Don’t Judge an Unread Book

My daughter attended a youth discussion with a mentor and she told me she had a good time. I wanted to know more, but it appeared she had nothing consequential to share with me and as a result, we changed our discussion to other matters such as Christmas plans, etc. However, the next day, as I was working on some studies, she came to me with a funny smile, “Mom, do you believe in what Plato said?” I said yes, but in my mind, I was thinking that my real answer would be loaded and deep. I kept my head turned toward my studies but began to think of what I really wanted to say to her. I turned and asked her about her query and she opened up her heart and mind to me in a genuine investigation. She recounted her experience the day before and apparently, the mentor had said that Plato’s works were bad, but that Aristotle’s were good. My daughter had read both Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics in a class I taught and over the course of two months, we gleaned many great things from both of the authors. Notwithstanding, we did discuss some of Plato’s strange ideas about educating children and the family unit, which is pretty much non-existent according to Plato. I would venture to say that those ideas and maybe one other would not be congruent with the Proclamation of the Family or the commandments of God. However, Plato’s discussion on Justice, his treatise on educating the philosopher king, his scolding of Glaucon’s promiscuity, his allegory of the Cave, and his ending testimonial lead the reader to believe in his goodness. Why would a mentor undertake to turn youth away from one of the greatest sages of all time? I think this is the case where one throws out the baby with the bath water.

I listened to my daughter try to figure out what to do with herself in a future situation like the one she experienced. She kept asking me what she could do when she knows that what the mentor is saying is not all truth and is using rhetoric that persuades youth to not even touch a certain author that my daughter has learned to love. I listened and listened and listened. As she spoke, I remembered Ralph Waldo Emerson in The American Scholar who talked of the idiocy of being a “parrot of other men’s thinking.” Many of us are caught up in the pretense of scholarship and feel so good about ourselves when we repeat the “knowledge” we get from hearing others. Unfortunately, I am not exempt from being a parrot at times. Ugh. It is one of my goals to improve.

My mind started wandering to Plato. At the end of the Republic, Socrates presents a choice for the individual to decide if he will be Just or Unjust. A person “will then look at the nature of the soul, and from the consideration of all these qualities he will be able to determine which is the better and which is the worse; and so he will choose, giving the name of evil to the life which will make his soul more unjust, and good to the life which will make his soul more just; all else he will disregard.” In other words, after examining each quality or vice, we need to discern whether they will lead us to a just life or an unjust life. For me, this is an excellent discussion to have with youth. Again, why would I want to discount Plato to youth?

Socrates’ final counsel in the Republic might be one of the greatest discussions, “Wherefore, my counsel is that we hold fast ever to the heavenly way and follow after justice and virtue always, considering that the soul is immortal and able to endure every sort of good and every sort of evil.  Thus shall we live dear to one another and to the gods, both while remaining here and when, like conquerors in the games who go round to gather gifts, we receive our reward.  And it shall be well with us both in this life and in the pilgrimage of a thousand years which we have been describing.”

Ah! What beautiful things Socrates had to say (Plato wrote them down and now he gets the credit). My advice to my daughter was to keep reading, annotating, writing and speaking up. My advice to you, dear reader, is to do the same, but to never discount an author unless you have read him and learned what he was really saying.



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