We finished what I would call the ethical part of Republic in class yesterday, and I’m pleased with the bulk of the semester’s discussions. Even if some (or most) of the folks in my classes never pick up a copy of Plato again (I hope they do), they’ve been exposed to and had to think about questions of goodness, justice, human community, idealism, and half a dozen other things.
And now that we’ve covered what we covered yesterday, they all know that morality is not only better than immorality but 729 times better than immorality! (Republic section 587e) The next time my freshmen are tempted to immorality, and their WWJD bracelets are out of morality-batteries (moratteries?), they can remember what Plato told them, and they’ll say, “Why would I want to do that? To do the good thing would be 729 times better!”
Plato finished up this section with quite a vivid metaphor: the one who is satisfied with apetite-pleasing pleasure is as one who climbs halfway up a mountain and congratulates himself on reaching the top, only to return to the bottom, then go up halfway, and so on. The one whose pleasures are philosophic reach the height of the mountain. We had some good times discussing why Plato thinks philosophy is better than sex, but I think that everyone present could appreciate this image.
This Friday we’re discussing Plato’s famous attack on poetry, and Monday, in addition to the semester’s customer satisfaction surveys, we’re talking about Plato’s funky reincarnation chapter. Both ought to be fun.
In other realms, I finished up Chesterton’s Orthodoxy during my office hours today. I hate to alienate any readers who love the Inklings and their ilk, but I wasn’t all that impressed. The book itself just did not live up to the glowing recommendations that came before. In one chapter, I found myself thinking, paragraph by paragraph, “Okay. He’s a Humean empiricist. He’s surprised every time the door opens to the same street outside, and he thinks it’s foolish to assume that the same door will do the same thing tomorrow. He can get on to the next chapter.” In another, I thought, “Okay, he’s a moral relativist. He thinks that Enlightenment wars are awful but that Christian wars are great. Next chapter, please.” None of the chapters left me speechless in the ways that Augustine or Dante or even Barth leaves me speechless; I just wanted to get past his logical-fallacy-for-this-chapter and finish. But I suppose now I can say that I’ve read Chesterton and found him wanting rather than admitting that I’ve never read Chesterton. That’s a little bit better.