In his Republic, Plato strives to answer pivotal questions about education: What is it? What is its goal, its purpose in our lives? How should it be accomplished? He begins by describing education as a quest to seek, know, and love truth. It is not a simple acquisition of facts, but a journey that transforms the soul. Its purpose is to bring us to know and love what is just, beautiful and good, and to enable us to live a life guided by devotion to the truth.
Quiz: Name the five most influential philosophy books in Western Civilization. Go ahead, make your list. Don’t worry if you are not an expert in the history of philosophy. Just name the five most influential philosophy books of which you have heard.
There are a lot of viable candidates for that list of five. The number of possible lists is vast. But there is one book that, while it should be on everyone’s list, would show up on very few lists unless mentioned in advance. What is this most important work of philosophy that nobody remembers to list? The Bible.
“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn't you then first discover how much you really trusted it?” - C. S. Lewis
I am sometimes asked by my extended family members or friends, “so why are you doing this?” referring to the Apprenticeship program through the Circe Institute. As I approach my graduation from the three-year program, I thought I’d put down why I did join the Apprenticeship program, what I have gained from it.
What motivates a person to make the decisions he makes, to do the things she does? What motivates a group of people, a community, a city or whole nation to do what it does, to decide what it decides? Some people are motivated by what is right and what is wrong. Some people are motivated by what will earn them recognition and honor. Some people are motivated by the "return on investment." Some people are motivated by what will be an expression of their freedom, the right to choose what they choose to choose. What other things motivate us? As individuals? As communities?
I typically expect to be a little depressed in January. It is my least favorite month of the year and misplaced Christmas-season expectations often leave me feeling empty, cranky, and ashamed. It is possible after a cheerful glass of mulled wine I may have jokingly expressed to my family that “Christmas in THIS house would not happen without me. I am Christmas. Just lay me in that manager.” This terrible confession is true.
This post has been edited (January 4, 2020) to include a link to a podcast for those reading along.
A lot can change depending on whether you focus on sight or hearing. When I teach Plato’s Republic, we spend weeks discussing whether beauty is real or not. Our students generally regard themselves as counter-cultural. They will tell you they utterly reject the moral relativism and atheism that they see in the broader society beyond their family and community. And yet they will always say, with remarkable confidence, that “beauty is completely subjective; it’s in the eye of the beholder.”
“ . . . [W]e continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more ‘drive,’ or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or ‘creativity.’ In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”
A couple of weeks ago, I was angry at a friend. During a conversation, he had said some things that frustrated me, made me feel unwanted, and it resulted in me not wanting to be around anyone else for awhile. Shortly thereafter, a couple of other friends invited me to lunch, and I refused to go with them because I was too irritated to be around anyone else. I drove off to get some lunch, alone. As I was pulling into the drive thru line at a fast food chicken joint, two vehicles in front of me crashed into each other.