For this, he uses a pedagogy that has served as a model for numerous psychotherapists. In the writings of Plato, Socrates’s strategy can be broken down into three phases:
1. The torpedo. This is probably Socrates’s most well-known technique. The Socrates who asks questions lays bare the ready-made thoughts of the other. Socrates the torpedo chooses to use irony and skepticism to unmask the falsehood of certain forms of reasoning and fashionable beliefs. Often irritating, Socrates does not disqualify a logical argument and always attempts to demonstrate the relevance of his questions. In psychotherapy, the torpedo technique is often used to analyze defense systems and rigid mental practices.
2. The midwife. Socrates, whose mother is thought to have been a midwife, perceives his work as the midwifery of the Truths in an individual’s soul when these are born in the mind. In psychotherapy, this function is often taken up in what Jung calls a process of individuationâ; that is, the process by which a person becomes a psychological individual, that is a separate, indivisible unity or whole’â (Jung, 1939, p. 275). This notion does not presuppose some general truths but an idea that an individual can be more or less himself, more or less conformed to his essence. We often find these types of concepts in the humanisticâ psychotherapies, such as the Gestalt therapy of Fritz Perls or the Biodynamic psychology of Gerda Boyesen. One of Socrates’s principal tools as a midwife is Socratic questioning, of which I previously spoke.
3. Self-knowledge. Socrates’s know thyselfâ is mostly defined by Plato as a necessity of selfexploration to discover the Truths contained in one’s soul. The imperative to know oneself has little to do with what psychotherapists ask their patients to discover relative to the history of their drives.21
Only the first strategy that of the torpedo can be associated with the Socrates who hunts down prejudice (that which is judged even before the start of the conversation). The second strategy is taken up by the psychotherapists who are idealists, who assume that there exists a fundamental self, a human being’s authentic center.
This first portrait of Socrates was the first great philosophical myth that Plato proposed to humanity. What Plato offers us is a representation of the philosophical inquiry, of the searching philosopher. There is nonetheless a commonality between psychotherapists and young Plato’s Socrates: the necessity to destabilize and cleanse the mind of its prejudices so that it can perceive with enlightened clarity what is really happening around and within oneself. This fundamental overture remains young Plato’s essential message. To then decide that this overture ought to focus on the messages of the unconscious mind, of the soul’s hidden wisdom, is already the beginning of a closure. Such closure is sometimes necessary. An individual cannot open himself up to everything and assimilate it. Thus there is a necessity to choose what is important at a given moment: a choice that differentiates the exploration in psychotherapy, the exploration in philosophy, or the exploration in meditation. If an individual goes from the exploration of his mind to that of his soul, he must first clean his mental glasses, because each form of self-exploration implies a well-established habit that fosters a focus on certain inner dynamics of the self. Thus, being able to free associate, as Freud would propose 2,400 years later, is to try to eliminate all forms of mental prejudices and let spring forth in word all that takes shape in the mind. I notice that often those who subject themselves to this discipline rarely become sensitive to what opens up in meditation; the inverse is equally true. To open oneself by following one method inevitably leads to the establishment of a way of thinking and perceiving. The mind becomes particularly sensitive to certain inner dynamics and develops intellectual structures better able to appreciate them All of this is put in place, thanks to a regular practice. Plato, who believes in only one kind of true thought, does not pay attention to the formation of these mental habits. All the same, his Socrates is a startling example that is it impossible to not become, with experience, a heap of mannerisms that sometimes resemble tics. There is a Socratic style, a Socratic irony,22 a Socratic way to perplex the other, and a Socratic form of inquiry that is found in almost all of Plato’s early dialogues. Only later does Plato present a Socrates who will sometimes have a healing and hospitable voice. However, this version, we are told, would be more Plato than Socrates.