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, 6 April 2013

Phaedo - Some Thoughts - 01

I am in the process of re-reading the Phaedo where Socrates talks to a group of friends on the morning of his execution in his prison in Athens. These discussions are quite detailed (and timely as Socrates points out) since they are mostly about the soul and its immortality after physical death along with various related topics.  As usual, a number of these discussions and topics will stand out as being of particular interest to individual readers – at a particular moment in their lives - as is often the case with the writings of Plato. This short blog post of mine today merely wants to highlight a few small points that I found particularly interesting myself while reading a few pages of Phaedo again with my coffee this morning and indeed over the last couple of days.

Firstly, I thought Socrates encapsulated that modern feel very well for those people who have done any “spiritual searching”  themselves and have gone to one type of religious meeting after another offered by various groups such as those based on many different types of Christianity, Buddhism, or New Age style practices. 

Socrates recounts to his friends that once he heard someone reading from a book by the philosopher Anaxagoras that: ‘mind was the disposer and cause of all’ and that he [Socrates]: ‘rejoiced to think that I had found in Anaxagoras a teacher of the causes of existence such as I desired’. Unfortunately for Socrates – and I am sure for many modern day searchers for spiritual wisdom and fellowship – he continues a few lines later:
     ‘What expectations I had formed, and how grievously I was disappointed! As I proceeded , I found my philosopher altogether forsaking mind or any other principle of order, but having recourse to air, and ether, and water, and other eccentricities.’

The above few lines reminded me of the feelings I had myself as a young man of joining a new religious or philosophical organisation and then being disappointed as one goes further to find less and less substance holding up the deck of cards of their beliefs and practices. However, these few lines also sounded a very positive and harmonious note to me for the benefits of studying philosophy – being that by far the best and most honest solution for our search is a personal exploration of matters divine and spiritual – where one can discard those things that seem to be ‘improbable’ and hang on to those things that seem to be the most probable and plausible after a careful examination of any proposition and the alternatives personally. 

It seems also a good moment now to repeat an advice of mine to new students of Socrates and Plato – whether young or old – and that is not to even contemplate taking the whole corpus of Plato’s more spiritual writing and regarding it like some religious totalitarian doctrine to be swallowed in full without question or doubt - as is often the case with the doctrines offered by most of the more established religious organisations of today and previous years. No; this is not the way of the evolving “real” philosopher. It is much better for real platonic philosophers to accept some parts and disagree with other parts (and indeed perhaps to sit on the fence with other parts)  according to one’s own deliberations and explorations at a given period of time in their lives. (i.e. we may change or amend our views as the years go by and should not be afraid or too proud to do so….)

I should like now to raise one nagging difficulty I have with various explanations and descriptions of the soul that come up in the Phaedo dialogue and indeed throughout the works of Plato. If for the sake of argument we accept that the soul exists – then to my mind it most certainly is a very unusual and unique thing or perhaps kind of stuff. I therefore find explanations of the soul and its various attributes very weak if they make use of ‘universal principles’ as occurs often in Plato’s writings. For example, if one said that wardrobes, chairs, and tables are hard on the outside – it does not naturally follow on for me (and most others I suspect) that the soul is also hard on the outside. If one said that liquids such as tea, coffee and brandy need to be kept in a vessel to stop them simply dispersing away – it does not follow on to me that this also applies to the soul. In other words, unless we have a pretty good idea about what this soul stuff is in the first place – I think it is pretty hard to suggest what it can and cannot do and achieve with any kind of accuracy – or offer up an argument using examples from this ‘world of the senses’ as some kind of “proof” .

Talking of proofs - as a former high school maths teacher myself (but certainly no mathematician) – I have some idea of course about the use of mathematical proofs in order to support the truth of various hypothesise and proposals. However, in mathematics each proof usually relies on at least one accepted truth at its foundation. A simple example might be that if I take a scale and weigh 1 litre of wine – I can see that it weighs 1 kilogram. Now if somebody asks me what do you thing half as much wine (500 mls) weighs – I do not really have to speculate – but rather can calculate that it is 500 grams and I can explain why and offer a proof if needed. I can do this because the original starting point or truth (1000mls = 1 litre = 1 kilogram) is a rock solid foundation to start to build an endless number of examples on.

Explaining schoolboy maths and explaining the existence, immortality, and various lives and functions of the soul seem to be very different things to me – and the idea that by using any combination of words, arguments or examples from the sensible world one can claim to have proved something about the soul seems awkward at best to me.  This is not to say one cannot perhaps offer convincing reasons for choosing a personal position on these and similarly metaphysical matters.

I could not make a few quick comments on the Phaedo without mentioning a few favourite lines from Plato of many years standing that come up towards the end of the dialogue just after Socrates gives his frankly bizarre description of the soul’s passage through the underworld and giant rivers circling the earth. Just after this strange description are some simple but truly important lines to me which bind me to the texts of Plato and the philosophy of Socrates even if some of the descriptions appear hard to believe. Socrates says:
     ‘A man of sense ought not to say, nor will I be very confident that the description which I have given of the soul and her mansions is exactly true. But I do say that, inasmuch as the soul is shown to be immortal, he may venture to think, not improperly or unworthily, that something of the kind is true…’  [i.e. we can think of it in this way even if it is not ‘literally’ accurate … like most diagrams of atoms or molecules and a host of other ideas in any modern day science classroom.]

In conclusion, I am not sure that words alone will ever be able to prove the existence of the soul and its activities and qualities to anyone; let alone a sufficiently large number of people in the modern world.

What Do You Think? If not words, then what other ways are there? 


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....