AN ancient Greek philosopher, Diogenes of Sinope, was seen on the streets of Athens with a lighted lantern in his hand in broad daylight.
When out of curiosity people asked Diogenes what he was looking for, he replied, “I am looking for a man?”
Diogenes acted so strangely to stir up his fellow citizens. His contention was that, even though it seemed so obvious that the world was full of human beings, it was not easy to find a person he was looking for.
The philosopher was trying to find a man in the true sense of the word, which he visualised as follows:
A man who was sincere, full of humour, love and truth
Someone who could cultivate justice, peace and equality
Someone who had humanity and courage
Look now at another ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates, and the characteristics that made a man worthy of this name.
Socrates was an advocate of humanity and he would admit his own ignorance and fault: “This and only this do I know; that I do not know anything.”
Constant admission of fault, failure and ignorance and the ability to compile a moral inventory of our lives is an essential element of being human according to Socrates.
He would say: “Virtue is the source of riches and all other goods that man processes both private and public.”
In his deepest state of moral reflection, Socrates summed up his philosophy as follows: “The entire business of living consist of knowing yourself because a life without self-examination is not worthy of being lived by a man.”
Here we find a philosopher who is an authentic representative of true wisdom and beauty. As a consequence, Socrates was put to the test by authorities and he remained brave and calm even in the face of burning to death.
In Plato’s ‘Allegory of the Cave’, men lived in the dark caves as slaves and could only see the shadows of themselves turning their backs from the fire light. They could not much or turn around because they were chained to each other and could not free themselves.
They only saw the shadows of their real selves. As they were struggling to come out, their eyes could only see a reflection of the real sunlight. They tried to focus and adjust their eyes to see the actual light. Some fell back to the dark cave.
This was a metaphor depicting the struggle between good and evil.
Another Greek philosopher, Aristotle, used the word ‘udaimonia’ in his ethical principle. It means the search for the highest good, beauty and happiness.
What is a good, and the question of good life, are tied to an evaluation of beauty. happiness and truth and answered in the form of a recommendation to follow on how to achieve that highest goal - norms or moral principles of rightness and justice.
Aristotle defined internal beauty as different from external beauty and the concept of the highest good of authentic self in the original form. Men originally were created good but corrupted in the process.
In our contemporary society there is a urgent need for self-awareness, or contemplation into our inner lives.
We have to be conscious of ourselves and dig deeper and explore our hidden and unexploded gifts and knowledge that needed to be cultivated.
What we know and are aware of in ourselves at the conscious level is just a small percentage of the vast layers of information and wisdom that is inbuilt in us, undisturbed or untouched - the unconscious that is still to be exploited.
There are defects of characters in us we really don’t know, so we have to listen and learn from others and accept correction.
Self-knowledge and a moral inventory of our lives are essential for human growth. We have the moral obligation to tell the truth, practice justice and equality, respect others and support others in need.
We have to practice all human qualities and virtues because there are rewards as stated in the Bible. “The truth will set you free.”