Book IV

The frankness and simplicity with which Socrates endeavoured to declare his own opinions, in dealing with those who conversed with him,[1] is, I think, conclusively proved by the above instances; at the same time, as I hope now to show, he was no less eager to cultivate a spirit of independence in others, which would enable them to stand alone in all transactions suited to their powers.

Of all the men I have ever known, he was most anxious to ascertain in what any of those about him was really versed; and within the range of his own knowledge he showed the greatest zeal in teaching everything which it befits the true gentleman[2] to know; or where he was deficient in knowledge himself,[3] he would introduce his friends to those who knew.[4] He did not fail to teach them also up to what point it was proper for an educated man to acquire empiric knowledge of any particular matter.[5]

To take geometry as an instance: Every one (he would say) ought to be taught geometry so far, at any rate, as to be able, if necessary, to take over or part with a piece of land, or to divide it up or assign a portion of it for cultivation,[6] and in every case by geometric rule.[7] That amount of geometry was so simple indeed, and easy to learn, that it only needed ordinary application of the mind to the method of mensuration, and the student could at once ascertain the size of the piece of land, and, with the satisfaction of knowing its measurement, depart in peace. But he was unable to approve of the pursuit of geometry up to the point at which it became a study of unintelligible diagrams.[8] What the use of these might be, he failed, he said, to see; and yet he was not unversed in these recondite matters himself.[9] These things, he would say, were enough to wear out a man's life, and to hinder him from many other more useful studies.[10]

Again, a certain practical knowledge of astronomy, a certain skill in the study of the stars, he strongly insisted on. Every one should know enough of the science to be able to discover the hour of the night or the season of the month or year, for the purposes of travel by land or sea--the march, the voyage, and the regulations of the watch;[11] and in general, with regard to all matters connected with the night season, or with the month, or the year,[12] it was well to have such reliable data to go upon as would serve to distinguish the various times and seasons. But these, again, were pieces of knowledge easily learnt from night sportsmen,[13] pilots of vessels, and many others who make it their business to know such things. As to pushing the study of astronomy so far as to include a knowledge of the movements of bodies outside our own orbit, whether planets or stars of eccentric movement,[14] or wearing oneself out endeavouring to discover their distances from the earth, their periods, and their causes,[15] all this he strongly discountenanced; for he saw (he said) no advantage in these any more than in the former studies. And yet he was not unversed[16] in the subtleties of astronomy any more than in those of geometry; only these, again, he insisted, were sufficient to wear out a man's lifetime, and to keep him away from many more useful pursuits.

And to speak generally, in regard of things celestial he set his face against attempts to excogitate the machinery by which the divine power formed its several operations.[17] Not only were these matters beyond man's faculties to discover, as he believed, but the attempt to search out what the gods had not chosen to reveal could hardly (he supposed) be well pleasing in their sight. Indeed, the man who tortured his brains about such subjects stood a fair chance of losing his wits entirely, just as Anaxagoras,[18] the headiest speculator of them all, in his attempt to explain the divine mechanism, had somewhat lost his head. Anaxagoras took on himself to assert that sun and fire are identical,[19] ignoring the fact that human beings can easily look at fire, but to gaze steadily into the face of the sun is given to no man; or that under the influence of his rays the colour of the skin changes, but under the rays of fire not.[20] He forgot that no plant or vegetation springs from earth's bosom with healthy growth without the help of sunlight, whilst the influence of fire is to parch up everything, and to destroy life; and when he came to speak of the sun as being a "red-hot stone" he ignored another fact, that a stone in fire neither lights up nor lasts, whereas the sun-god abides for ever with intensest brilliancy undimmed.

Socrates inculcated the study of reasoning processes,[21] but in these, equally with the rest, he bade the student beware of vain and idle over-occupation. Up to the limit set by utility, he was ready to join in any investigation, and to follow out an argument with those who were with him; but there he stopped. He particularly urged those who were with him to pay the utmost attention to health. They would learn all it was possible to learn from adepts, and not only so, but each one individually should take pains to discover, by a lifelong observation of his own case, what particular regimen, what meat or drink, or what kind of work, best suited him; these he should turn to account with a view to leading the healthiest possible life. It would be no easy matter for any one who would follow this advice, and study his own idiosyncrasy, to find a doctor to improve either on the diagnosis or the treatment requisite.[22]

Where any one came seeking for help which no human wisdom could supply, he would counsel him to give heed to "divination." He who has the secret of the means whereby the gods give signs to men touching their affairs can never surely find himself bereft of heavenly guidance.

[1] Or, "who frequented his society, is, I hope, clear from what has been said."

[2] Lit. "a beautiful and good man."

[3] Or, "where he lacked acquaintance with the matter himself." See, for an instance, "Econ." iii. 14.

[4] "To those who had the special knowledge"; "a connoisseur in the matter."

[5] Or, "of any particular branch of learning"; "in each department of things."

[6] {e ergon apodeixasthai}, or "and to explain the process." Cf. Plat. "Rep." vii. 528 D. See R. Kuhner ad loc. for other interpretations of the phrase. Cf. Max. Tyr. xxxvii. 7.

[7] Or, "by correct measurement"; lit. "by measurement of the earth."

[8] Cf. Aristot. "Pol." v. (viii.) 2; Cic. "Acad. Post." I. iv. 15. For the attitude compare the attitude of a philosopher in other respects most unlike Socrates--August Comte, e.g. as to the futility of sidereal astronomy, "Pos. Pol." i. 412 (Bridges).

[9] Cf. Isocr. "On the Antidosis," 258-269, as to the true place of "Eristic" in education. See above, IV. ii. 10.

[10] Cf. A. Comte as to "perte intellectuelle" in the pursuit of barren studies.

[11] Schneid. cf. Plat. "Rep." vii. 527 D.

[12] "Occurrences connected with the night, the month, or year." e.g. the festival of the Karneia, the {tekmerion} (point de repere) of which is the full moon of August. Cf. Eur. "Alc." 449.

[13] See Plat. "Soph." 220 D; above, III. xi. 8; "Cyrop." I. vi. 40; "Hunting," xii. 6; Hippocr. "Aer." 28.

[14] See Lewis, "Astron. of the Ancients"; cf. Diog. Laert. vii. 1. 144.

[15] Or, "the causes of these."

[16] {oude touton ge anekoos en}. He had "heard," it is said, Archelaus, a pupil of Anaxagoras. Cf. Cic. "Tusc." V. iv. 10.

[17] Or, "he tried to divert one from becoming overly-wise in heavenly matters and the 'mecanique celeste' of the Godhead in His several operations." See above, I. i. 11. See Grote, "Plato," i. 438.

[18] Of Clazomenae. Cf. Plat. "Apol." 14; Diog. Laert. II. vi; Cic. "Tusc." V. iv. 10; Cobet, "Prosop. Xen." s.n.; Grote, "H. G." i. 501.

[19] Or, "that the sun was simply a fire, forgetting so simple a fact as that."

[20] Or, "the complexion darkens, whereas fire has no such effect."

[21] {logismous} = (1) "arithmetic," (2) "calculation," (3) "syllogistic reasoning." See L. Dind. "Index. Gr." s.v., and Kuhner ad loc.; cf. Plat. "Gorg." 451 C. It is important to decide which form of "logism" is meant here.

[22] Or, "to find a doctor better able than himself to 'diagnose' and prescribe a treatment congenial to health." Cf. Tac. "Ann." vi. 46; Plut. "de San." 136 E, ap. Schneid. ad loc.