Socrates the Stonemason

This is a draft of a story I wrote for my three-year old daughter, Poppy, because she keeps asking me to tell her more about Socrates.

[This is a draft of a story I wrote for my three-year old daughter, Poppy, because she keeps asking me to tell her more about Socrates.Socrates]

Hundreds and hundreds of years ago, almost two and a half thousand years ago, a very wise man lived in the city of Athens.  His name was Socrates and some people say he was the wisest man who ever lived.  He said he was just a “philosopher”, though, which means someone who loves wisdom but isn’t wise yet himself.  So philosophers are always looking for wisdom.

Socrates’ daddy was a stonemason and sculptor called Sophroniscus, who helped to build a famous temple called the Parthenon, high up on a hill in Athens, in a place called the Acropolis.  A stonemason is a man who cuts stone and a sculptor is a man who makes beautiful statues.  When he was young, Socrates learned how to cut stone and make statues, just like his daddy.  That’s what he did for a living and he became very good at it.  Some people say he made a famous sculpture, a statue, of three beautiful goddesses called The Three Graces, which stood at the entrance to the Acropolis.

Socrates tried very hard to make statues that were perfect.  He wanted to show everyone what a totally wise and good person might look like.  He believed that wisdom and goodness were beautiful but he wasn’t really happy with the statues he created.  He felt something was missing.  So he spoke to the other stonemasons because he wanted to learn from them but he found that although they made statues of people who were good, they couldn’t really explain to him what goodness was or how to learn about it.  He said they had become like blocks of stone themselves because they lacked wisdom.  They were looking outside at the statues too much rather than looking inside themselves.

Then Socrates had an idea.  He put down his tools and from that day forward he stopped making statues.  He said he was amazed that the sculptors who tried so hard to make blocks of stone into statues of perfectly wise and good people didn’t know how to become wise or good people themselves.  So he decided to stop sculpting stone and to begin sculpting himself, his own mind, his character, and to become wise and good.  He was going to make himself beautiful rather than making beautiful statues.  Everyone thought this was funny because Socrates was not very beautiful to look at.  He had a big round belly and a snub-nose and his friend Plato said he looked like a satyr, which is a cross between a man and a goat!  Socrates laughed back at them, though, and said that true beauty comes from within, from our character.  He liked to joke that if there was a beauty contest between him and the people laughing at him then he would be the winner because he was more beautiful inside.

So he gave up being a stonemason and a sculptor and instead of doing his daddy’s job he decided to switch to doing his mummy’s job instead.  Socrates’ mummy was a midwife.  When a lady has a baby inside her tummy, a midwife is another lady who helps her give birth, so the baby can come out of her tummy and ride around in its pram. Socrates said he had become a midwife just like his mummy but he didn’t help ladies with babies in their tummies to give birth to them… He helped people, men and women, with ideas inside them to give birth to those ideas, so they could share them with other people, talk about them, and try to learn the truth about them.

Socrates helped people to give birth to ideas by asking them lots of really difficult questions about what it means to be wise and good.  He asked soldiers “What does it really mean to be brave?”, he asked leaders and politicians “What is justice?”, and he asked teachers “What is wisdom?”  Socrates said that if you can learn what it means to be a good person you’ll become wise and live a good life.  He always pretended he didn’t know the answers.  Some people say, though, that by patiently asking lots of difficult questions, helping other people to give birth to ideas, and listening carefully to what they said, Socrates became wise himself and he lived a good life.  People still remember him today, even though he died a very long time ago.

Stoicism and the death of Socrates

An excerpt from the forthcoming book Teach yourself Stoicism (2013), about the exemplary “good death” of Socrates and its importance to Stoicism.

Stoicism and the Death of Socrates

Excerpt from Teach yourself Stoicism and the Art of Happiness (2013), copyright © Donald Robertson.

Socrates-Wanted-PosterXenophon wrote that his friend and teacher, Socrates, faced the death-sentence with absolute serenity and fortitude, and that it was “generally agreed that no one in the memory of man has ever met his death more nobly” (Memorabilia, 4.8). We’ve already mentioned the events surrounding the trial and execution of Socrates. The Stoics undoubtedly treat this as the example par excellence of a “good death”. In reading about Socrates’ preparing to meet his death, in a sense, we accompany him and prepare ourselves for our own deaths.

Plato wasn’t there himself but, in an eponymous dialogue, portrays Socrates’ friend Phaedo recounting his astonishment at the philosopher’s composure during his final hours. “Although I was witnessing the death of one who was my friend, I had no feeling of pity, for the man appeared happy both in manner and words as he died nobly and without fear” (Phaedo, 58e). So what did Socrates do? Well, he acted normally. He saw his persecutors, the men responsible for his death, as simply misguided rather than hateful. The Enchiridion of Epictetus makes a point of concluding with a remarkable quotation attributed to him: “Anytus and Meletus [who brought the charges] can kill me, but they cannot harm me.” (Obi-wan Kenobi echoes this in the movie Star Wars!)

In prison, awaiting execution, Socrates spent his final hours debating amiably with his friends about philosophy. Given the proximity of his own demise, he chose to explore the question of what happens to the soul after death, coolly examining several possibilities while keeping an open mind, tolerant of uncertainty. More importantly, he explains his view that philosophy is essentially a lifelong “meditation on death” (melete thanatou), as the reason for his surprising indifference. He says that those who practice philosophy in the right way are constantly training for death, and true philosophers fear dying least of all men (Phaedo, 67e). The “contemplation of death” therefore emerged right at the most dramatic moment in the birth of Western philosophy, spoken at the heart of what Socrates called his philosophical swansong. When the time came, he calmly drank the poison and waited to die, something he’d clearly reconciled himself to, and faced with supreme equanimity and an attitude of philosophical curiosity.

The Philosophy of CBT: Available Now

Announcing The Philosophy of CBT (2010), now available online from Amazon and other retailers, and providing an update on reviews, etc.

Dear all,

My new book, The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy, came out in August, published by Karnac, the leading UK psychotherapy publisher.

This is the first book to explore in detail the relationship between modern psychotherapy, especially REBT and CBT, and traditional Socratic philosophy, particularly Stoicism. According to Karnac’s website, it’s currently their most popular book on CBT. Amazon report it’s most popular among people who buy Prof. Paul Gilbert’s book The Compassionate Mind (2010) and Prof. William B. Irvine’s A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy (2009).

Several reviews of The Philosophy of CBT have already appeared online and it currently has a five-star rating on Amazon, where one reviewer writes,

“I’ll be honest… I wasn’t originally going to buy this book because although I am very interested in all things CBT I didn’t think I was at all interested in Philosophy. I decided to buy it anyway because I have a huge respect for the author, and other publications of his which I have read have all been superbly written…

“Donald always impresses with his in-depth knowledge of, and enthusiasm for, his subject areas. This book is no exception… he has taken a really interesting area and communicated the material with clarity and insight. I would certainly recommend this book to anybody interested in, or involved with CBT as a book thoroughly worth reading and keeping on the bookshelf!”

We’re pleased with how well it’s doing so far and have created this website/blog about it where you can watch a video interview and read excerpts from the book and reviews about it, as well as related articles.

www.philosophy-of-cbt.com

There are a selection of excerpts listed on the page below,

http://philosophy-of-cbt.com/category/excerpts/

I hope you’ll enjoy the articles and consider delving into the book to find out more about how Socratic philosophy informs the theory and practice of modern psychotherapy.

Yours Sincerely,

Donald Robertson

Author of
The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (2010)
The Discovery of Hypnosis: The Complete Writings of James Braid (2009)
The Practice of Cognitive-Behavioural Hypnotherapy (due out soon)

The Philosophy of CBT