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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.

Heroism Is Always Beautiful

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The two heroes of Sutherland, Texas

The pictures above hopefully will help erase the other less comforting images from last Sunday in Sutherland, Texas. Wearing the hat is Johnnie Langendorff, 27, who drove his pickup in the chase after the vindictive gunman left the church in an attempt to escape the immediate area. To the right is Stephen Willeford, 55, who had grabbed his rifle and run out of his house barefooted when he heard the sound of gun shots coming from the church.

He confronted the shooter, Devin Patrick Kelley, leaving the church and managed to wound him as the  young man ran to his car. Kelley immediately raced away, but the older man, seeing Langendorff sitting in his pickup nearby, asked for help and they started the ninety-five mph chase down a local Farm to Market road.

Eventually Kelley lost control of his car and ended up in a ditch, then shot himself. Willeford and Langendorff guarded by waiting nearby until the Texas State Patrol arrived.

Pictures of the two heroes were taken the next evening at a local vigil for the victims of the tragedy at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs.

Although praised by both strangers and neighbors as a hero, Willeford insists that he doesn’t think of himself like that. “‘I’m no hero. All I want to stress today, is the people at that church, they’re friends of mine, they’re family, and every time I heard a shot I knew that probably represented a life.”

Even as he grabbed his gun and a pocketful of ammunition, he admits he was scared to death. “I was scared for me and I was scared for every one of them, and I was scared for my own family that lived less than a block away. I think my God, my Lord, protected me and gave me the skills to do what needed to be done. “
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If you are interested in reading more about these two men, both Conservative Tree House and Canada Free Press have articles today.

 

 

 

 

More on Loyalty

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Three Maine roofers stand for the playing of

the national anthem.  (Michelle Lyons Cossar)

 

On Saturday, October 14, 2017 three roofers were working on a house near a high school football stadium. When they heard the familiar strains of the Star Spangled Banner, they immediately stopped working, stood up, faced the flag down on the nearby field, and put their hands over their hearts while the anthem played. They had no idea anyone was watching or taking their picture, but they stood to honor their flag and their country. According to one of the men, they did it just because it was the “right thing to do.

A woman attending the game happened to see them, took their picture, posted it to Facebook.

Everyone involved, workers, camera operators, and Facebook observers, understands that walking in or choosing beauty involves loyalty to the ideals of the country they live in.

 

Two Beautiful NFL Events

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“Because I have been able to build a reputation as a talented player, I have been able to build futures.   Because I am able to play, I am able to make a difference. Because I have been blessed with a talent, I also have been given a responsibility.”

Warrick Dunn

When less than admirable football stars stay in the news week after week, perhaps we need to spend some extra time  recognizing stellar NFL players like Warrick Dunn and Deshaun Watson. No doubt there are many others, but these two deserve to share the spotlight today. And we who watch from the sidelines need to understand that the media revels in bad news and mostly ignores the good stories.

Warrick Dunn used his talents on the football field for Catholic High School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana to earn a scholarship to Florida State University. At FSU, he not only played well, he took care of his five younger siblings after their mother, a single parent, was killed in the line of duty as a police officer and a part-time security guard. She had been working extra hours to buy a house for her family.

Graduation brought the opportunity to play professional football with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and later,  the Atlanta Falcons. He used his opportunity with above average income during those years to help others and to establish a charitable foundation. A more complete story of his life is available as an autobiography, Running for My Life.

One of those whom he helped, was Deshaun Watson, a star football player at Gainesville High School in Georgia. Dunn found out that Deshaun’s mother was helping build houses with Habitat for Humanity, hoping to earn one for herself and her four children in 2006. Warrick Dunn stepped in to buy a four bedroom house, fully furnished for the Watsons.  It was so fully furnished that even the refrigerator was well stocked with food on the day they moved in.

Deshaun finished his education at Gainesville High and then at Clemson University, where he led his team to a national championship.  This week he walked out on to the field to play his first game with the Houston Texans.

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Deshaun and two of the women he helped.

Instead of depositing his first game check for $27,000, Deshaun divided it into thirds and gave $9,000 each to three of the team’s cafeteria workers who lost everything  when Hurricane Harvey flooded their homes.

After all, he had received a lot more than a mere house from his benefactor, Warrick Dunn. He received both inspiration and a good example.