I cannot teach people anything; I can only make them think. Socrates


One of the many blessings of my married life is an intelligent spouse with an active mind. For no apparent reason, my wife Anita suggested that we generate a two-person discussion group in philosophy. I accepted the challenge and agreed to be the first “presenter” for our meeting.

As this was the maiden voyage, it seemed most appropriate that we begin with the generally acknowledged founder of the discipline: Socrates. History tells us that Socrates taught Plato who, in turn, instructed Aristotle. And this string of philosophical giants laid the groundwork for all of us, millennia later.

So what was the foundation of philosophy, as outlined by its founder? In one word: REASON. Socrates explained that humanity’s purpose is to seek happiness by using the vehicle of logic and reason. The word “happiness” implies an emotional state, but Socrates cautioned that personal joy and satisfaction can only be rightly achieved when tempered by reasonable consideration and appropriate conduct. For example, a ride on an amusement park roller coaster is deemed to be fun for many, but standing on the seat rather than being belted in the chair removes happiness and, instead, invites disaster. Reason, says, Socrates, allows us to achieve happiness via logical boundaries.

And what is Socrates’ method or technique for rational thought? Simply stated, it’s asking questions. The appropriately named “Socratic method” has been used by professors, lawyers, and physicians to arrive at truth and fact. Carefully framed questions allow us to gain information in order to arrive at a rational understanding of any circumstance or condition.

My further investigation into the Greek unearthed another of his tenets that, I believe, is most relevant in our current troubled times. Socrates warned us that reason must not yield itself to the changing whims and tides that society presents at a given moment, year, or decade. What is logical and responsible is not subject to surveys or polls. Indeed, Socrates’ demise, when a politically motivated court ruled that he must consume hemlock, reflected the vagaries of an emotional wave that engulfed him. His death sentence was facilitated by his refusal to modify his message in the face of societal pressure. Did Socrates fear death? Who can say? History tells us that he did not abandon his logical stance and personal principles, even in the face of his own probable fears.

The final chapter of my book on relationships is entitled “Do the Right Thing.” It postulates, in far more humble terms than the teachings of Socrates, that we all possess an “inner voice” that points us to the proper course of action. We are inexorably directed toward, if you will, the logical and rational answer to any question or problem.

Too often these days, we watch raw emotion in action. The worst demonstrations are the most emotional ones; the best ones are the most reasonable. As we all seek answers to complex problems that we face on a daily basis, let’s think of Socrates, the founder of moral philosophy.

He died while providing a model of rational thought and resultant action. The good news is that, unlike Socrates, we don’t need to give up our lives to imitate his lead.

The mind is everything; what you think, you become. Socrates