Thursday, 13 October, 2011

Socrates believed in God - 1

Do you believe it! Socrates was no atheist! All my childhood, i was brought up taught (both in and out of school) that Socrates was a great philosopher who did not believe in God; and now someone tells me that it’s only partly true?! Worse still, he advocated aristocracy; seemingly, he did not have great hopes on democracy!! Socrates?? Aristocracy?!  Really?!?!

I got my hands on a  book on the life and theories of famous philosophers; from Socrates down until the contemporaries. It’s about probing beliefs and behaviors, dogmas and doctrines, and bring out real facts of the lives of people; we’re not educated these as kids, or at least not the way they should have been (intentionally or unintentionally - may be we’re too young to understand them then). This post is pretty much a recap of what i read of the life and times of Socrates, and also capture in general, the mood in Greece in 5th century BC, that begot it great philosophers like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle; and made Greece the great civilization that it was, going on to redefine European history alongside Romans. This particular post will try to paint a picture of how philosophy blossomed in Greece. 

In the 5th century BC, Greece was very much like the rest of Europe - splintered, barbaric and largely uncivilized. Greece was no single country; it was a motley of tiny city-states; each at swords with another. Two prominent among these were Sparta and Athens; Athens more so, being the farthest to the east, and hence the gate way through which Europe traded with Asia. They have fought many a war. But, war it is, that makes friends and foes, and changes history. In the Middle East, the Persians were growing powerful, and were entertaining ambitions of making Greece a Persian colony. This common adversary brought Athens and Sparta together. Sparta built a strong military; and Athens a mighty navy. Together they crushed the Persian ambitions. But, the aftermath of the war turned out to be far more significant.

The war over, Sparta demobilized her army; as a consequence suffered from large scale unemployment; and the economy fell into seclusion and stagnation. Athens made better use of its navy - converted it into a merchant fleet; and expanded its trade into the far seas. This catapulted Athens into one of the prime trading centers of the world; and the city prospered.

Trade, not only brings new goods, but also new people. The ports became the points of exchange of, other than goods, languages, customs, traditions, beliefs and civilizations. As traders interact the most here, they brushed shoulders with other civilizations in Egypt, India and the far East. They gradually grew skeptical of their own traditions and dogmas; and began to question their own belief systems and governments.

Let me take the liberty to digress momentarily and explore the religion and government of ancient Greek cities.

Ancient Greece had a polytheist religion; there were multitude of gods, and hierarchies within gods. Zeus was the king of gods; and exercised control over other gods. There were gods for different aspects of nature - Zeus was the god of the sky, Poseidon of seas, Helios controlled the sun; and Hades controlled death and Underworld. And there were some gods who were specific to cities. Interestingly, Gods were considered immortal; but not all-powerful. Gods fight among themselves (as was in Trojan war - Troy), take sides during war; and at times spawn children with humans (Achilles’ mother was a goddess). This was the religion of the ancient Greeks.

Athenian government - the very term ‘democracy’ was coined by the Greeks; though it was being practised from earlier days in Mesopotamia and India. The Greek word δημοκρατία – (demokratia) means rule of the people. Athens formed the first democracy in the world (rather in Europe as they later discovered Asia had democracy since earlier times) around 508 BC. However, the democratic system of Athens was not the same as what is practised today worldwide. Today’s democracy is otherwise known as ‘Representative Democracy’ - people elect representatives who become part of the governing council. Athens had ‘Direct democracy’ where citizens are directly part of the governing council. The size of the council would run into thousands; citizens would take rounds (alphabetically) in being part of the governing council. This way, people directly control the government. Also, corruption was virtually non-existent as bribing thousands of members were not viable propositions. But, so nice and rosy that direct democracy may sound, it had some fundamental weakness. The model works as long as the population is small. When the cities grow; and the population grows, so does the size of the council. The council then becomes a mad crowd of varied interests who at times voice opinions lacking foresight and based on what suits individual interests rather than that of the state. With a crowd, emotions flare; and crafty orators could easily sway minds of the ‘commoners’ in the council. This had all the potential of making the council a lethal weapon to push personal interests in the hands of those who could control public opinion.

Such was the times when Athens ventured into the seas and became one of the greatest trading cities. As Athens rose on the foundation of democracy, freedom of thought, surplus wealth from trade, and skepticism about existing traditions and dogma provided the cradle bed for the birth of Philosophy.

To be continued...

Arun KK

In Part 2 - “The early philosophers were astronomers”; “Socrates was a lazy 'brat'”; “What killed Socrates?” and other interesting facets

1 comment:

Nethaji said...

Good One.Lets Spark and make other Spark