“How can I more precisely express truth and beauty in my writing?” asked the young traveler, sitting by the rocky entrance of a cave, high on the east side of Mount Athos (prosopopoeia).
The deepest wisdom of humanity apart from Christ is tragedy, both as a concept as well as realized in art. Oswald Chambers, while contemplating the book of Job, understood this and oft repeated it throughout his theological writings:
I hope all is well! As promised, I am writing to offer you any advice I can as you start out your journey with your new family and teaching. This is the first letter, but I hope our correspondence will continue for as long as it proves to be helpful.
“Friendship is a necessity.”
So opens Book VIII of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Friendship, he says, “is a kind of virtue, or implies virtue, and it is also most necessary for living. Nobody would choose to live without friends even if he had all the other good things.”
In the press and rush of planning, grading, lecturing, it becomes easy to think that the end of teaching is to plan, to grade, to lecture—and so to confuse the means of teaching with its ends: the getting of wisdom, the forming of virtue, the knowing of God, and the making of friends.
It's election day in these United States of America. After much speech-making and hand-wringing and soul-searching the day has come. We'll take to the polls and cast our respective votes for the next leader of the so-called Free World. This is a momentous occasion and a great responsibility. Years from now, centuries even, people will look back at our time and they will judge what happens today and in the coming months. History depends on what happens, one way or the other.
For the good of the other, that is the answer to our question. Or is it? What does that even mean? In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle explains what friendship is. Perhaps understanding friendship might help us to understand the relationship between teacher and student, even if the relationship between a teacher and his student is not one we might typically describe as a friendship.
For Aristotle, that student of Plato and therefore Socrates, there are three kinds of friendship: a friendship of utility, a friendship of pleasure, and pure friendship.
As the school year comes to a close many of us are faced with sending high school graduates off into the wide world. The young people in whom we have invested so much time and energy will soon be on their own, more or less. Most of these young people will head off to college. Still others are in the midst of college searches and SATs and planning for the future. In both cases, the process can seem never-ending, like filling out paperwork for an insurance company or paying taxes. And, in the end, who knows if the right decision was made. Did these students choose the right college?
In Plato’s Gorgias, beginning in section 466b, Polus and Socrates disagree about what gives men power in the polis.
Polus argues that the ability of the tyrant to kill whomever he wills, plunder whatever he wills, and imprison whomever he wills demonstrates his enviable power. Socrates argues that knowledge of — living in accordance with — justice demonstrates power, and that tyrants are actually least powerful in the polis.
Aristotle once wrote that “It is the mark of an educated man to look for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits.”
This is one of the most important principles of thought ever expressed - and one that has been almost universally neglected in our day, especially by those who oversee the ways we teach our children how to think.
We look for scientific precision when we study literature, for artistic judgment in math and spelling. When we assess, we look for statistical variation of immeasurable matters.