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.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Grasping the Hidden Meanings and Main Themes in Plato

It is said that of all the Greek philosophers that Plato is the hardest to get a definite handle on. There is a story that shortly before his death he had a dream in which he was a swan and that people were chasing him with nets trying to catch him without success which seems to symbolise this point nicely. So why is this so, that it is difficult for anyone to get a definite fix on Plato and know exactly what he means in his writings. Well firstly, he usually writes in a wonderful rich poetic style, and as with most poets he fits many layers of meaning into the words and phrases he uses. Additionally, many of the subjects he talks about require a lot of contemplation from the reader themselves, and as a result, we all ‘kinda’ finish up with a slightly different opinion or feeling of what it was all about after we read one of his books, or even a small section of a book such as one of his wonderful myths or allegories.


Now Socrates did not like this idea at all, that people all went away with their own different idea about what he was trying to explain, and this is definitely one of the reasons Socrates had for not writing anything down for general circulation (i.e. books) although he may well have made some odd notes for his own use. Socrates preferred to discuss things face to face so that afterwards his friends, students, or other associates could ask questions and then leave him knowing exactly what he had meant. This is certainly not the situation for many of us after reading one of Plato's books.


Even Plato himself, this great ancient writer and poet, says quite definitely in his writings that the written word is inferior to the spoken word when it comes to explaining philosophical matters. And in a way we all agree with him anyway, otherwise teachers would not need to turn up for lessons but simply post the text of their lessons on their websites. Similarly, business people would not need to fly around the world for meetings – they could just send an email. In a way we all feel that the face to face spoken word method is usually best when trying to explain something, and that somehow it will offer greater insights than just reading about something. For example, we have all had experience of the limitations of emails for conveying personal matters.


So when we consider further this difficulty of getting a fix and definite understanding on Plato’s meanings, we need to keep in mind that there were different layers of meaning in his books rather like a poet. We also need to realise that some things were purposely veiled and hidden by Plato in his texts so as to allow only his more experienced and trusted students of philosophy reading them to understand them fully and receive the full wisdom hidden within them. This quite naturally begs the questions ‘why’ did he choose to do this, and 'what' was it that he only wanted trusted students to know. And sorry, it is only a question …. and just one of several questions I will leave hanging in the air during this essay for your own further consideration at some other time. Philosophy teachers (like maths teachers) tend to ask questions rather than just give out answers; and we all need to ask ourselves personally why Plato put in the veils and the hidden meanings.


Finally, on this rather mysterious point of hidden meanings,......


.........  Having made my above remarks about the difficulties of generalising about Plato’s meanings, let us now try and catch that elusive swan if we can and see what he is about. As mentioned I am going to divide Plato’s main ideas, or rather some central themes which occur often throughout his books into three main areas – metaphysics (literally meaning above physics laws), psyche and matters concerning the soul; and ethics – meaning more or less what is right and wrong in the way we live our lives as individuals and civil societies.


(From Essay 2  - 'The Nuts and Bolts of Plato' of James’ new book ‘Life Choice – Important Tips From Socrates, Plato and Aristotle’ - Extracts of p. 35 - 40)   

For more details and a description of this book click: Life Choices on amazon.com


Saturday, 20 May 2017

Socrates and Psyche - What Does It Mean to Be Human ?

......Now when I give this essay as a talk in Athens, I used to say jokingly that any atheists should cover up their ears for 90 seconds or so since I want to talk briefly about what Socrates has to say about the soul. However, as one young lady in my audience kindly reminded me at one of these talks, the Greeks used the word ‘psyche’ meaning literally ‘breath’ for the rational mind and inner self – which has been translated rather clumsily as ‘soul’ by most translators of the ancient Greek Platonic texts. Just keep in mind for now that the word psyche to the ancient Greeks did not have quite as much (or the same) religious baggage as the word soul has for us today. So atheists can feel comfortable about reading the next few paragraphs anyway, and I am grateful for the young lady in question for reminding me of the need to mention this point at this stage to any future listeners or readers. This point about psyche instead of soul is covered in a bit more detail in the next essay ‘The Nuts and Bolts of Plato’ and so I will not delay on this issue here.

What Socrates has explained to Alcibiades (in my previous blog post) is that what we (the self) actually are is ‘souls’ (psyche, essence) and that this ‘knowing ourselves’ is really about knowing that we are souls – at least according to Socrates and Plato. Socrates believes therefore that if anyone is going to take good care of, improve, or inform one’s ‘self’ better (and make better Life Choices for a good and happy life), then it is of primary importance to worry less about the material consumer type possessions and other man made possessions which are just added on to our bodies (like the shoes, the rings, the tools, the powerful political office, the titles and the celebrity) – but to ensure that we take good care of our souls and live in a way that is good for the soul. So the study of philosophy as it was meant by Socrates and Plato was not just about knowing on which date various famous philosophers were born, or what date Plato opened the Academy even though it might be interesting. Neither was it simply about what Socrates and Plato thought about democracy or how to organise the ideal city politically. Nor was the philosophy of Socrates and Plato simply about how to present clever arguments or discuss complicated abstract ideas. One of the central themes of Socratic philosophy was about how to look after our souls in the very best way we can, and nearly all the books of Plato deal with this subject in one way or another. For generations, many teachers of philosophy in schools and colleges have failed to make this clear to their students.

This idea that we need to look after our psyche or our souls may be all very easy to quote from Plato’s writings on Socrates, but what does it all mean to our lives today (if anything) and how can it help us, especially if we are not particularly spiritual people or even atheists. Let me try to explain by asking three quick rhetorical questions and then draw this first essay to a close. My first question is do you believe that we human beings have a soul, and that the soul somehow ‘kinda’ lives on after our body has died? It does not matter why or how you think or feel this but just whether you have that kind of feeling or not. I am not suggesting what answer is correct; but I do suggest that depending on the answer a person gives to this question, it will usually have a big effect on the way that person chooses to live their life.

Now my second question, just for those who do believe in something ‘up there’, is do you believe that the kind of life we live or lead here on earth will somehow affect the way our souls go on after we die? Judgment may be too strong a word maybe, since I am just talking about a vague sense that ‘good’ people who try to live ‘good’ lives somehow benefit in some way when or if we move on. (… and of course not everyone thinks that we do….)
My third and final rhetorical question is for those who do not believe in a soul which somehow goes on after death. Do you think that it is better to try and live your life in a good, kind, considerate, environmentally sustainable and virtuous way rather than living in a greedy, selfish, non-caring way? (Well of course you do – I hope!)

So my point is whether we believe strongly in the existence of the soul – or maybe just a little – or even not at all – perhaps we can all still agree that: ‘some ways of living are preferable to others’. The philosophy of Socrates and Plato is very much about trying to work out logically what those preferable ways of living are; whether they apply to us as individuals or to us as members of communities such as cities and countries; so there is plenty to interest atheists as well as spiritual people in ‘real’ Greek or Socratic philosophy.

Remember Socrates was very modest about all of his ideas, and this is one of the reasons personally why I really like him, and spend a little time investigating what he has to say on a few things, whether I agree with him or not. In another of Plato’s dialogues (The Phaedo) he says that even if he is mistaken and the soul does not exist and does not go on after death, he still prefers to live the life of a good and decent man rather than the life of a bad selfish guy, and so he says he has nothing to lose or fear either way by trying to make himself wiser and living the best type of life he can.

However, in contrast to this easy going attitude about his own ideas and whether you agree with him or not, Socrates also says that the un-examined life is not worth living. What he means by this is that providing ‘you wonder’ about a few things and realise when you do not know all the answers; and then assuming you have the curiosity to find out slowly about some of those issues; you will have started to become philosophers and lovers of wisdom yourself – as indeed Socrates hopes to persuade Alcibiades to be. If you then build up certain intellectual skills and techniques to examine things wisely and methodically you will be able to come up with your own well informed ideas and opinions on various subjects - and that is the most important thing to Socrates whether you agree with him or not. For then you will have become a little bit wiser as you go through life, and started to become real philosophers yourselves in the Socratic sense of the word. More importantly still, you will also have begun to ‘Know Yourself’' - and to know exactly where and what you are.....

FOOTNOTE:

Some important tips for young travellers, new philosophers or older searchers looking for the right path; and indeed for any lost tourists. (Actually, these were some of the discussion points for the end of my Athens talks on this subject. I include them now in case you would like to think about one or two of them while waiting for your next flight or train….. )
- Sometimes when appropriate, we are obliged to realise that we are in completely the wrong place we need to be in order to start the path we want.
- On long journeys, we only have to be a few degrees off course from the right direction we want to take, but after a while this can become a big mistake and we finish up in a completely different place to where we planned to go.
- Sometimes on the Athens metro we first need to get off the blue line to the airport – if we need or want to get on the green line to Piraeus and the port where the ferry boats leave to the Greek islands. The blue line metro will never get you close to the boats – it’s going somewhere else.
- Even when following the correct way of our own chosen path there are good places to turn left and right – or take a rest – as we go along. It is important to realise when these turns or breaks come along. (A little experience helps.)
- Changing course to go around a difficult obstacle, or taking a break for a while, is not the same as wavering from the path or somehow failing. Few paths are a simple straight and steady line - unfortunately!

(From Essay 1 of James’ new book ‘Life Choice – Important Tips From Socrates, Plato and Aristotle’ p. 30 - 34)  


See eBook at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1540552624  

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....