Monday, March 02, 2015

The Memorable Thoughts of Socrates by Xenophon (Book #20 of 2015)

The Memorable Thoughts of Socrates (free at Gutenberg)

I'd read Plato on Socrates and now I wanted to read Xenophon, having already read of his interactions with Socrates in his Anabasis. Xenophon apparently wrote this after returning from said Persian/Anatolian campaign, during which Socrates died. Wikipedia tells me that "It is quite clear that Socrates never would have said most of the things that Xenophon relates in his dialogues. Although Xenophon claims to have been present at the Symposium, this is impossible as he was only a young boy at the date which he proposes it occurred. And again, Xenophon was not present at the trial of Socrates, having been on campaign in Anatolia and Persia. Thus he puts into the latter’s mouth what he would have thought him to say." Nonetheless, Xenophon was both a student of Socrates and could have heard the saying while consulting Socrates about the Persian adventure. 5 stars out of 5.

I found some interesting parallels between Aristotle and Judeo-Christian thought, particularly Pauline thought. Others have written on this as well. Paul knew the Stoics, his writings are in some ways similar to that of Socrates' sayings. Perhaps Luke wanted to highlight this aspect in Acts as he wrote primarily for a Gentile audience.

Xenophon begins with a defense of Socrates that is similar to Socrates' own defense as recorded by Plato in the Apology. Socrates was not an atheist, he clearly believed in the gods and that they used various means to communicate. He wouldn't have sent people like Xenophon to oracles otherwise. Socrates was likewise accused of teaching things he never taught, unfairly. Capital punishment reserved for traitors, murderers, atheists, etc., socrates was none of these. Chapter IV defends Socrates' integrity against The Thirty, refusing to hand over people they would put to death, for compromising justice for political expediency. This backbone is what likely led to his death. Socrates promoted a virtuous life, not being enslaved to passions, upheld the customs of Athens, and was therefore a good citizen.

I found chapter IV to be the most interesting, as Socrates gives a clear apologetic for deism and intelligent design. Observe his conversation with Aristodemus, I quote at length because it's worth reading:

 “It is reasonable,” said Aristodemus, “to believe that the things which are good and useful are the workmanship of reason and judgment.”  “Do not you think then,” replied Socrates, “that the first Former of mankind designed their advantage when he gave them the several senses by which objects are apprehended; eyes for things visible, and ears for sounds?  Of what advantage would agreeable scents have been to us if nostrils suited to their reception had not been given?  And for the pleasures of the taste, how could we ever have enjoyed these, if the tongue had not been fitted to discern and relish them?  Further, does it not appear to you wisely provided that since the eye is of a delicate make, it is guarded with the eyelid drawn back when the eye is used, and covering it in sleep?  How well does the hair at the extremity of the eyelid keep out dust, and the eyebrow, by its prominency, prevent the sweat of the forehead from running into the eye to its hurt.  How wisely is the ear formed to receive all sorts of sounds, and not to be filled with any to the exclusion of others.  Are not the fore teeth of all animals fitted to cut off proper portions of food, and their grinders to reduce it to a convenient smallness?  The mouth, by which we take in the food we like, is fitly placed just beneath the nose and eyes, the judges of its goodness; and what is offensive and disagreeable to our senses is, for that reason, placed at a proper distance from them.  In short, these things being disposed in such order, and with so much care, can you hesitate one moment to determine whether it be an effect of providence or of chance?”  “I doubt not of it in the least,” replied Aristodemus, “and the more I fix my thoughts on the contemplation of these things the more I am persuaded that all this is the masterpiece of a great workman, who bears an extreme love to men.”  
 You are not, I persuade myself, ignorant that you are endowed with understanding; do you then think that there is not elsewhere an intelligent being?  Particularly, if you consider that your body is only a little earth taken from that great mass which you behold.  The moist that composes you is only a small drop of that immense heap of water that makes the sea; in a word, your body contains only a small part of all the elements, which are elsewhere in great quantity.  There is nothing then but your understanding alone, which, by a wonderful piece of good fortune, must have come to you from I know not whence, if there were none in another place; and can it then be said that all this universe and all these so vast and numerous bodies have been disposed in so much order, without the help of an intelligent Being, and by mere chance?”  “I find it very difficult to understand it otherwise,” answered Aristodemus, “because I see not the gods, who, you say, make and govern all things, as I see the artificers who do any piece of work amongst us.”  “Nor do you see your soul neither,” answered Socrates, “which governs your body; but, because you do not see it, will you from thence infer you do nothing at all by its direction, but that everything you do is by mere chance?”

 "Aristodemus now wavering said, “I do not despise the Deity, but I conceive such an idea of his magnificence and self-sufficiency, that I imagine him to have no need of me or my services.”  “You are quite wrong,” said p. 40Socrates, “for by how much the gods, who are so magnificent, vouchsafe to regard you, by so much you are bound to praise and adore them.”  “It is needless for me to tell you,” answered Aristodemus, “that, if I believed the gods interested themselves in human affairs, I should not neglect to worship them.”  “How!” replied Socrates, “you do not believe the gods take care of men, they who have not only given to man, in common with other animals, the senses of seeing, hearing, and taste, but have also given him to walk upright; a privilege which no other animal can boast of, and which is of mighty use to him to look forward, to remote objects, to survey with facility those above him, and to defend himself from any harm?  Besides, although the animals that walk have feet, which serve them for no other use than to walk, yet, herein, have the gods distinguished man, in that, besides feet, they have given him hands, the instruments of a thousand grand and useful actions, on which account he not only excels, but is happier than all animals besides.  And, further, though all animals have tongues, yet none of them can speak, like man’s; his tongue only can form words, by which he declares his thoughts, and communicates them to others.  Not to mention smaller instances of their care, such as the concern they take of our pleasures, in confining men to no certain season for the enjoying them, as they have done other animals."

 “But Providence taketh care, not only of our bodies, but of our souls: it hath pleased the great Author of all, not only to give man so many advantages for the body, but (which is the greatest gift of all, and the strongest proof of his care) he hath breathed into him an intelligent soul, and that, too, the most excellent of p. 41all, for which of the other animals has a soul that knows the being of the Deity, by whom so many great and marvellous works are done?  Is there any species but man that serves and adores him?  Which of the animals can, like him, protect himself from hunger and thirst, from heat and cold?  Which, like him, can find remedies for diseases, can make use of his strength, and is as capable of learning, that so perfectly retains the things he has seen, he has heard, he has known?

 “My dear Aristodemus, consider that your mind governs your body according to its pleasure: in like manner we ought to believe that there is a mind diffused throughout the whole universe that disposeth of all things according to its counsels.  You must not imagine that your weak sight can reach to objects that are several leagues distant, and that the eye of God cannot, at one and the same time, see all things.  You must not imagine that your mind can reflect on the affairs of Athens, of Egypt, and of Sicily, and that the providence of God cannot, at one and the same moment, consider all things.  As, therefore, you may make trial of the gratitude of a man by doing him a kindness, and as you may discover his prudence by consulting him in difficult affairs, so, if you would be convinced how great is the power and goodness of God, apply yourself sincerely to piety and his worship; then, my dear Aristodemus, you shall soon be persuaded that the Deity sees all, hears all, is present everywhere, and, at the same time, regulates and superintends all the events of the universe.”

By such discourses as these Socrates taught his friends never to commit any injustice or dishonourable action, not only in the presence of men, but even in secret, and when they are alone, since the Divinity hath always an eye over us, and none of our actions can be hid from him."

Later, Xenophon gives further discourse from Socrates on the goodness of the gods and even a concept of grace. This seems to be very much in line with the "unknown God" that Paul referenced when arguing in the Areopagus in Acts 17:22-31.

And that Supreme God, who built the universe, and who supports this great work, whose every part is accomplished in beauty and goodness; He, who is the cause that none of its parts grow old with time, and that they preserve themselves always in an immortal vigour, who is the cause, besides, that they inviolably obey His laws with a readiness that surpasses our imagination; He, I say, is visible enough in the so many wondrous works of which He is author, but our eyes cannot penetrate even into His throne to behold Him in these great occupations, and in that manner it is that He is always invisible...   If there be anything in man that partakes of the divine nature it is his soul, which, beyond all dispute, guides and governs him, and yet we cannot see it.  Let all this, therefore, teach you not to neglect or disbelieve the Deity, because He is invisible; learn to know His presence and power from p. 167the visible effects of it in the world around you; be persuaded of the universal care and providence of the all-surrounding Deity from the blessings He showers down upon all His creatures, and be sure to worship and serve this God in a becoming manner.”

Socrates espouses a works salvation:
 "When, therefore, a man has done all that is in his power to do, he ought to fear nothing and hope all; for, from whence can we reasonably hope for more, than from those in whose power it is to do us the greatest good?  And by what other way can we more easily obtain it, than by making ourselves acceptable to them?  And how can we better make ourselves acceptable to them, than by doing their will?”

Several sections speak of virtue and various qualifications for public office. Socrates urges some to enter public office and others to exit. Some notable qualifications for public office include patience and proof of honoring one's parents. Temperance is a notable theme, and Chapter V contains some language very similar to later writings by the Apostle Paul. Aristotle writes repeatedly about freedom from enslavement to various passions.
Paul (and Peter, addressing churches planted by Paul), on lust, for example:
Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery...13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another 16: But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the spirit and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing things you want to do.

Romans 1:24 Therfore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves...26 For this reason God gave them up to dihonorable passions...28 God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.

Romans 6:6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.

2 Peter 2:19 They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.

Socrates talking with Euthydemus:
“In your opinion, Euthydemus, is liberty a very valuable thing?”  “To be valued above all things,” answered Euthydemus.  “Do you believe that a man who is a slave to sensual pleasures, and finds himself incapable of doing good, enjoys his liberty?”  “Not in the least.” *** “You allow, then, that to do good is to be free, and that to be prevented from doing it, by any obstacle whatever, is not to be free?” *** “I think so,” said Euthydemus.  “You believe, then,” said Socrates, “that debauched persons are not free?”  “I do.”  “Do you believe likewise,” continued Socrates, “that debauchery does not only hinder from doing good, but compels to do ill?”  “I think it does.”  “What would you say, then, of a master who should hinder you from applying yourself to what is honest, and force you to undertake some infamous occupation?”  “I would say he was a very wicked master,” answered Euthydemus.  “And which is the worst of all slaveries?” added Socrates.  “To serve ill masters,” said Euthydemus.  “Therefore,” inferred Socrates, “the debauched are in a miserable slavery.”  “No doubt of it.”  “Is it not debauchery, likewise,” said Socrates, “that deprives men of their wisdom, the noblest gift of the gods, and drives them into ignorance and stupidity, and all manner of disorders?  It robs them of leisure to apply themselves to things profitable, while it drowns them in sensual pleasures; and it seizes their minds to that degree that, though they often know which is the best way, they are miserably engaged in the worst.”  “They are so.”  “Nor can we expect to find temperance nor modesty in a debauched person, since the actions of temperance and debauchery are entirely opposite.” 
But temperance, which accustoms us to wait for the necessity, is the only thing that makes us feel an extreme pleasure in these occasions.”  “You are in the right,” said Euthydemus.  “It is this virtue, too,” said Socrates, “that puts men in a condition of bringing to a state of perfection both the mind and the body, of rendering themselves capable of well governing their families, of being serviceable to their friends and their country, and of overcoming their enemies, which is not only very agreeable on account of the advantages, but very desirable likewise for the satisfaction that attends it.  But the debauched know none of this..."

This is what Socrates taught, and by this doctrine, which was always accompanied with an exemplary devotion, he greatly advanced his friends in piety."

This text reminds me of Romans 14:
But can we, by this same way of comparison, judge of the nature of good?”  “As how?” said Euthydemus.  “Do you think,” said Socrates, “that the same thing is profitable to all men?”  “By no means.”  “Do you believe that the same thing may be profitable to one and hurtful to another?”  “I think it may.”  “Then is it not the good that is profitable?”  “Yes, certainly.”  “Therefore, ‘what is profitable is a good to him to whom it is profitable.’”  “That is true.”

I find amusing Socrates' argument with a general on which he argues an economist (business affairs manager) would make a good general.
Must not both of them keep those that are under them in submission and obedience?”  “I grant it.”  “Must not both of them take care to employ every one in the business he is fit for?  Must he not punish those who do amiss and reward those that do well?  Must they not make themselves be esteemed by those they command?  Ought they not alike to strengthen themselves with friends to assist them upon occasion?  Ought they not to know how to preserve what belongs to them, and to be diligent and indefatigable in the performance of their duty?”  “I own,” answered Nicomachides, “that all you have said concerns them equally; but if they were to fight it would not be the same as to both of them.”  “Why?” said Socrates.  “Have not both of them enemies?”  “They have.”  “And would it not be the advantage of both to get the better of them?”  “I allow it,” said Nicomachides; “but what will economy be good for when they are to come to blows?”  “It is then it will be most necessary,” replied Socrates.  “For when the good economist sees that the greatest profit he can get is to overcome, and that the greatest loss he can suffer is to be beaten, he will prepare himself with all the advantages that can procure him the victory, and will carefully avoid whatever might be the cause of his defeat.  Thus, when he sees his army well provided with all things, and in a condition that seems to promise a good success, he will give his enemies battle; but when he wants anything he will avoid coming to an engagement with them.  Thus you see how economy may be of use to him; and therefore, Nicomachides, despise not those who apply themselves to it; for between the conduct of a p. 109family and that of a State the sole difference is that of a greater or lesser number; for as to all besides there is much conformity between them.  The sum of what I have advanced is this, that without men there could not be any policy or any economy, that they are often executed by the same persons, and that they who are called to the government of the Republic are the very same whom great men employ for their private affairs.  Lastly, that they who make use of proper persons for their several businesses are successful in their economy and in politics; and that, on the contrary, they who fail in this point commit great faults both in one and the other.

Quote of the treatise: 
 “It is better,” said Socrates, “to change an opinion than to persist in a wrong one."

Does Chapter 4 not sound like a reference to the Ten Commandments?
" “Have you never heard,” continued Socrates, “of certain laws that are not written?”  “You mean the laws,” answered Hippias, “which are received all over the p. earth.”  “Do you think, then,” added Socrates, “that it was all mankind that made them?”  “That is impossible,” said Hippias, “because all men cannot be assembled in the same place, and they speak not all of them the same language.”  “Who, then, do you think gave us these laws?”  “The gods,” answered Hippias; “for the first command to all men is to adore the gods.”  “And is it not likewise commanded everywhere to honour one’s father and mother?”  

This sets up The Republic:
Concerning the other sorts of government, he said: That when the offices of a Republic are given to the good citizens, this sort of State was called aristocracy, or government of good men; when, on the contrary, the magistrates were chosen according to their revenues, it was called a plutocracy, or government of the rich; and when all the people are admitted, without distinction, to bear employments, it is a democracy, or popular government.

Chapter VII, Xenophon's closing thoughts.
For my own part, having found him to be the man I have described, that is to say, so pious as to do nothing without the advice of the Deity; so just as never to have in the least injured any man, and to have done very signal services to many; so chaste and temperate as never to have preferred delight and pleasure before modesty and honesty; so prudent as never to have mistaken in the discernment of good and evil, and never to have had need of the advice of others, p. 192to form a right judgment of either; moreover, most capable to deliberate and resolve in all sorts of affairs, most capable to examine into men, to reprehend them for their vices, and to excite them to virtue; having, I say, found all these perfections in Socrates, I have always esteemed him the most virtuous and most happy of all men; and if any one be not of my opinion, let him take the pains to compare him with other men, and judge of him afterwards.

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