Internet Is there a logic behind everything you do? In this talk, Alain de Botton explains why there ought to be. SUDHAMAHI REGUNATHAN
One of the greatest challenges of modern times is to build self confidence. Many self help programmes are built around it. In this documentary Alain de Botton, a British philosopher, derives a beautiful lesson from Socrates’ philosophy and talks about the Socratic method of thinking in the most simple manner. It is a six-part video on Youtube where de Botton talks of philosophy and philosophers under the umbrella title “Philosophy: A Guide to Happiness”. Each part is a stand-alone and the first one is titled “Socrates on Self Confidence”.
Driving through Athens, de Botton recounts how a philosopher called Socrates was born here in 459 BC, who propagated the belief that “…thinking logically about our lives might help us to be more certain about our lives…and less hamstrung about what other people think, to be conformists. It’s a dream that philosophy might set us free,” he says. As he drives through modern Athens he finds fridge magnets of Socrates are perhaps closest to what is left of his influence in the city where he was born.
“Socrates wrote nothing down and we know what he said chiefly through his dialogue in which he figures written down by his pupil Plato,” says de Botton and showing a sculpture of the philosopher in Athens, tells us he was married to a famously shrewish woman. “Asked why he married her he said a horse trainer had to practice on the most spirited animal,” says de Botton. “In the history of a subject with many notably ugly practitioners, Socrates was surely the ugliest. He was extraordinarily ugly and his very good friend compared him to a sting ray…he compounded his looks by never washing his cloak, not wearing sandals…”
Socrates believed that we should find ways to have confidence in our own beliefs and not be swayed by public opinion. “We should not be like sheep and follow our fellow creatures passively...we should not fear breaking away…believing largely that they know what they are talking about.”
The speaker takes you across Athens and stops at the Agora or the main marketing place. He tells us Socrates used to get up at dawn and come and sit at the Agora all day. The Agora was visited not just by shoppers but also by important people. Socrates spent his time asking people why they were what they were — for example, why were the rich, rich? Military generals could not explain why they fought as they did. Socrates found people were not living examined lives. They were not thinking intensely. He compared thinking to pottery and broke up the process of logical thinking into six parts.
“The reason why there are many woolly or imprecise ideas in the world is that many people think they can come up with the idea of how to live an ethical life without thinking too hard about it. Socrates thought this was crazy, and he compared thinking to making pottery. No one can imagine that you could make a good pot without following rigorous steps…he came up with the Socratic method of thought…Firstly look around you at statements many people would describe as common sense. Secondly, try to find an exception to this. Thirdly, if an exception is found, then your statement may be imprecise. Fourthly, take the exception into account. Lastly, continue this process till you reach a statement which does not have exceptions. The statement that you find difficult to disprove is the truth. This way we would be able to find trustworthy and watertight thoughts. This makes you far less passive…we will know why we believe what we do…”
Socrates believed, “The unexamined life is not worth living…” and so a democracy does not always work, for the inputs are not well thought ideas. “We all have the capacity/duty to stop following opinions passively and instead develop beliefs we have confidence in.”
De Botton tells the story of Socrates drinking hemlock and that makes a poignant end to a fine documentary.