Updated: Mar 4
2,500 years ago, before his momentum was stopped by a drink, Socrates stood motionless for hours, professing around him to young people eager for his teaching. Thanks to his questions, he incited them to give birth to their inner selves by bringing out their own knowledge, which must have been very pleasing, because since humans are human, each of us is ready to pay a fortune to have an audience that is interested in itself. Let's add that teaching was free, when the sophists' wasn't, and you don't have to be a fortune-teller to understand that, even then, it must have been a very competitive advantage.
Yes, but Socrates was a philosopher!
Yet, in which category would we put a master thinker today who offers students a life teaching based on a new method?
Let's imagine that he puts his teachings online for free and distributes them through a cheap website, managed by Plato. His biography would be short because, apart from having served as a soldier, he wouldn't have had much to show as a resume. He would have liked women, except for his own, who had become surly. He would be pitied for his bad luck, explaining his absences from home and his infidelities by the dreadful temper of his wife.
Would we say that he teaches philosophy? Probably not, because this very selective discipline, reserved for a few intellectuals who no longer invent anything new, would look down on him with disdain.
Socrates today, dare we say it, would perhaps find a more elegant title for it, but would be nothing more than a coach, perhaps even a guru against whom youth would still be warned.
Indeed, Plato tells us in his Apology that, answering Chéréphon, Socrates' close friend who came to ask him about it, Pythia herself had said that Socrates was the wisest of men; here is our coach with a divine legitimacy that makes him directly enter the very closed circle of prophets, even if the philosopher would have retorted that, knowing that he knew nothing, how could he have been wiser than those who were reputed to ‘know’? Moreover, in his time, Socrates had questioned politicians, poets and craftsmen, who all proved to be ignorant on two counts: on the one hand, they thought they knew when they did not know and were not aware of their ignorance.
Nowadays, life coaches abound on the internet and propose all sorts of more or less original methods, almost all of which claim to be Socrates'. On the Wikipedia page dedicated to coaching, it is written that "philosophy is one of the roots of coaching, insofar as it is an autonomous exercise of reason, even when it is guided by dialogue or Socratic maieutics".
Is Socrates a guru?
A master of thought, he certainly was for his followers, and clearly still is today. And, even if the temptation must have been strong, nothing in what his students, like Plato or Xenophon relate, brings Socrates closer to sectarian aberrations: No faith in him, no hierarchy, by outcasts, no money, and yet the fervor he aroused could have gone to his head, as it did to that guru who was so keen on medieval esotericism that, in May 2019, was pierced with a crossbow by one of his mistreated disciples, or, as in the case of this French osteopath-guru who, in 2018, charged at golden price for remote consultations, without for once being able to blame COVID.
As for the pandemic, it obviously favors all recourse to various and varied messaging systems to keep the link between the master thinker and his or her followers. Thus, there are instructions on the Internet on how to build and maintain a community at a distance. In short, the guide to the perfect guru in Corona's time.
The reflection to which all of this leads me is that of figuring out how to get out of normality while remaining in normality. Can one, as a self-taught person, share ideas or must one necessarily refer to established references? Are there still unexplored ideas? Perhaps hope will spring up in a post-pandemic world to be restored, opening up a future of possibilities.
Photo Getty images