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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.

Monday, 4 June 2012

"Know Thyself" - Socrates advises Alciabades - who wants to put himself forward for political office.

Part A - The Importance to “Know Thyself” (and to Know What the “Self” Actually Is) – and then Part B - Tips On How To Find the Correct Spiritual Path for You.

The following two blog posts were originally written as one evening presentation - talk. I think its easier to divide this talk into two seperate blog posts - hence the occassional reference such as: 'thanks for coming this evening.... etc'.

Part A - Socrates Encourages Alcibiades to “Know Thyself”.


I think it is a well accepted phrase among spiritual people that they are somehow “following the path” – or at least that they feel they should be. But what does this mean for people who find themselves a little bit lost – and maybe bewildered or overwhelmed by the necessities and expectations of our modern Western Society.

Where can we find “the path”?
Where should we look?
Does it matter which path we choose?

These are all questions that many people ask themselves and especially people in their mid-twenties and older.

It would be a lie if I said that I thought the answers to the above and similar questions were easy or fast ….. that we could find peace of mind and lasting satisfaction by the quick read of a prescribed book, or the application of an all encompassing – one size fits all – regime of spiritual practice as offered by some traditional mainstream religious organizations. The reality perhaps is more complicated…. and perhaps the truth is that we are all unique individuals – all finding ourselves in a unique place – and after personal contemplation - all having a different ideal destination or goal for our lives. If this is the case, my belief is that these things (like finding the path) will usually take time and some effort to discover. This is perhaps a little out of “fashion” for many people in our instant material gratification – “I want it now” western society. We seem to be getting out of the habit of waiting for things or gradually working towards things. For example, we no longer save for a new car or TV we get it today – often on credit. Similarly, I saw an advert for magic mushrooms called “Old Philosopher” offering “instant enlightenment”. Although mushrooms are not my thing – instant enlightenment for 3 dollars a hit does not sound bad………. or I am afraid……. believable.

Our task of finding the spiritual path is also made harder with things like the influence of the TV and much other media – and the education system also doing its part in the pre conditioning of young people to “do well” in the modern material and excessively consumerist world. These things seem to do their very best to obscure and hide the spiritual path from people – and indeed ridicule anyone who seeks “the truth” or wishes to explore different ways of living – perhaps with slightly different goals for their lives than what the consumer led society offers us – or increasingly “requires” of us. What I am in fact suggesting is that truly finding the spiritual path and then following it is not quite as easy as some people make out.

In order to appreciate some of the key tasks necessary in finding the path perhaps we should imagine a lost tourist standing on a busy street corner in an unfamiliar big city. The tourist turns the big map one way and another trying to work out what to do and which way to go. In as sense this is a very straightforward example of someone trying to find his or her path. Imagine also that this is an inexperienced or novice tourist – in a strange city – outside of their usual familiar comfort zone – where what to do and where to go have always been easy for them – or pre-conditioned for them since an early age. As the tourist keeps turning the map one way and another they seem just to get more and more confused.

You see there are two essential pieces of information the tourist needs in order to find the path using the map. Of course they need to know where they want to go on the map. Whether they want to go back to the hotel or to the museum obviously makes a difference to the path. However, the first thing the tourist really needs to know in order to work out the right path is: “Where Am I?” This is the first question they need to ask – since if they know where they are – and secondly where they want to go – the task of finding the way in between is much easier. That is why at London underground and other metro stations around the world there are often local street maps on the walls near the exits of the metro stations – and usually in big red letters it says: “YOU ARE HERE !” 

Returning to our main theme – finding the correct spiritual path – it is my opinion that perhaps there are several possible fine philosophical or spiritual paths to follow. However, before people assume that fine philosophies must surely come from exotic lands in far away places, I would like to remind them that there is also a very fine and richly documented philosophic tradition closer to home in Europe. For simplicity I shall refer to this as the ancient Greek philosophy of Socrates and Plato. I say this for simplicity because ancient Greece has several other very influential philosophers with their own philosophies separate to the Socratic-Platonic tradition. In addition, Socrates the teacher and mentor of Plato was well aware of many other Greek and foreign philosophers who preceded him – and these were obviously an influence on him one way or another. In the same way, following on after Plato many other philosophers commentated on and developed his ideas – Plotinus and Proclus being two very notable examples. Indeed many Platonic ideas can be traced into early Christian thought.

Now I mention the Socratic-Platonic Greek tradition for an important reason; which is that they put a great deal of emphasis on that first essential question in finding our spiritual paths: “Where Am I?” For convenience, I will say that the way they dealt with this was that they emphasised the phrase “Know Thyself” – which incidentally was one of the two statements written above the entrance of the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, Greece which was the spiritual heart of Greece. The Socratic-Platonic tradition emphasises that in order to begin any spiritual or philosophical path we must first know who we are – and furthermore “WHAT” we are. As I mentioned earlier – for many of us – getting to know ourselves and who we are deep inside and what makes us tick – often takes a little time, effort and emotional pain.

So what do Socrates and Plato have to tell us to help us find our path and know ourselves? Without getting too bogged down in historical dates and details it is perhaps interesting to know that Socrates was put on trial in Athens in 399 B.C. – then aged 70 – and received the death penalty in that year for “trumped” up charges. I guess his student and friend Plato was about 28 by then. Within 12 years or so of this event Plato aged about 40 set up his “Academy” in Athens in 387 B.C. for the general advancement of education and learning – and the study of the ideas of his teacher Socrates. Plato wrote more than 20 books – usually in the form of “Dialogues” between Socrates and his various students and friends – in order to make a written record of Socrates’ ideas and conversations. Traditionally, Plato’s writing are grouped into 3 groups being early, middle, and later period writings. His earlier works are generally thought to be truer recordings of Socrates’ teachings, while middle and later writings are thought more and more to include Plato’s own ideas although he often supposedly portrayed these ideas as being spoken by Socrates in his dialogues. (You may remember that Socrates is believed to have written nothing and we only know of Socrates ideas through a few sources – by far the most important being Plato’s writings.)

In England many people understandably take pride in educational institutions such as Oxford and Cambridge which have both been around for some 500 years. Imagine then the scene in Athens during the 5th century A.D. about 1500 years ago. Plato’s Academy by say 450 A.D. is some 837 years old – an unbroken seat of learning for all this time. It has by now become primarily a place for the study of philosophy and the texts of its founder Plato. The headmaster or principal of the Academy is a philosopher called Proclus – and the school has been moved to Proclus’ modest house to avoid the unwanted attention and possible danger from the Christian authorities then in power in Athens….. Incidentely, Proclus died around 485 c.e. and one of the first exhibits you see on the way into the New Acropolis Museum is about his little house where Plato’s Academy was then based. Anyway; at Plato’s Academy by then it had become an established tradition that the first book of Plato that the new students (young men and women) studied was a book called: ‘The First Alcibiades’. This was because it encouraged and emphasised to the new students the importance of “KNOW THYSELF” and the importance of asking ourselves: “Where We Are” so that we can start our philosophical or spiritual path from a realistic place and in the correct way. At Plato’s Academy some 800 years after its foundation – it was viewed as essential to KNOW THYSELF first and indeed to contemplate and discuss what we actually are and indeed what the “self” actually is.

What then is The First Alcibiades all about and why is it (or just its message) an important part of helping us today to find our often hard to find and obscured spiritual and practical paths for life (?) Well, as mentioned the dialogue is about us first getting to know ourselves. The dialogue is a conversation between a middle aged Socrates and Alcibiades as a young man – about 20’ish we suppose. Alcibiades has taken it into his head to try and “do well” in political life. Quite possibly this notion of “doing well” included a fair bit of doing well for him or her self as with many politicians from then to now. Socrates stops Alcibiades on the very day he is heading towards the city centre to put himself forward for political office. Although Socrates and Alcibiades have known and seen each other around regularly for many years – indeed since Alcibiades’ childhood – Socrates has not spoken to Alcibiades for a year or two at any length for divinely inspired reasons as Socrates explains. There are many interesting points and ideas raised in this short dialogue of Plato but I shall try and select just those especially relevant to knowing ourselves and finding the path we seek….

Firstly, Socrates asks Alcibiades what he thinks he has to offer the people of Athens if he becomes a political statesman for them. What special skills, abilities or experience does he have to do the job he is seeking? Through his usual questioning technique Socrates uncovers and encourages Alcibiades to admit that actually he does not know anything about political matters – negotiations or the affairs of state etc. [What’s new? ]
Socrates then gives examples along the lines of whether we would let someone
fix our car unless they were trained or experienced mechanics; or whether we should let someone perform a medical operation on us unless they are trained or experienced doctors? So why – Socrates asks Alcibiades – would we want someone to run the city or country for us who did not have any training or experience in these matters. (Perhaps we would do well to ask some of our modern day would be politicians or ministers similar questions. ?)

Socrates points out to Alcibiades that unless we are aware (or have it pointed out to us) that we do not know something…. we will not try to find out about that thing and try to correct our lack of knowledge in a particular subject. He says we will fall into the trap of being “DOUBLY IGNORANT” – That is; firstly not knowing something; and secondly thinking we do know about something or have the appropriate skills – so that we do not bother to inform ourselves and correct this lack of knowledge. Simply put; this is why for example we consult lawyers and solicitors on legal matters. We know we are not experts in this area and so we consult with people who are trained and experienced experts in this area. It’s no big problem if you do not know something – providing you are aware of it and indeed admit it to yourself and others when necessary. In modern day life we consult “experts” on a whole range of subjects. (It’s why I no longer even try to repair my car. These days I know I don’t know how.)

All simple enough so far… Socrates through his questioning technique has made Alcibiades admit that he lacks knowledge and experience on a whole range of issues. But then Socrates goes further by discussing that if we are going to teach ourselves or otherwise inform ourselves wisely about things – then we better have some understanding at least of what “the self” actually is…. and that this is truly what “Knowing Thyself” is about.

So what does Socrates say “the self” is ? Well he discusses with Alcibiades that there is a difference between taking care of our shoes and taking care of our feet. He says that the shoes are merely “appurtenant to the feet. Similarly he mentions that rings are merely appurtenant to the hands and are not the hands themselves.

Socrates then points out the difference between the tools a craftsman uses – such as a shoemaker using a knife to cut the leather – being different to the craftsman them self. In the same way the musical instrument is different to the musician themself. This may seem obvious to us and perhaps unnecessary for Socrates to explain; but Socrates is creating “universals” or universal principles and truths in his young students mind.

Socrates then makes the distinction between the eyes and hands that shoemakers and musicians use compared to the shoemaker and musician themselves. He says - and in the light of the universals established Alcibiades agrees – that they are not the same thing.

Finally Socrates says (P.56 text): ‘And, does not a man use his whole body?’
Alcibiades replies: ‘most certainly’
Socrates then says: ‘A man therefore is a thing different from his body?’
Alcibiades replies: ‘It seems so’.
Socrates then asks: ‘What sort of a being then is a man?’
…. To which Alcibiades replies: ‘I know not’.

Socrates has really explained to Alcibiades that what we really are is our “souls” and that “knowing ourselves” is really about knowing that we are souls – and that to take good care of oneself (and be happy and lead the good and virtuous life etc) it is of primary importance to worry less about material possessions and celebrity etc – but to ensure that we take good care of our souls and live in a way that is good for the soul. For example, luxuries are only appurtenant to our bodies – and our bodies are in the end only appurtenant to our souls.

Well this may be all very easy to quote from Plato’s writings on Socrates – but what does it all mean to our lives today. What can we learn (either in specific details or general principles) about how to find our best unique spiritual path today….

Well let’s first ask ourselves a few practical questions and maybe discuss a few of your questions so far before I move on (part B follows… )

1. Firstly, do you believe that we human beings have a soul – and that the soul lives on after our body has died? It doe s not matter why or how you think or feel that. Now depending on what answer a person gives to this question – it will usually have a big effect on the way people live their lives….

-Now for those who “do” believe I ask this second question:

2. Do you believe that the kind of life we live or lead here on earth will somehow effect the way our souls go on after we die? ….. “Judgement” may be too strong a word maybe… I am just talking about a vague sense that “good” people who try to live “good” lives (however we then go on to define those terms) somehow benefit in some way when “we move on”.

3. Now for those who “do not” believe in a soul which goes on after death I ask this: Do you think that it is better to try and live in a “good and virtuous way” (as said – however we then go on to define that) rather than living in a greedy, selfish, non-caring way?

So whether we believe strongly in the existence of the soul – or maybe just a little – or even not at all – perhaps many of us can still agree that some ways of living are preferable to others. (Socrates was fairly modest about all his ideas after all. In another of Plato’s dialogues he says that even if he is mistaken and the soul does not go on – he still prefers to live a good and decent life than the life of a bad guy – so he has nothing to loose or fear either way.

Part B is: "Your Own Spiritual and Philosophical Path - And Tips How to Un-Cover It.

This is a more personal piece of writing by James - and refers less directly to Socrates and Plato. Therefore this piece appears on the blogg: "James' Philosophical Agora" at: 
 http://jamesphilosophicalagora.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/part-b-tips-on-how-to-uncover-your-own.html

Acknowledgements Re part A Above:

1)Thanks to Tim Addey of the Prometheus Trust for many ideas gained from his talks on “Know Thyself” and all things Socratic and Platonic. (See links)

PLATO'S ACADEMY AND ‘KNOW THYSELF’


Plato's academy was started in Athens around 387 BCE by Socrates' student and friend Plato. It was still going as a place of learning in the middle of the 5th century CE - some 850 years later, albeit with some breaks along the way. This enormously long period for the existence of an important place of learning cannot have been just by chance - or can it? Surely there must have been some important substance to the philosophy studied there that might perhaps be worth our attention today; just as much as any popular philosophy from more far away and seemingly exotic lands.


By say 450 CE the headmaster or principal of the Academy was a philosopher called Proclus – and the school had been moved to Proclus’ modest home in Athens to avoid the unwanted attention and possible danger from the Christian authorities then in power in Greece. Interestingly, one of the first exhibits you see on the way into the New Acropolis Museum in Athens today is about Proclus' little house where Plato’s Academy was based for some years during the 5th Century CE


It had become an established tradition by Proclus' time that the first book of Plato that the new students studied was usually a book called: ‘The First Alcibiades’. This was because it encouraged and emphasised to the new students the importance of the Delphi maxim 'Know Yourself' before starting any philosophical investigation or path. (Incidentally, the second maxim written above the entrance to the temple of Apollo in Delphi was 'Nothing to Excess') The new students were taught the importance of asking: 'Where am I and where am I going?’ – but even more importantly: 'What Am I and where did I come from?'


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....