Intelligence, in its zeal for goodness, should never surrender.

(Winston Churchill)

Socrates laid the foundation for intellectual and cognitive thinking. Socrates (469–399 BC) was a very special person, someone who has shaped our cultural and intellectual world. In today’s academic world of publish or perish, he wouldn’t have had to take hemlock to be silenced. Throughout history those with special knowledge from philosophers to witches have been singled out for special attention. There have always been prisons for the good and the bad, all states have the power to erase individuality and culture and to push aside, victimize, destroy and kill perceived irritants while the down trodden have either resorted to prayer or to revolt. As Socrates took the hemlock, he sent a cock to his doctor for services rendered, and as its effects took over shortly before his final breath, he described his death as a release of the soul from the body. He thanked friends who offered to bribe the guards, rescue him, and enable his escape into exile, telling them he wasn't afraid of death and would be no better off in exile.

What Plato put together for Socrates would, if found, be misplaced in the gray literature never to be seen. Fortunately, Plato, with a sense of daring and wisdom, wrote him into eternity, referencing the Socratic method based on his belief that enabling students to think for themselves is more important than any right answer, which they may never know, and his well-structured dialogues that enable thought exploration to facilitate a better understanding of complex ideas. In his Symposium, Plato recounts his mentor’s discussion telling of how Socrates learned about love from the Goddess Diotima and how immortality is present in the passing down of ideas, knowledge, morals, discoveries, and creations to future generations. They can be used, improved, kept alive and passed on. With his death, death, it itself becomes a much more complex issue. Socrates exemplifies good speech, good harmony, good grace, and good rhythm, to accompany good disposition. Music and gymnastics brings balance. He argues that too much physical exercise will make people savage and too much music, soft. Soft people are not useful on battlefields, neither are warriors for thinking.

His challenge of authority together with the provocation of a new kind of thinking was just too much for the Athenians. Loss of imperial status after losing out to Sparta in the Peloponnesian War (469—399 BC) required a scapegoat. Nothing less than the death sentence was acceptable for his insignificant accusers who brought him to trial for doing criminal wrong in not recognizing the gods that the city recognizes, by introducing new divinities and by corrupting the youth. An amnesty between the two super powers, Athens and Sparta prevented the poet Meletus and his co-accusers from seeking the death sentence on political grounds, so he was charged on religious grounds. Suspicion turned on Socrates as a threat to Athenian democracy and was seen as a spy for Sparta, awaiting hemlock, Socrates told the Athenians that in killing him they will injure themselves more and went on to say I am not going to argue for my own sake, as you may think, but for yours.

Socrates saw defensive activities as worthless unless those building them for self-protection are happy. He thought hard as to whether there can ever be a just war. His thought-model of dialectical arguments entered the Academy. 2,500 years after taking hemlock, his ideas are still catching. His teachings were radical and unconventional in nature, and he was thought to be a prophet during his lifetime. Some Muslims believe that Socrates was one of the prophets of God. Perhaps his unconventional religious beliefs gave him the status of a prophet and certainly paved the way for Christianity four centuries after his death. Another description is of Socrates, the heroic warrior, wrestler, dancer, and passionate lover. The woman he claimed to have inspired him to develop his mindset that changed the world has yet to be revealed. It included a no to aristocracy and a yes to intelligence and hard work in all matters of governance and societal control.

Immanuel Kant on war says it must be conducted in such a way that reconciliation is possible at the end of hostilities. He placed Socrates, among other philosophers, as someone who didn’t just ponder but who lived life philosophically. Hegel sees him as catalytic to what he called the great historic turning point, a free spirit, and a great instinctive force. Socrates is praised as the first philosopher and virtuoso of life. Nietzsche, in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, speaks of a death in which virtue shines, which is seen as a celebration of the way in which Socrates died.

Winston Churchill was drawn to the Socratic Method, examined it, and saw philosophy as a loving pursuit. He saw Socrates as an argumentative Greek with a nagging wife who was finally compelled to commit suicide because he was a nuisance! Evidently, Socrates had called something into being that was very explosive. Intellectual dynamite! A moral bomb!

In a recent book by Lalas and Stamatis, 2023, in Greek, Having Coffee with Socrates, he is the man who brought philosophy down to earth from heaven above, like pulling electricity from the clouds. İt is an apt simile for both caused death. Drinking coffee with Socrates is reminiscent of Yeats sailing to Byzantium, where he would find a small wine shop in Constantinople, talk to philosophers, and receive answers to his questions covering what is past, passing, or to come. The congeners in both drinks give them their charm as philosophy can spice up community. As Having Coffee with Socrates came out, Nikola Tesla was being cross-examined by Socrates in a fantastic and creative dialogue that came to life against a background of electromagnetic pulses from the full spectrum to enliven the 14th Dialectical Symposium of the World Philosophical Forum (Athens, 2023). Socrates got in the first punch asking Tesla, what is this death ray device you talk about?

To paraphrase Cervantes, what happened then was worth a smile; now it is worth telling. It was the autumn of 2016 and the first breath of a grand perhaps, a modern-day crusade to bridge Islam and Christianity by means of an innovative educational program that examines philosophy and the Quran. It was midday bright, but the shade was pleasant. We were seven global citizens sitting around the table in a pleasant tavern in Plaka. Chinese, Greeks, Malay, English, Russian; Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists, all philosophers or would be philosophers. The bread was fresh, and the water was sparkling, scintillating from the glancing sun rays through a few cracks in the awning above. Had this event taken place at an earlier time, we may have been visited by Socrates or Diogenes in their castigating roles of scolding the sippers of wine in the middle of the day, or by Jesus who turned water into wine, Prophet Muhammad who drank wine with his companions, and Buddha, who said many things about it. From it emerged the first breath of a concept, Eurasian bridges for peace.

It is well known that poets and philosophers drink a fair share of wine, but not all and that language can fail us in descriptions of taste and aroma or in conveying the experience of flavor. Perhaps the best approach to wine is through Persian literature that praises it. Death is equated with a turned down empty glass which to Socrates equates to the symbol of a well-lived and fulfilled life. Not to be left out, the classical scholar at the table quoted Aeschylus: Bronze is the mirror of the form; wine, of the heart. As we readied to return to the history museum of the University of Athens under the Acropolis, where the dialectical symposium of the World Philosophical Forum was underway, the conversation turned to Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, moderation, and the golden mean. Nicholas Hagger, a British writer, poet, philosopher, and historian, added that he always feels the presence of Socrates when in Athens.

Socrates was raised with the stories of the gods recounted in Hesiod and Homer. He was well versed in poetry, inclined to music and at ease in the gymnasium. He lived at a very special time when equality among Greek citizens was optimal, demonstrated by the homogeneity of living conditions and dwellings of little variation in size. The altar was the common denominator of living space and a pathway to the gods—the very same gods that judged Socrates to have blasphemed. Socrates lived in polytheistic times when gods did not create the world but were themselves created. Socrates is the de facto father of lifelong learning. When awaiting Hemlock, he heard a soldier sing and asked him to sing the song again. Why, old man? Tomorrow, you will be dead. That is the point; I have some little time to learn one more thing.

Having vexed the Athenian authorities, Socrates was executed. With equanimity, he accepted his fate. Hellenism fell into slow decline, and Christianity took on a slow rise. The Psalms were used in education, and the world’s mindset changed. The Academy and Asclepiads closed, and the Olympic Games and Dialectical Symposium ceased. They were reinstated in 1896 under French influence and in 2012 by the World Philosophical Forum, respectively.

Socrates didn’t care much for getting his thoughts down in marble, preferring to be on the move, out and about among people. His days were spent in the marketplace dressed influenced by economics while asking questions of those who would speak with him as he gathered a following of rich young aristocrats—one being Plato. They liked hearing him interrogate those that were purported to be the wisest and most influential men in Athens. Most citizens saw him as too opinionated and too big for his sandals. Slowly he was perceived as a threat to Athenian democracy and much too smart for his peers, who chided him for his cleverness. With humor, Socrates told them that they were lucky because they had money to pay for advanced lessons from Prodikos, whereas his resources could only cover basic classes. Had he have had better means he would have followed the advanced classes, which would have made him even smarter. Socrates began his apology with a very characteristic phrase: My accusers spoke with such persuasion that I myself almost forgot who I was.

Socrates believed that philosophy should achieve practical results for the greater well-being of society. He attempted to establish an ethical system based on human reason rather than theological doctrine. Today he would be troubled by too much scholasticism. Seeing the demographic problem of his homeland I’m sure he would reiterate his advice to young people, fall in love, get married, and have children; if marriage works, perfect! If not, become a philosopher. To the Athenian elders he would have pointed out what is at stake and given his advice: university education should be for youth who have requisite and proven knowledge and skills but not the financial means as well as additional facilities for the needy and vulnerable. In a few full swoops, he would point to the demographic issue, how to cultivate philosophy’s workforce and how the system of education should function.

The imagination of Socrates is displayed in the imagery of a chariot pulled by two horses, steered by a charioteer, representing a dichotomy of opposite poles to elucidate the struggle within the human soul of good and evil. The buffeted chariot is a metaphor for the soul, while the charioteer strives to rationally harmonize and control the two opposites, with one horse representing reason and virtue while the other is hell-bent to chase irrational impulses and cravings. He argued that injustice, lack of discipline, and other forms of corruption of the soul are the greatest of evils. He talked about some powerful deity called the Good, which humans could not comprehend, while on his shoulder an angel rested (i.e., a daemon) that always told him when he was doing wrong. When he tested the Delphic oracle about him being the wisest man on earth, his mission was to convince them to take care of their internal souls as opposed to external goods. As a child it seemed to me that the manifestation of conscience, which parents brought up, resided in my stomach which reacted to lies, not to doing wrong; to lying when found out.

He also gave us an interesting and simple dichotomy for order-disorder, system-chaos, and creativity-destruction in stones, bricks, and tiles, disorderly scattered on the ground or arranged in a functionally erected dwelling. Aristotle says metaphors are a distraction that seems to shape the brain and tells us they must not be far-fetched, or they will be difficult to grasp, nor obvious, or they will have no effect, which obeys the golden mean. Views about the cosmos came from analogies with political organizations.

The development of humanity, human thought, culture, and all cultural phenomena is strongly connected to Socratic philosophy with its study of fundamental problems, our existence and concept of them, meaning, knowledge, speech, mind-brain dichotomy, and language. Our values characterize minds that have the capacity to examine a proposal without necessarily accepting it. Two guideposts to rationality are expressed by the proclamation by Asclepius and his disciple Hippocrates: We have an opinion; let’s discuss it if the evidence warrants keeping it. If not, let’s change it, and the aphorism first does no harm.

Wonder and imagination say Socrates and Einstein are the gates to wisdom, but it is never easy. In philosophizing, we may send out a smoke signal, by wafting our safety blankets. A flame may be kindled to become the fire that warms all men, women, youth, the elderly, and children to urge them into action. We should never forget the enormous contribution of Greece to culture, health, education, philosophy, and the development of Europe. Although UNESCO once promoted the concept of global citizenship to reflect the thinking of Socrates, not one country (including Greece) adopted it. Hopefully, when Tesla and Socrates run into each other again humanity will be back on track. In the event planned in Delphi 2024 by the World Philosophical Forum I ask my readers to forward what they think would be Tesla's questions to Socrates and his answers.

Gilles-Decorvet has placed Socrates and his remarkable life onstage to uncover an influence that remains central to the foundations of Western thought. It is a reminder that neither money nor the body count for much; what counts is the soul and the search for self-knowledge, and that many have found such principles worth dying for. This is such stuff as dreams are made while nightmares still persist. As a pagan, heaven was not for Socrates. Neither was justice of which he said. What transpires in the courts often bears little resemblance to justice. Justice is what ultimately emerges from the courts. Let’s drink coffee with him and raise our glass of wine.