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, 18 February 2017

Socrates advises us to 'Know Thyself' - or do we already know what we are ?

My previous blog post discussed the idea of 'double ignorance' and the essential two qualities a philosopher needs being to 'wonder' about things and to have the curiosity to find out things when we do not know. This blog post develops this theme with a quick look at Plato's book: The First Alcibiades - where the question is posed: Do we really know 'what' the human being is?  This question in Socratic philosophy is often summarised as the need for us all to 'Know Thyself'.....

'Socrates points out to Alcibiades that unless we are aware (or at least 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 that area. Socrates says, as discussed in the introduction to this book, that we will fall into the trap of being ‘doubly ignorant’. That is; firstly not knowing something; but secondly thinking that we do know about it so that we do not even bother to inform ourselves and correct this lack of knowledge. Incidentally, an ancient Oracle (places where the future was predicted and where questions about all sorts of things were thought to be answered by the Gods) once said, when asked who was the wisest man alive, that it was in fact Socrates. This confused Socrates a great deal, and the only reason he could come up with for the Oracle’s answer was that at least he knew he knew nothing which made him a lot wiser than the people who thought they knew about things when clearly they did not.
It is no problem if we do not know something – providing we realise we do not know. These days we consult lawyers and solicitors on legal matters, and accountants about financial matters. We know we are not experts in these areas and so we consult with people who are trained and experienced with these specialist subjects. We talk to doctors about medical matters, and mechanics about problems with our cars. It is normal to do so and it is no big problem not to 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. Presidents and Prime Ministers have whole teams of specialist advisors in different areas where they know they have little or no specialist expertise or experience themselves.

All simple enough so far….. Socrates has made Alcibiades admit to himself that he lacks knowledge and experience - with politics and affairs of State in this case. However, then Socrates goes a step further by discussing that if we are going to teach ‘ourselves’ about things or otherwise look after ourselves wisely (i.e. make the best Life Choices for ourselves), then we better have some understanding at least of what ‘the self’ actually is, and this is truly what ‘Knowing Thyself’ is all about. Socrates agrees that you have to know where you are before starting a philosophical path (or any other path); but he says it is also important to know ‘what you are’, and this is what it truly means to Know Thyself in the Socratic sense. Socrates is asking:
How can we look after something well (including ourselves) if we do not even know what it is?
So what does Socrates say ‘the self’ is; or in other words: what kind of creatures are we? Well he discusses with Alcibiades that there is obviously a difference between someone taking care of their shoes and taking care of their feet. He says that the shoes are merely added on to the feet and are not the actual feet them self. Similarly, he mentions that rings are merely added on to the hands and are not the hands or indeed the actual person themselves. Alcibiades agrees as Socrates explains by asking him more short questions to answer. Socrates then points out that there is a difference between the tools a craftsman uses, such as a shoemaker using a knife to cut the leather, and the shoemaker himself. In the same way the musical instrument the musician uses is different to the actual musician who again only makes use of the instrument. Such things are only used by the 'self' and Socrates wants Alcibiades to understand the distinction between the person them self and the things he or she merely uses. Of course Alcibiades agrees to these examples, and this may all seem very obvious to us and perhaps unnecessary for Socrates to explain to Alcibiades. However, Socrates is creating universals or universal principles and truths in his young student’s mind. Socrates is getting Alcibiades to follow his path of logic and the steps of his argument one step at a time, almost like a geometric mathematical proof. (Perhaps this is another reason why Plato wrote those strange words above the entrance to his Academy?)
Socrates then makes the distinction between the eyes and hands that a shoemakers or musician makes use of compared to the shoemaker and musician themselves. Alcibiades agrees that the shoemaker and musician merely use their hands and eyes but that they are not actually the shoemaker or musician. He goes on to explain that this is the same with the arms, legs, feet, etc. that while they are used by the musician and the shoemaker they are not the actual musician or shoemaker themselves; they are just added on to whatever the musician or shoemaker actually is ‘in essence’ and are merely used by them. Let me now quote direct from Plato's dialogue what comes next (First Alcibiades-129c/d):
SOCRATES: But the tool is not the same as the cutter and user of the tool?
ALCIBIADES: Of course not.
SOCRATES: And in the same way the instrument of the harper (musician) is to be distinguished from the harper himself?
ALCIBIADES: It is.
SOCRATES: Now the question which I asked was whether you conceive the user to be always different from that which he uses
ALCIBIADES: I do.
SOCRATES: Then what shall we say of the shoemaker? Does he cut with his tools only or with his hands?
ALCIBIADES: With his hands as well.
SOCRATES: He uses his hands too?
ALCIBIADES: Yes.
SOCRATES: And does he use his eyes in cutting leather?
ALCIBIADES: He does.
SOCRATES: And we admit that the user is not the same with the things which he uses?
ALCIBIADES: Yes.
SOCRATES: Then the shoemaker and the harper are to be distinguished from the hands and feet which they use?
ALCIBIADES: Clearly.
SOCRATES: And does not a man use the whole body?
ALCIBIADES: Certainly.
SOCRATES: And that which uses is different from that which is used?
ALCIBIADES: True.
SOCRATES: Then a man is not the same as his own body
ALCIBIADES: That is the inference. 
SOCRATES: What is he, then? 
ALCIBIADES: I cannot say. [i.e. I don't know... ]
Just notice that as soon as Alcibiades says: 'I cannot say' or 'I don't know' he suddenly ceases to be doubly ignorant on this matter. He had always assumed that he at least knew what he was - and so had not thought about it much. Socrates with his questions has suddenly made him realise that he does not really know 'what' he is, and that it is something he needs to investigate and think about from now on.'
From Essay 1 of James’ new book ‘Life Choice – Important Tips From Socrates, Plato and Aristotle’ (p. 25 – 27)

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....