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Plato’s Big Mistake by Louis Markos

Plato

Plato’s Big Mistake

Plato never cared much for the sophists, viewing them as amoral peddlers of a relativistic kind of wisdom with the potential to corrupt the souls of those who hired them. It is therefore not surprising that when they appear in his dialogues, they are generally treated in a negative or at least suspect manner. InProtagoras, however, Plato treats the sophist of the title with considerable respect. He even has Socrates debate with Protagoras—on fairly equal terms!—a two-part question that Plato considered vital: what is the nature of virtue and can it be taught to others? Although the more elitist Socrates begins the dialogue by asserting that virtue cannot be taught, as the dialogue proceeds, he slowly adopts a position concerning the nature of virtue that drives him—almost against his will—toward the necessary conclusion that virtue can be taught.

In striking contrast to the Christian doctrine of original sin, Plato argues in Protagoras—and elsewhere—that human evil is not the result of rebellion or disobedience. Although G. K. Chesterton was certainly right when he claimed that original sin was “the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved,” Plato seems to have overlooked this proof in favor of a different cause for vicious behavior. “For myself,” says Socrates, “I am fairly certain that no wise man believes anyone sins willingly or willingly perpetrates any evil or base act. They know very well that all evil or base action is involuntary” (345e). Later in the dialogue, Socrates explains more clearly what the cause is of this involuntary evil:

…when people make a wrong choice of pleasures and pains—that is, of good and evil—the cause of their mistake is lack of knowledge….no one who either knows or believes that there is another possible course of action, better than the one he is following, will ever continue on his present course when he might choose the better. To “act beneath yourself” is the result of pure ignorance, to “be your own master” is wisdom. (357e, 358c)

Evil actions, that is to say, are caused not by sin but by ignorance. If we knew of another, better course of action, we would take it. Continue reading

Controlled Burn, Alinskyian organizing, and Common Core by Stephanie Block

(Book Review)
Controlled Burn Alinskyian organizing and Common Core: A Book Review of A Match on Dry Grass: Community Organizing as a Catalyst for School Reform By Mark R. Warren, Karen L. Mapp, and the Community Organizing and School Reform Project, Oxford University Press (2011)

Match-on-Grass-cover2


The title of this book, A Match on Dry Grass, is a metaphor. The education system is desiccated; parents are frustrated and angry. In such an environment, all it takes is a small push for reform, supplied by professional organizers around the country, and a wild prairie-fire of a movement against the “’savage inequalities’ of American public education” will be ignited. (p. 5) At least, that’s the plan.

Continue reading

Thomas Aquinas on Wisdom by Robert M. Woods

Thomas Aquinas on Wisdom

by Robert M. Woods

St. Thomas AquinasOn occasion, but it should be with great frequency, within the context of a class discussion or even a lesson at Church, the topic of wisdom is discussed. Frequently, but it should be on occasion, the definition is put forth as practical or applied learning. It is at times like these I desired that Thomas Aquinas’s definition of wisdom had won the day in Western civilization. In truth, the Liberal Arts would have done much better through the ages if his definition had been the one people lived by and taught.

For Thomas, and most Philosophers until the modern world, Philosophy was essentially the “love of wisdom.” To engage in the the practice of philosophy was the faithful pursuit of wisdom wherever it might be found. The primary understanding of truth was saying of a thing what was and not saying of a thing what was not. In a larger sense, wisdom was an understanding of the truth of things. Philosophy was not navel gazing and not ideological manipulation, but it was a diligent quest to understanding the good, the true, and the beautiful.

Thomas asserts (and I paraphrase) in the Summa Contra Gentiles I, 2: While humans are finite, among all the human pursuits, the pursuit of wisdom is the ultimate end, and it is the most noble, and the most useful, and that pursuit that can provide the greatest joy. Through Philosophy, we humans are more like God and can apprehend the truth of things which calls us to a better life.

It is also worth noting that among some of the greatest Philosophers in the Western intellectual tradition, there was no one more committed to prayer. Thomas, as a grand example of this, not only sought wisdom as part of his brilliant, intellectual, and knowledgeable endeavors, also, daily, prayed for wisdom.

This may surprise post-Enlightenment people that prior to the Enlightenment, wisdom was closely connected to reason. For them to reason, reflect, imagine, conjecture, was part of what it meant to act faithfully in accordance with being in the image of God. As it related to the four causes expounded by Aristotle and adhered to by Thomas, wisdom is an understanding of the final cause. Sadly, this has all but been lost in science and philosophy today.

Is it possible that one reason Philosophy is ridiculed by so many today as irrelevant and outdated is because it lost its way a few hundred years ago and has never fully found the way back to the path. If philosophy was still about the blending of the theoretical and the practical, the reflection and the proper moral action, one can imagine that there would be many who would come to love and live wisdom.

 

St. Nicholas Tavelic and Companions: Defenders From Islam

St Nicholas Taveric
St. Nicholas Tavelic and Companions
(d. 1391)

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Nicholas and his three companions are among the 158 Franciscans who have been martyred in the Holy Land since the friars became custodians of the shrines in 1335.

Nicholas was born in 1340 to a wealthy and noble family in Croatia. He joined the Franciscans and was sent with Deodat of Rodez to preach in Bosnia. In 1384 they volunteered for the Holy Land missions and were sent there. They looked after the holy places, cared for the Christian pilgrims and studied Arabic.

In 1391 Nicholas, Deodat, Peter of Narbonne and Stephen of Cuneo decided to take a direct approach to converting the Muslims. On November 11, 1391, they went to the huge Mosque of Omar in Jerusalem and asked to see the Qadi (Muslim official). Reading from a prepared statement, they said that all people must accept the gospel of Jesus. When they were ordered to retract their statement, they refused. After beatings and imprisonment, they were beheaded before a large crowd.

Nicholas and his companions were canonized in 1970. They are the only Franciscans martyred in the Holy Land to be canonized.

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Comment:

Francis presented two missionary approaches for his friars. Nicholas and his companions followed the first approach (live quietly and give witness to Christ) for several years. Then they felt called to take the second approach of preaching openly. Their Franciscan confreres in the Holy Land are still working by example to make Jesus better known.

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Quote:
In the Rule of 1221, Francis wrote that the friars going to the Saracens (Muslims) “can conduct themselves among them spiritually in two ways. One way is to avoid quarrels or disputes and ‘be subject to every human creature for God’s sake’ (1 Peter 2:13), so bearing witness to the fact that they are Christians. Another way is to proclaim the word of God openly, when they see that is God’s will, calling on their hearers to believe in God almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Creator of all, and in the Son, the Redeemer and Savior, that they may be baptized and become true and spiritual Christians” (Ch. 16).

ENCYCLICAL LETTER HUMANAE VITAE by Pope Paul VI

Infant

ENCYCLICAL LETTER
HUMANAE VITAE

OF THE SUPREME PONTIFF
PAUL VI
TO HIS VENERABLE BROTHERS
THE PATRIARCHS, ARCHBISHOPS, BISHOPS
AND OTHER LOCAL ORDINARIES
IN PEACE AND COMMUNION WITH THE APOSTOLIC SEE,
TO THE CLERGY AND FAITHFUL OF THE WHOLE CATHOLIC WORLD, AND TO ALL MEN OF GOOD WILL,
ON
 THE REGULATION OF BIRTH

 

Honored Brothers and Dear Sons,
Health and Apostolic Benediction.

The transmission of human life is a most serious role in which married people collaborate freely and responsibly with God the Creator. It has always been a source of great joy to them, even though it sometimes entails many difficulties and hardships.

The fulfillment of this duty has always posed problems to the conscience of married people, but the recent course of human society and the concomitant changes have provoked new questions. The Church cannot ignore these questions, for they concern matters intimately connected with the life and happiness of human beings.

I.
PROBLEM AND COMPETENCY
OF THE MAGISTERIUM

2. The changes that have taken place are of considerable importance and varied in nature. In the first place there is the rapid increase in population which has made many fear that world population is going to grow faster than available resources, with the consequence that many families and developing countries would be faced with greater hardships. This can easily induce public authorities to be tempted to take even harsher measures to avert this danger. There is also the fact that not only working and housing conditions but the greater demands made both in the economic and educational field pose a living situation in which it is frequently difficult these days to provide properly for a large family.

Also noteworthy is a new understanding of the dignity of woman and her place in society, of the value of conjugal love in marriage and the relationship of conjugal acts to this love.

But the most remarkable development of all is to be seen in man’s stupendous progress in the domination and rational organization of the forces of nature to the point that he is endeavoring to extend this control over every aspect of his own life—over his body, over his mind and emotions, over his social life, and even over the laws that regulate the transmission of life.

 

New Questions

3. This new state of things gives rise to new questions. Granted the conditions of life today and taking into account the relevance of married love to the harmony and mutual fidelity of husband and wife, would it not be right to review the moral norms in force till now, especially when it is felt that these can be observed only with the gravest difficulty, sometimes only by heroic effort?

Moreover, if one were to apply here the so called principle of totality, could it not be accepted that the intention to have a less prolific but more rationally planned family might transform an action which renders natural processes infertile into a licit and provident control of birth? Could it not be admitted, in other words, that procreative finality applies to the totality of married life rather than to each single act? A further question is whether, because people are more conscious today of their responsibilities, the time has not come when the transmission of life should be regulated by their intelligence and will rather than through the specific rhythms of their own bodies. Continue reading

Where has the Reader of Conservative Classics Gone? by Glenn Davis

Where has the Reader of Conservative Classics Gone?

Library Classics conservatism conservativeby Glenn Davis

I often reserve my Sunday afternoons for trips to the local university library. These visits are bittersweet, for although I live in an area of the country which is considered to be “very conservative” and is very Republican (the Democratic Party often does not field a complete list of candidates in an election), I rarely have any trouble finding available in the stacks works by and about the major conservative writers whom I esteem. Am I truly the only reader of Kirk, Weaver, and Voegelin in a town with a university of 30,000 students?

Today was a typical jaunt which led me to the stacks on a quest to find the following works: The Counter-Revolution by Thomas Molnar, Paul Elmer More and American Criticism by Robert Shafer,Democracy and Populism by John Lukacs, and Democracy without Nations? by Pierre Manent. Lucky for me, I had absolutely no problem in acquiring these works as they were neatly situated on the shelves. “Neatly” is key here, for this library is not one of the better organized ones that I have frequented. If a book is easily found, it has probably not been borrowed for a long time. Sure enough, after finding each work, I opened the front covers and found the following dates for the most recent readings: the More book was last borrowed in January, 1968; Molnar had one perusal in January, 1974; I am the first to borrow the Manent book (published 2007). But the Lukacs book was borrowed in April, 2006 (I am pretty sure that I was the previous borrower).

So what does this say about conservatives and conservatism? How is the conservative imagination to be enlivened if, as I believe, self-described conservatives limit themselves to…to what? Fox News? Sean Hannity? Mornings on the Mall with Glenn Beck? Lunch with Limbaugh? Sure, this is only one man’s experience in the great American Outback, but didn’t Professor Carey hit the proverbial nail on the head when, writing in 2005 about the future of American conservatism, he recognized that the leadership of the Republican Party showed little interest in the roots and traditions of conservatism and that “the Republican Party has, so to speak, changed its spots virtually without attracting much critical attention”? And that George W. Bush’s “aggressive foreign policy, perhaps best described as Wilsonianism on steroids, has its roots in the traditions of the Democratic Party and clearly runs counter to well-established conservative principles” [Modern Age, Vol. 47, pp. 292-293]? How do we keep alive the great tradition when our leadership has vacated our heritage?

Many years ago, in graduate school, I overheard someone assert that one difference between the two major political parties was that Republicans did not read books, and Democrats read the wrong books. Browsing the shelves of university and public libraries has not disabused me of that assertion. What is a force for optimism, however, is the fact that our literary heritage is still available (Dr. Kirk once wrote, “in and age of progressive inflation, one commodity alone remains stable, or increases little in price: classical works”), and is being kept alive through blogs like this, through independent educational centers (thank you, Barbara and Winston), and at select schools and universities. We are few, a happy few, but we have our work cut out for us.

Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. Essays by Dr. Davis may be found here.

Glenn A. Davis is a Senior Contributor to The Imaginative Conservative and the Academic Dean at All Saints Episcopal School in Lubbock, Texas where he teaches Latin and Russian. He holds a Ph.D. in Slavic Languages and Literatures from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. His dissertation topic was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s historical imagination. He has published in the Slavic and East European Journal, Christianity and Literature, Modern Age, and Humanitas.

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The Pope’s Theology of Sin by William Doino Jr.

Garden of Eden

August 19, 2013  By now, the Pope’s impromptu press conference, on his flight back from Brazil, has been analyzed the world over. But in all the discussion over Francis’ comments, very little has been said about the key line in his now famous exchange on homosexuality. “This is what is important,” declared Francis to reporters, “a theology of sin.”

William Doino Jr.That is what should have made headlines after the papal press conference—not that Francis used the word “gay,” or expressed a merciful (and thus deeply Christian) attitude toward those seeking reconciliation with God.

“This is what is important: a theology of sin.”

The words are striking, especially to a world often in denial of sin; but it is typical that many secular commentators blew right past them, instead focusing on Francis’ now-famous “Who am I to judge?” comment. (Never mind that Francis was speaking about individuals who humbly confess their sins before the Lord—not those who adamantly persist in them.)

Since his elevation to the episcopacy, and especially since becoming pope, Francis has promulgated a “theology of sin” with force and clarity. He often returns to the theme that we are all sinners who offend God, need to examine our consciences daily, and amend our lives accordingly. He has referred to himself as a sinner, publicly asked forgiveness for his sins, and requested that people pray for him. And when he was asked during the press conference why he “so insistently” invites prayer, he answered as a true shepherd would:

I have always asked this. When I was a priest, I asked it. . . . I began to ask with greater frequency while I was working as a bishop, because I sense that if the Lord does not help in this work of assisting the People of God to go forward, it can’t be done. I am truly conscious of my many limitations, with so many problems, and I a sinner—as you know!—and I have to ask for this. . . . It comes from within. I ask Our Lady too to pray to the Lord for me. It is a habit, but a habit that comes from my heart and also a real need in terms of my work.

Last April, Francis described his theology of sin as a three-part process. The first part is to recognize the darkness of contemporary life, and how it leads so many astray:

Walking in darkness means being overly pleased with ourselves, believing that we do not need salvation. That is darkness! When we continue on this road of darkness, it is not easy to turn back. Therefore, John continues, because this way of thinking made him reflect: “If we say we are without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Look to your sins, to our sins, we are all sinners, all of us. . . . This is the starting point. Continue reading

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