September 20, 2006
In our ongoing discussion of Plato's Republic, the main character, Socrates, has been taking the certainties of his dinner partners and tearing them to shreds with his inimitable questioning method. What's the purpose of doing so?
As we said: to get us to take a look at what we are unlikely to take a look at because we accept it so unquestioningly. Now this is not a pleasant enterprise for many. We rely on our off the shelf beliefs and perspectives because, however they may actually diminish our capacity to be in touch with the best and the happiest potentials of ourselves, we are simply comfortable with what diminished version of ourselves we can sustain with those beliefs.
So people who provoke any doubt about what we believe and whether the cornerstones of our existences are in fact as fixed and unshakeable as we say they are, those people are not likely to be all that popular. For example, you would probably not want to invite Socrates to your next ultra fashionable cocktail gathering. People might well find him obnoxious and decidedly off-putting to say the least.
In Socrates' defense, it might be noted that in the Republic he was not really spoiling for a big discussion. He was simply trolling for clients to mentor so he could feed his wife and family. So he was actually just into what might be called a bit of marketing, chatting with likely prospects, the rich sons of influential people. He only wanted to hook them a bit with some fancy verbal footwork and then work with them individually where he could be more at ease in developing some of the more controversial aspects of his perspectives. But, the dinner partners wouldn't let him go home and they were too influential and powerful to say no to. So, he stayed and gave the equivalent of both barrels.
The issue of justice, which I spoke of in my last column was the beginning. What Socrates was after was something much more impressive and difficult to achieve. He wanted to help bring people to understand, appreciate and pursue the good life, the examined life, the life that was worth living precisely because it had been subject to sometimes tough scrutiny of the bright light of the truth and was therefore purified, so to speak, of the dross of conventions and cultural reflexes that merely greased the wheels of people in society, but never addressed the fundamental issue of existence.
What was that enterprise that Socrates was about offering to his fellow diners that evening? It was the pursuit of the love of wisdom, the literal translation from the Greek of philosophy. How was this wisdom to be pursued; how would it be even recognized in oneself and in others? This is where Socrates delved into motivation and purpose and something we will look at more closely in our next column. Let me know what you think.
Frank Mosca Ph.D. is a licensed counselor, marital and life coach with a practice in Hampton Bays and Garden City. Check out his putting minds in motion seminars by contacting him at firstname.lastname@example.org.