The Desirable Beauty of Virtue in Plato’s Republic

In light of the above quote, it is interesting to note that Plato begins the Republic with the premise that living a virtuous life, however difficult it may be at times, brings happiness to the individual and to the community. (An idea foreign or even repugnant to many who live in the 21st Century.)  In fact, he equates what we might translate as justice, virtue, and/or excellence in English from one Greek term.

But over five thousand years later, in today’s United States, the usual understanding of  “justice” is ever evolving toward the latest group to be awarded victim status and their demands for reparations of some sort as social justice. I doubt that such an idea ever occurred to Plato.

Today, virtue signaling carries much more weight than virtue lived out. Actually, the lived out version has almost been forgotten. If mentioned in secular society, “virtue” is regarded with the same the same red faced tittering usually saved for stories about one’s aging maiden aunt who never quite fit in with the real world of fun, games, and good times.  Perhaps, elderly women drinking tea together in the afternoon might mention virtue without blushing, but both cool kids and adults  “know for a fact” that it’s a poisonous term that’s totally incompatible with happiness.  

Interestingly enough our word “virtue” came to the English speaking world from the Latin word, vir, for men.  Today, however, most men would cringe at being called virtuous even though it originally referred to manly valor. Virile is probably the most common English word derived from vir, although virago is reserved for a woman who acts bravely – like a man. It used to refer to women like Judith or Joan of Arc, but now is associated with a difficult woman, full of anger, who adopts masculine actions.             

In this century, many reserve the word “excellence” for either athletic or musical performances; it would never occur to  most writers, readers, or speakers to associate it with virtuous actions or decisions. 

Only to the extent that we’re virtuous, are we able 

to thrive in our human relationships.”  

*Dr. John Cuddeback

Fortunately, for us sceptics who silently seethe as we watch dishonest people thrive, grow rich, and become famous even though they proudly show no interest in living a virtuous life, **Plato  also thoroughly defends his premise in later chapters.  He does so, not only on the personal level, but on the level of the city-state. Thus, the great effort required to live virtuously benefits both the person and society as a whole. In fact, Plato posits that not only does living a life of virtue bring happiness; it is happiness. 

One after another Plato records the objections and examples from those ancient Greeks who questioned his premise. Their challenges resemble similar arguments that come to our minds as we read Plato. The conversations are presented as a debate, not a series of  ***ad hominem attacks. Plato is both thorough and eloquent as he elaborates and explains his ideas. 

My favorite part is where he refutes those who think that if they are clever enough to disguise their self serving ways in order to have the reputation for being virtuous while still lying, cheating, and stealing, can find the same level of happiness as the man who actually does act justly. It almost sounds like Plato had been watching the shenanigans of some of the current denizens of our nation’s capital. 

Plato ices his cake with his explanation that not only does the self-serving man not enjoy true happiness, even his supposed pleasure of living out wrong desires does not provide the satisfaction he seeks. It’s easy to see his point if one has ever watched a friend or family member descend from pursuing the escape of pain to addiction to the depths of despair and loss that often end in suicide. Or, if one observes the beautiful desire for sexual fulfillment being used selfishly until it degrades the whole culture.  As time goes by, practices that were once perversions become accepted. Then applauded. And finally defended legally to the extent that those who abstain must keep their beliefs private to avoid litigation, fines, and possible imprisonment. Meanwhile, the perpetrators walk around still somewhat dissatisfied and disappointed.

Frankly his book inspired me more than many lectures and homilies about ethicial behavior from Christian or Jewish leaders. These two Greeks  who lived and wrote centuries before the coming of Christ figured out logically the practical aspects of living happily even without the Jewish and Christian concepts and books that are generally considered inspired. I am amazed.

When asked how he values justice in Book II, Socrates replies: 

I myself put it among the finest good, 

as something to be valued 

by anyone who is going to be blessed with happiness, 

both because of itself and because of what comes from it.

 

 

* Dr. John Cuddeback is a Professor of Philosophy at Christendom College and author of True Friendship: Where Virtue Becomes Happiness. Some of these ideas came from two of his lectures: Plato’s Republic and The Discovery of Virtue.

**Plato wrote the book, but most of the dialogue and ideas come directly from Socrates, his mentor. So one could easily attribute this work to either philosopher since Socrates did not leave any written record.

***”When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser.” Socrates

Was Chesterton Beautiful?

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Picture courtesy of connorsearle.wordpress.com

While he may not fit into our current ideals of a physically handsome man, his life and his wit were certainly beautiful. Gilbert K. Chesterton was another celebrated English writer and speaker who died before Winston Churchill was elected Prime Minister in 1940. Both men specialized in using simple words and simple sentence structure to eloquently express the deepest and richest ideas that never fail to communicate whether heard by the common man or the educated genius.

Here is a random trio of quotes that involve beauty:

  •        “Life exists for the love of music or beautiful things.”

  •        “There is the great lesson of ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ that a thing must be love before it is lovable.”

  •        “Art in the middle ages was ‘art for God’s sake’; art in the Renaissance was ‘art for man’s sake’; art in the 19th century was ‘art for art’s sake’; now art in the 20th century is ‘no art, for God’s sake.”

 

 

Well-spoken Words Bring Pleasure

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Clever conversations delight and enrich relationships – bringing beauty to all who listen and remember. Often young children contribute insights that fascinate bystanders and become family legends. Winston Churchill certainly was a legend in his own time for his way with words. In fact, one of his bitterest political enemies complimented his May 1940 speech to Parliament that roused the English people to fight Hitler rather than negotiate with him by saying, “Today, he mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.”

As you may have guessed, I overdosed on The Darkest Hour during the Easter holiday and that reignited my long-lived appreciation for his remarkable leadership during World War II.

The Delight of Unexpected Beauty

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Although I have never been a particular fan of Victorian architecture, I am entranced by  this example of art in a mundane setting. And after spending a lifetime of seeing and using only the cheap, banal door knobs, roses, and faceplates of post WWII home building, even a glimpse of this beautiful cast brass faceplate gladdens the heart. (Sorry to see ill chosen replacement screws.) A closer look reveals decorative door knobs. Probably cast brass hinges are visible on the other side of the door and frame. I relish the care involved in creating beauty for every aspect of life.

I apologize for not knowing who took the picture or where it was taken. I would gladly give attribution if only I knew.

Copyright 2018 by Kaye Fairweather

Beauty Liberates

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Photo by Pixabay

“Genuine beauty liberates us in many ways from the force of gravity, drawing us out of the dull capacity of daily life. At the sight of the truly beautiful we are freed from the tension that urges us on toward some immediate practical goal. We become contemplative, and this is immensely valuable. We expand, and even our soul itself becomes more beautiful when beauty come to meet us, takes hold of us, and fires us with enthusiasm. It lifts us up above all that is base and common.”

— DIETRICH VON HILDEBRAND