrates was born about 469 or 470 B.C.E.   Now Socrates had many students over the years – but he did not run a school and have loads of students like a regular teacher - or usually give talks to big groups of people. (There were just a few exceptions to this…)  He spoke to small groups of people and friends and to individuals mostly. As mentioned - the most well known of these friends and students was Plato – who was born about 40 years after Socrates – so that’s about 430 B.C.  (or 428 for those who like to be precise :)   The philosophical interaction and friendship between the two of them can only of lasted about 12 to 15 years at most – which is not a long time really.

     Yet; Socrates had a profound effect on Plato – who after Socrates death (when he was still only a young man about 30) started writing down the words and ideas of his teacher and friend Socrates in books – usually as short dialogues - between Socrates and whoever he was talking to at the time. (Incidentally - Socrates sentenced to death by suicide and Plato distraught and disgusted – but we won’t go into that this evening… It’s all in Plato’s book ‘Phaedo’ if you are interested.)

     Now there is quite rightly – much academic controversy about Plato’s books in the matter of how much of what he wrote was truly Socrates words and ideas – and how much was Plato giving his own views and ideas through the mouthpiece of Socrates in his books. Remember – as 90% of what we know about Socrates comes from the books of Plato this is pretty important if you are interested in this stuff. These days, most commentators on the subject agree that probably Plato’s earlier books were closer records of the words and ideas of Socrates - than perhaps some of his later books which may of contained some (or a lot depending on your point of view) of Plato’s own ideas and stories as well.  [My own opinion on this is….. he didn’t need a mouthpiece… + often obvious when he was or was not using Socrates mouth… eg Gorgias…]

     As well as writing these books about Socrates - 10 years after Socrates death – Plato now aged about 40 – decided to open a school for philosophy – and opens the first ever ‘academy’ – Plato’s Academy …. for general studies and the study of philosophy in its various forms. This is where the word ‘academy’ comes from – literally…. ( By the way - the site of this old academy – the first ‘academy’ in the world ever - is just a 15 minute bus ride out of the centre of Athens if you are interested…. and I can tell you how to get there later if you want.)

The School of Athens is one of the most famous frescoes by the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael. It is in the Vatican Museum of Rome - and is huge! Well worth the the trip...

     So this friend and student of Socrates ‘Plato’ opens his academy 10 years after Socrates death in 399/400 B.C. and this educational institution (and I emphasise the name ‘Plato’s Academy’ ) then carries on almost uninterrupted as a place of learning in Athens– for about 400 years until 86 BCE when this original academy was closed and destroyed during the Mithridatic Wars– and the students and teachers scattered to some other cities – notably to Alexandria in Egypt.

     Then another 400 years or so later – in about 410 CE some other philosophers, now usually referred to as the Neo-Platonists, opened a new philosophy school calling it ‘the Platonic Academy’ – and in many ways revived the interest in the written texts of Plato – although some of the interpretations of the texts they gave have been controversially received by modern commentators. Some respected commentators say that the Neo-Platonists (such as Proclus) have helped to explain the deeper and hidden meanings within Plato’s original texts; but other respected commentators would say they have added their own later interpretations to the texts and have nothing much of value to add to our understanding of Plato’s writing - and indeed the central ideas of Socrates. Like many arguments, as indeed Socrates himself says in the Phaedo, there are probably good and bad points in both points of view. This is a pretty involved discussion and not one we need to concern ourselves with in any depth this evening – but something just to make you aware of. In any case this new later Platonic Academy came to an end in 529 CE when the Roman Emperor Justinian closed all the philosophical schools in Athens, of which there were several – and not just this new ‘Platonic Academy’.

     Let’s also consider all the schools, colleges and universities around the world today that study Socrates and Plato in one way or another….

     Now what on earth did all these old Platonic academies back then - and modern schools and colleges around the world today study -  and what was it about Socrates and Plato that so many people worldwide have found so important for so long?

Are You a Philosopher?

If you ‘wonder’ about things and have the curiosity to find out when your do not know something then you are a philosopher. Philosophy is simply the love of wisdom and trying to make ourselves a little bit wiser as we go through life. However, we will need to search for wisdom in a range of topics and areas unless we have enough curiosity to find things out: 'to wonder I suppose'.

By clicking onto this website and similar ones; by reading books on the various subjects raised; attending some lectures from time to time, or simply by just talking to your friends about various important subjects you start to become philosophers as well.

The only other thing that you really need to be a philosopher is to keep an open mind on various subjects - but especially ‘the truth’ of all things as the years go by. We must also know that sometimes we do not know all the answers – and therefore need to investigate a subject further.

Socrates said that: ‘the un-investigated life is not worth living’.

Face to Face Philosophical Activities with James & Socrates 4 Today.

Socrates deliberately chose to keep his philosophical conversations with his students and friends an oral tradition and to discuss his philosophy face to face with them. He chose not to write things down at all for a wider audience (i.e. books) and clearly had his reasons for taking this approach. In keeping with this wisdom, talks are organised ‘‘face to face’ in Athens and Delphi in Greece, and occasionally in London, for small informal talks, discussions and philosophical walks.

Socrates never charged money for his teaching and time and most talks and other activities organised by James under the 'Socrates 4 Today' banner are usually without any charge or fee for people who come along.

(Kindly note that details of talks and events arranged by various other individuals and organisations are sometimes posted on this blog for information purposes – and ticket charges may apply in these cases.)

The current face to face activities outlined below are very informal - with other like-minded people who are simply interested in understanding Socrates, Plato and Aristotle or indeed “life” just a little better and finding their own unique philosophical or spiritual path.

Current Activities Include:

1.Introductory Talks and 'Walks with Talk' in Athens and Delphi - Greece

Regular programs of introductory talks, and pedestrian 'walks with talk' are organised in Athens and occasionally in Delphi or London. The talks are very informal and usually followed by a discussion of the philosophical issues raised. “Click” for Details of Talks for 2016 + 2017

2. Coffee, Philosophy and Perhaps A Little Greek Salad.

James regularly meets individual visitors to Athens and Delphi (and sometimes London) - to drink a beer or a coffee and chat “without template” about the ‘real’ Greek philosophy (and spirituality) of Socrates and the ancient Greeks or to answer various other questions people may have.

3. Skype Sessions

As well as a growing number of face to face opportunities to discuss philosophy, James and the Socrates 4 Today network of friends can arrange to discuss philosophy on line using Skype where distance prevents face to face meetings.

For further details contact jamesdelphi2000@gmail.com

Embryonic Activities:

The Little Academy of Athens ©

The ancient Greeks had a saying that if you want to do something well: 'Start and finish with the hearth', and it is at the hearth (the kitchens and fireplaces of our homes) that The Little Academy of Athens has started its small and informal school/s for ‘real’ Greek philosophy. The rationale is that if a little house was sufficient for the great Socratic philosopher Proclus to keep Plato's Academy and ideas alive in Athens during the 5th century CE - then it is certainly sufficient for the friends of the Socrates 4 Today project to meet and discuss various subjects and deepen their knowledge in the search for wisdom, truth and perhaps even philosophical enlightenment. Over time it is hoped more and more friends of ‘real’ philosophy will pass through the The Little Academy of Athens, and as a result, shine more brightly and consistently in their own part of the world.

Reviews of Unusual and Interesting Books Associated With Socrates

Atticus the Storyteller's 100 Greek Myths (by Lucy Coats)

This is a great book for anyone who enjoys reading to their children at bedtime, or wants to try and get their children to read more a bit more by themselves. Interesting, enchanting, inspiring, all at the same time. Beautifully produced and with great illustrations to keep young eyes turning the pages. Good clear English for youngsters who want to improve their English language skills as well. (Many of these myths are pillars of our culture and way of life)

See: 100 Greek Myths for Children

'Travels In Elysium' by Williamk Azuski.

'The Travels' starts with the simple premise of young Nicholas ‘Nico’ Pedrosa taking his first job as an assistant at an archaeological dig on Santorini in Greece. However, within just a few pages William Azuski has begun adding the many layers of intrigue and mystery which he develops throughout his well crafted and philosophically thought provoking book. Nico tries to work out whether his new boss and would be mentor, Marcus Huxley, really will find new levels or reality and truth hidden under the deep volcanic ash of the ancient Minoan eruption; or whether it is just a wild obsession with Plato’s World of Ideas and Forms, the Orphic Mysteries, and “all things ancient Greek and metaphysical” that drives Huxley forward. Surely no personal or greater good can come from the situation Nico finds himself in or Huxley's dubious methods; or can it? One cannot help but keep turning the pages to find out.

See: The Travels

'Plato For Beginners' by Robert Cavalier.

Robert Cavalier’s little book with cartoons and pictures puts Plato into "bite size chunks" for young people, and this is certainly one of the aims of this blog. Cavalier's book encourages people to go out and read a bit more and so it deserves a mention on this blog. This short book will be of interest to all 'beginners' of Socratic philosophy – whether young and old - if they want to get a quick overview of what the subject is about. There are a few small points where I think a mistake has been made, and certainly a few spelling mistakes - but what the heck - the cartoons are very good. Ideal stocking filler for young philosophers!

See: Plato for Beginners

'Socrates and Plato & Their Essential Tip for Young International Travellers' by James Head.

Socrates and Plato are without doubt two of the best known philosophers and thinkers from ancient Athens or indeed any other period of history including our own. Why is it that they are still so well known today, and what is it really that makes them such important people? These are just some of the questions I hope to answer for you in this first book of three understandable essays for general readers.

Keep in mind right from the start that philosophy after all is said and done, is simply about giving people tips for living a good life or a better more fulfilling kind of life. Socrates was quite simply a wonderful teacher about life in its various shapes and forms; which is what ‘real’ philosophy is all about. ‘Where am I and where do I want to go?’ - are the fundamental philosophical questions for Socrates summed up in the Delphi Maxim or phrase: ‘Know Thyself’. I hope this book will start to explore some of these questions for you, as well as giving you a good idea of what Socrates and Plato were all about and why their advice or ‘tips’ are still worth our consideration today.

The three essays move progressively deeper into the philosophy of Socrates and Plato for those who wish to know a little more. After a general introduction to what ‘real’ Greek philosophy actually is in the traditional Socratic sense, the first essay looks at the essential question of ‘Know Thyself’ and talks about Plato’s book The First Alcibiades. Interestingly, this was also the first book that new students at Plato’s Academy began with – so it is undoubtedly a good place for us to start. The second essay is appropriately titled: ‘The Nuts and Bolts of Plato’ and looks at some important ideas and themes which crop up in many of Plato’s books. By the end of this second essay you will have a very good ‘general idea’ of what Socrates and Plato were all about.

Finally, the third essay discusses Plato’s book The Phaedrus in some detail. As described within the previous essays, Plato can be thought of as a poetic writer who often adds several layers of meaning to his books. The Phaedrus can simply be read as a description of what it means to fall hopelessly in love with someone; or it can be read as a road map to philosophical enlightenment. As described at the start of this final essay, this is one of the many choices we all have to make for ourselves. (Regular free offers - See top right of this blog page for details.)

See: Essential Tips for Young Travellers

Let me know if you would like to add a book review in the above section of the Socrates 4 Today blog.

Why Not Spend 3 Days In Delphi ?

Why Not Spend 3 Days In Delphi ?
I guess many philosophers like to walk in 'special' places like Delphi....