Learning Cantonese: Chu Man on the Death of Socrates & the Unexamined Life

I transcribed 豬文 Chu Man’s lively “On Hating and Despising Philosophy” back in April, and have been working on other videos by him since then, including his 2019 TEDx talk on Socrates’ maxim 「未經反省嘅人生,係不值得活嘅」 [“An unexamined life is not worth living”]. At a time in which individual freedoms in Hong Kong are under unprecedented threat, it is wonderful to be reminded that, without critical reflection on the life you lead, there is a danger that you will end up leading not your own but someone else’s idea of what your life should be.

The great difficulty with this piece is the absence of any subtitles. I have done my best, but have been unable to fill in all the gaps. Fortunately, for the most part, the context makes it pretty clear what Chu Man is driving at.

Actually, Chu Man is the nickname of 鄺雋文 K[w]ong3 Jeun3 Màhn4 or Chun Man Kwong, a doctoral student at Oxford University who is committed to bringing philosophy to the people. It occurred to me that you might think of him as “Piglitt” in English, since 豬 jyū1 = pig and 文 màhn4 = “literature; writing” . . . As for the character 雋 jeun3 in his real name, that means “unusually talented”.

There are no real gems of Cantonese grammar in the extract I have chosen, but there are a couple of uses of the 咪 . . . 囉 structure to indicate an obvious conclusion (Yip and Matthews in Intermediate Cantonese, Unit 23). So, at 7:20 you’ll hear 開開心心咪得囉 = “it’s ok to be happy”, while at 8:37 the speaker says 就算你要反對呢個哲學反省,你反對嘅時候,咪就係做緊哲學反省囉 = that is being engaged in philosophical reflection.

There is plenty of good vocabulary in the extract, including: 保持警覺 bóu2 chìh4 gíng2 gok3 = to stay/remain alert; 順勢 seuhn6 sai3 = take advantage of an opportunity; 預設 yuh6 chit3 = (?) to presuppose; 自主性 jih6 jyú2 sing3 = roughly, “the quality of deciding for oneself” or “initiative”; 嚴格嚟講 yìhm4 gaak3 lèih4 góng2 = strictly speaking; 打個譬如 dáa2 go3 pei3 yùh4 = to give an example; 高薪厚職 gōu1 sān1 háuh5 jīk1 = a high salary & a substantial position | ● 成世人 sèhng4 sai3 yàhn4 = one’s whole life; an entire lifetime; ● 雙向 sēung1 heung3 = two-way.

Please scroll down for my transcription, English translation and notes. You can view the video here (remember: there are no subtitles). Since it is a YouTube video, you can slow down the playback speed if you wish: at 0.75 and 0.5, the sound quality is still good. And remember, if you want the standard jyutping romanization or to check any of the Chinese in the text, please consult the Sheik Cantonese on-line dictionary.


【4:11】噉其實蘇格拉底呢,係有機會唔使死嘅 | 噉只要佢認罪呢,嗰個雅典嗰啲法官呀,或者嗰啲權力人士就「哦,哦放逐你得㗎喇。唔使驚,唔使死呀。」| 但蘇格拉底講咩呢?佢就話「如果你哋呢班人,啫,按公義去審判嘅,唔單止我唔使死同埋放逐,你哋更加應該請我食飯 ,佢係咁講 | 點解呢? | 因為蘇格拉底自比呢,自己係一隻牛虻 | 一隻牛身上嘅小昆蟲 | 不斷叮住雅典呢隻牛 | 睇落好似又煩又乞人憎又無用咁,但其實佢有一個功能 | 佢令到呢隻牛不斷保持警覺 | 所以因為佢呢種追問同埋批評嘅精神其實係服務緊【5:00】個社會呀 | 所以雅典政府應該請請佢食飯

● 放逐 fong3 juhk6 = to send into exile; to exile; to banish | ● 牛虻 [ng]àuh4 mòhng4 (?) = gadfly | ● 叮dēng1 = to sting; to bite | ● 保持警覺 bóu2 chìh4 gíng2 gok3 = to stay/remain alert

In actual fact, Socrates was given a chance [which meant] he didn’t have to die. Had he accepted the charges made against him, those Athenian judges or those in power [would have said]: “Oh, banishing you is enough. You have nothing to fear. You don’t have to die”. What did Socrates say to that? He said: “If you lot had tried [me] according to justice, there would have been no need for me to die or to go into exile — in fact, you would have treated me to a meal”. That’s what he said. Why? Because Socrates compared himself to a gadfly, a small insect [found] on the body of a cow, constantly biting the Cow that was Athens. By the looks of it irritating, hateful and of no practical use [無用], he nevertheless had a function: he forced [令到] the cow to stay constantly alert. For this reason, because of this questioning and critical spirit of his, he was actually serving his society. And so the Athenian government should have treated him to a meal.

噉我做一個讀哲學嘅人,其實蘇格拉底好多哲學理論或者立場我都唔係好認同,但係淨係呢點呢,我係一路都好認同嘅 | 所以 *so 一路都等緊呢個政府出翻糧俾我或者請我食飯,俾錢我去讀哲學嘅 | 噉蘇格拉底認爲呢,呢種批判嘅精神呢,唔單止係對個社會有用 | 佢覺得呢,更加係人人都應該做嘅嘢 | 佢嘅名言嘅係一個自辯入便,啫,佢審判嘅時候為咗辯護有個名言嘅,就係呢句 | 佢話「未經反省嘅人生呢,係不值得活嘅」| 噉呢個係佢自辯一個名言,亦都係影響[到] 後世最多嘅説話 | 噉正如蘇格拉底自己呢,佢都唔會因為嗰啲專家嘅身份就亂信仰 | 我哋都唔應該因為蘇格拉底係一個偉大嘅哲學家就順勢講嘢㗎嘛 | 噉所以 *so 我哋都應該問清楚,究竟未經反省嘅人生,係咪真係不值得活嘅呢?【6:00】| 「係」嘅話,理由又喺邊度呢?

● 出糧 chēut1 lèuhng4 = to pay a salary | ● 名言 mìhng4 yìhn4 = a well-known saying; a celebrated dictum; a famous remark | ● 自辯 jih6 bihn6 = (?) to argue in self-defence | ● 後世 hauh6 sai3 = ① later ages ② later generations | ● 順勢 seuhn6 sai3 = take advantage of an opportunity | ● 理由 léih5 yàuh4 = a reason; a ground; an argument

As a student of philosophy, in actual fact I don’t really approve of [我都唔係好認同] many of Socrates’ philosophical theories or standpoints, but I have always approved of this one point. For this reason, I am waiting for this government to pay me a wage or treat me to a meal, and to pay me to study philosophy. Now, Socrates believed that this critical spirit is not only useful to society but that it was something each and every individual should do. In his self-defence, [he said something that has become] a well-known saying, a well-known saying that he used while defending himself during the trial: “An unexamined life is not worth living”. This celebrated dictum used by Socrates in self-defence and the remark has had the most influence on later ages. Now like Socrates himself, who stated that he wouldn’t rashly believe in [亂信仰] something just because of the status of those experts, we too ought not simply take his words at face-value [順勢講嘢] just because the man was a great philosopher. And so we have to be clear about whether the unexamined life really is not worth living, and if it is, what [邊度] the reason for it is.

噉嚟緊厘短短嘅幾分鐘,我哋就嘗試一齊扮吓蘇格拉底,質問翻蘇格拉底自己 | 係咪真嘅呢?| 噉啊我曾經喺課堂上邊都同啲學生討論過呢個故仔或者討論過呢個諗法嘅 | 噉啊不如大家估吓,我嘅學生係支持厘個説話多定係 *dei 反對嘅多?. . .

● 嚟緊 lèih4 gán2 = coming | ● 課堂 fo3 tòhng4 = classroom

In the coming few short minutes, we will try together to play the part of Socrates, and to question Socrates himself about [whether what he said] is true. I have discussed this story in the classroom with students or discussed this way of thinking. How about you try and guess whether more students supported [Socrates’] remark or disagreed with it?  . . .

【7:05】噉啲有認同嘅同反對嘅各佔一半呀 | 噉我覺得反對嘅同學呢,講嘅講法都幾 make sense 嘅,幾合附我哋嘅直覺 | 佢講啲咩呢?| 佢話,人點解要諗嘢?點解要反省呢?開開心心咪得囉 | 呢啲主觀嘅嘢喎 | 噉如果佢揀咗好似 TVB 咁樣《愛回家》咁樣好開心過一世 | 你憑咩話佢唔值得活 [啫]?咁樣 | 佢係咁講 | 噉我估呢個講法可能大家都某個意義上係 share 厘個講法嘅 | 但係我當時係點樣回應佢呀?| 我當時就係話,冇錯呀,人生係有好多好多種,千千萬萬咁多種 | 就好似呢個 hall 入便,百零二百人 | 我哋都 [過] 得好唔同嘅人生 | 有人係攝影師,有人係建築師,我係讀哲學嘅人 | 唔一定個個都讀哲學嘅,但個問題係,你要揀㗎嘛?【8:00】| 要揀㗎嘛?| 究竟係做隻所謂快樂嘅豬定係 *dei 痛苦嘅蘇格拉底,呢個係要揀㗎嘛?| 呢個問題本身就預設咗我哋要做抉擇,而做抉擇我哋就要去諗嘢 | 所以 *so 個問題係,無論如何,我哋都要用蘇格拉底式嘅哲學反省去選擇 | 所以其實呢種哲學反省係必須嘅 | 即使你揀做 [咗一隻快樂嘅豬] 或者開心嘅人生 [你都] 要揀咗先呀,你都要經過一種所謂 self-examination 嘅洗禮,你嘅選擇先係有意,你嘅人生先至值得活嘅 | 所以 *so 個講法就係,就算你要反對呢個哲學反省,你反對嘅時候,咪就係做緊哲學反省囉 | 所以呢種哲學反省係不能迴避

各佔一半 gok3 jim3 yāt1 bun3 = roughly, “each one occupied a half”, in otherwise, the class was divided “fifty-fifty” between those who agreed and those who did not | ● 合附 hahp6 fuh6 = (?) to accord with | ● 憑 pàhng4 = to rely on; to depend on | ● 預設 yuh6 chit3 = (?) to presuppose | ● 抉擇 kyut3 jaahk6 = to choose | ● 洗禮 sái2 láih5 = a baptism | ● 迴避 wùih4 beih6 = to evade; to dodge; to avoid

Half the students agreed with the idea, and half disagreed. Now I thought that what the students who disagreed said did make a lot of sense, according with one’s intuitions. What did she say? She said, “Why should people have to think about everything? Why should [we] have to reflect? It’s OK just be happy [with (?)] these subjective things. Now if [you] have chosen to live your life very happily in the manner of TVB’s Love Comes Home, what right have you to say [你憑咩話] that the life of such a person is not worth living?” That’s how she put it. Now I suppose that all of you here [大家] probably share this view in one sense or another. But at the time, how did I respond to her? At the time I said, “True, there many, many different ways to lead a human life, hundreds and thousands of different ways just like here in this hall of somewhere between one and two hundred people [百零二百人]. We all of us live our different lives — some are photographers, some are architects, and I study philosophy. Not everyone is necessarily a student of philosophy, but the question/problem is: Did you choose [your life]? Did you choose it? Whether you lead the life of a happy pig or a suffering Socrates, the thing is [呢個], did you choose it [係要揀嘅嗎]? This issue itself presupposes that we have to make a choice, and that to make a choice we have to think. And so the thing [所以個問題係] is, no matter [what the situation], we all have to make use of a Socratic-style philosophical reflection in order to choose. For this reason, such philosophical reflection is necessary. Even if you decide to be a happy pig or live a happy, carefree life [開心嘅], you have to make a choice, you have to undergo a baptism self-examination. Only then will your choice be meaningful and will your life be worth living. And so one could say that [Socrates’ remark about the unexamined life means that], even if you are opposed to philosophical reflection, your opposition to it is still [a way of] engaging in [做緊] philosophical reflection. For this reason, you can’t escape this kind of philosophical reflection.

噉究竟點解用哲學反省去令到我哋嘅人生變得值得活或者有意義呢?噉呢度有好多唔同嘅講法嘅,唔同嘅哲學家有唔同嘅詮釋。噉我或者分享吓我自己嘅比較簡單嘅理解 【9:00】。我理解係,呢種講法背後顯示咗一種對人嗰種自主性嘅重視。我哋要安排自己人生,為自己人生負責,咁呢,我哋 [成爲] 自己人生嘅主人。你諗吓,如果你唔反省,你嘅好多諗法或者你做緊嘅嘢係咪真係你自己嘅呢?定係 *dei 你屋企人、你朋友、你嘅社會俾你嘅呢?如果你冇反省過,其實你冇揀過。你冇揀過,嚴格嚟講,你連自己人生都承唔上,你冇 [過緊個] 自己嘅人生。

● 詮釋 chyùhn4 sīk1 = to explain; to interpret | ● 顯示 hín2 sih6 = to show; to display; to manifest | ● 自主性 jih6 jyú2 sing3 = roughly, “the quality of deciding for oneself” or “initiative” | ● 嚴格嚟講 yìhm4 gaak3 lèih4 góng2 = strictly speaking | ● 承唔上 sìhng4 mh4 seuhng6 = roughly, “to be able to undertake/take on/assume”

Now why does the use of philosophical reflection make our lives worth living or meaningful? Many explanations [講法] are given to this, and different philosophers have different interpretations. I’d like perhaps to share my rather simple understanding [of the matter] with you. My understanding is that behind [Socrates’ comment about the unexamined life] there is a laying of importance on an individual’s initiative. We have to arrange our own lives and take responsibility for ourselves, and by doing so we become the masters of our own lives. Think about it. If you don’t [engage in] reflection, are what you think about and what you do truly your own? Or are they something you have been given by your family, your friends or your society? If you haven’t examined [your life], then you actually haven’t made any choices. And if you haven’t chosen, then — strictly speaking — you cannot even undertake your own life, and you’ve never lived the life that is yours.

打個譬如 [啦]。如果有個人自細受到屋企嘅教育話,我哋仔要努力搵錢、結婚、買樓,於是乎佢大學就揀咗搵錢嘅課,後尾揀咗高薪厚職,然之後就做一個幸福嘅家庭。如果佢成世人都冇曾經 一刻,跳後一步,望翻呢個人,望翻呢條命,諗吓究竟咩值得做咩唔值得做嘅話,究竟佢過緊一個自己嘅人生呢,定係佢只不過係沿緊一個嘅社會俾佢嘅角色呢?【10:00】如果佢連自己人生都承唔上嘅時候,佢人生又仲有咩所謂值得唔值得活呢?可能佢反省完,揀翻一樣嘅嘢,但重點唔係佢揀啲咩,係佢要揀,佢先能夠成爲佢人生嘅主人。所以 *so 我哋會 [相信],揀咗,嗰條命先係你自己,而揀,[就係] 你要反省。所以 *so 無論如何,我哋都需要一個哲學嘅反省去幫助我哋 . . . 重新獲得自己嘅人生。

● 打個譬如 dáa2 go3 pei3 yùh4 = to give an example | ● 搵錢 wán2 chín4*2 = to make money | ● 高薪厚職 gōu1 sān1 háuh5 jīk1 = a high salary & a substantial position | ● 成世人 sèhng4 sai3 yàhn4 = one’s whole life; an entire lifetime cf. 一生人 yāt1 sāng1 yàhn4 = one’s whole life (used in the next section) | ● 沿 yùhn4 = to follow (a tradition, a pattern, etc.) | ● 角色 gok3 sīk1 = a role; a part

Let me give you an example. Imagine a man who has been instructed [in the following manner] by his family: our son must do all he can to get a job, to marry, and to buy a place to live. Then, when he goes to university, he chooses a course that means he can earn [good] money and, in the end, he lands a substantial position with a high salary. After that, he makes a happy family [for himself]. If he has never in the whole course of his life jumped back for a moment and looked [back (?)] at this person [he has become] and at this life of his, and wondered about what is worth doing and what is not, then is he living his own life, or has he merely accepted a role [沿緊一個 . . . 角色] given to him by his society? If he is unable to undertake even his own life, then what in his life can be said to worth the living? Perhaps he did reflect on his life and, after doing so, chose to live [exactly] the same [way], but the main thing is not what he chose but that he did chose [佢要揀], enabling him to become the master of his life. For this reason, we can believe [我哋會相信] that, only when we have chosen can that life be yours — and to choose requires you to reflect. And so, no matter what, we all of us need philosophical reflection to help us . . . to regain for ourselves our own lives.

噉呢種對人嘅自主性嘅重視,其實都體現咗蘇格拉底對教育或者學習嘅理解。蘇格拉底雖然係一個好偉大嘅哲學家,但好有趣地,佢連一生人都冇寫過書。噉係唔係因為佢唔識字呀?噉當然就唔係啦。噉好多關於佢嘅記載都只能夠憑其他人嘅描寫去獲知呀,例如派拉圖嘅著作咁樣。噉蘇格拉底點解唔寫書呀?係因為佢認爲追求知識同埋學習必然係一個即時同埋雙向嘅活動【11:00】,而書呢,係死 [㗎]。書寫低咗就擺咗喺度呢,你冇即時同本書辯論嘅。噉所以只能夠透過佢嗰種我哋叫做 Socratic dialogue 去同其他人辯論嗰種即時性先能夠獲得知識嘅。噉所以大家聽到呢度就發現,原來追求知識唔一定睇書可能大家就好開心 [喇],而家。哈哈,都唔係我問題啫,我唔睇書都唔代表我唔追求知識嘅,咁樣。[哎],但係大家都唔使開心得咁早喎。嗱,大家呢,嚟呢個TEDx啊,好開心啦,呃,覺得,[哎],有啲做啲文化活動,幾高級嘅,應該追求知識嘅,咁樣。[哎],噉啊坐喺度聽咗咁多「專家」嘅演講 [呀],包括我呢啲所謂「專家」演講,應該學到好多嘢,返到屋企就應該自命得意,就可以喺IG 呀、Facebook 就 share,啊,[咁樣] 好 inspiring 囉,咁樣,係啦。啫,// 咁樣。// 我估大家都有類此嘅心態嘅,但係我,我sorry 呀,我,我代蘇格拉底同大家講聲 sorry 先。唔係呀。你冇學過嘢呀。點解呀?你哋全部都只係坐喺度【12:00】聽我講。你冇真正發問。你冇真正提出自己意見。只能夠喺你真正提出自己嘅意見、發問、甚至挑戰我哋呢啲所謂專家嘅諗法嘅時候,你先真係 engage 緊嗰啲思想、嗰啲知識,而到你就係 engage 嗰刻,你先真係搭上追求知識嘅路。所以呢,一陣 lunchbreak,記得啦,把握機會,問吓啲專家,係呀。多啲討論。噉 [呢],[就係非常大] 嘅嘢,你先就係學到嘢,OK。

● 體現 tái2 yihn6 = to embody; to incarnate; to give expression to | ● 一生人 yāt1 sāng1 yàhn4 = one’s whole life | ● 記載 gei3 joi3 = a record; an account | ● 派拉圖 paai3 lāai1 tòuh4 = Plato | ● 即時 jīk1 sìh4 = usu. “immediate; forthwith”; here perhaps “on the spot” | ● 雙向 sēung1 heung3 = two-way| ● 自命得意 jih6 mihng6 dāk1 yi3 = cf. 自命 = to consider oneself; to regard oneself + 得意 = (?) interesting | ● 挑戰 tīu1 jin3 = to challenge

This valuing of individual initiative is an expression of Socrates understanding of education and of study. Socrates was a great philosopher, but one interesting fact is that he never wrote a book in the whole course of his life. Was that because he was illiterate? No, of course not! For accounts of him, [we] can only rely on descriptions written by other people, works by Plato, for example. Why didn’t Socrates write books, then? Because he believed that the pursuit of knowledge as well as learning required on-the-spot-ness and a two-way exchange. Books, on the other hand, are dead: once they are written they just sit there [擺咗喺度] — you can’t have a two-way argument with them. And so the only way you can obtain knowledge is by means of what we call the Socratic dialogue, having an immediate interchange with other people. Now, you might be happy to hear that you don’t have to read any books to acquire knowledge. “Ha, there’s nothing wrong with me! Just because I don’t read doesn’t mean I’m not engaged in the pursuit of learning.” But please don’t celebrate too soon [但係大家都唔使開心得咁早喎]! Here you are, happy to be at this TEDx talk, thinking that at these cultural events, really quite high-class, you can pursue knowledge. You sit here listening to talks by all these experts — including so-called experts like myself — thinking that you ought to learn something, and when you get back home you’d consider yourself someone with something to say [自命得意], something you can share on Instagram and Facebook, how inspiring! Something like that. I guess most of you here might have an attitude like that, but I’m sorry: on behalf of Socrates, I have to tell you that I’m sorry. No, actually, you didn’t learn anything. Why not? [Because] the lot of you sat here listening to me speak. You didn’t ask questions. You didn’t get to express your own ideas. It’s only when you have really put forward your own ideas — even [daring to go so far as] to challenge the views of us, the so-called experts — that you are truly engaging with those ideas, with that knowledge and at the time when you are engaging, you can truly be said to have embarked on the road to knowledge. So for this reason, on your next lunchbreak, remember to take advantage of the opportunity to asks the experts questions. Discuss more. Only then UNCLEAR will you learn things. OK.

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