“Those who educate children well are more to be honoured than they who produce them; for these only gave them life, those the art of living well.”
A relay relies on a team to run the race. A time will come to hand the baton to another; our work complete, we will watch as the runner diminishes into a far horizon. Far from being sorrowful, we should be elated. We have run our distance.
The ancients left a legacy that remained vibrant and strong throughout the centuries. Socrates once said, “I am not an Athenian nor a Greek, but a citizen of the world.” He was a citizen of history, as are all who walk this earth. Whether we are remembered one hundred years from now is of no consequence. What we do today, in the time and space that has been given is what counts. Our legacy will be held in the hearts of those who love us, in the stories that will be shared when they recall our memory. As the Stoic philosopher Epictetus once wrote, “Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it.”
Run the distance. Enjoy the moment, for this is our time. As Plato said, “Love is the pursuit of the whole.”
“Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.”
“Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.”
[Address at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Houghton, Johannesburg, South Africa, 23 November 2004]”
Most of us dislike conflict and will do anything to avoid the unnecessary unpleasantness of raised voices and difficult conversations. There are those among us, however, who would welcome the opportunity to engage in an animated discussion. The late Christopher Hitchens wrote in Letters to a Young Contrarian, “Time spent arguing is, oddly enough, almost never wasted.” The Ancients would be in complete agreement.
Xeonophanes was a contemporary and outspoken critic of Pythagoras. Heraclitus was quick to scorn Homer; even Pythagoras and Xenophanes did not escape his ridicule. Leontion’s audacious criticism of the celebrated and unassailable philosopher, Theophrastus, was still talked about centuries after her passing. Plato recorded the iconic debate on love in the famed Symposium. The fundamental standard within all of these historical scuffles was the subject matter. The debate was about ideas, not about personal vendettas or trivial disagreements.
Great thinkers engage in debate, not conflict. As Joseph Joubert, French moralist and essayist, once said, “It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it.” Our world is in need of thinkers who look for solutions when they put forward their ideas in a way that welcomes an open dialogue. Argue the merits of the position, rather than stooping to pettiness and vain posturing. Recall Aristotle’s words, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
“In all debates, let truth be thy aim, not victory, or an unjust interest.”
“Man is the only creature who refuses to be what he is.”
The other day, someone asked me, “What is your philosophy of life?”
We talk about philosophy as if it were something that could be summarized in one or two sentences. And yet, it generally takes a lifetime to identify with the reality. It is more than a thought, a response or a single activity. It is our entire worldview, our personal system of principles for guidance in practical affairs.
The “philosophy question” has been in the back of my mind over the past couple of weeks, especially as I was researching the ancient scientists. It seems that their philosophy was the precursor to their scientific investigations.
Philosophical discussions rarely have neat and tidy outcomes because the business of philosophy is to challenge prevailing assumptions and concepts in order to generate new perspectives on complex problems. This week will focus on beginnings. That is the only place that will give us the genesis of this worthy conversation that has spanned the history of humanity.
“Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.”
Plato had many day jobs: philosopher, mathematician and writer. On the side, he happened to be the founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. He had a famous teacher, Socrates, who was always in some sort of trouble. Even today, Plato is copiously quoted and revered as one of the most important founding figures in Western philosophy. His dialogues add depth to questions relating to logic, ethics, rhetoric, and mathematics. Weighty matters, debate fodder.
And yet, Plato’s understanding of joy can be articulated in one sentence:
Love is the joy of the good,
The wonder of the wise,
The amazement of the gods…
Plato (427 – 347 BC)
The joyous message of Christmas came many years later, yet the fundamental nature of joy remains unchanged to this very day. Love is the genesis of joy. Even the wisest of humanity are humbled by the strength of love in action.
The philosopher has spoken: Joy to the world begins with love.