Check prior posts “1.2” and “1.1” for the initial trajectory of what is being worked on here. We are interested in soul-art, the development of character, and today after asking “What is character (1.2)” we ask “What model do we look to for production? (1.3)”
Plato is my inspiration for this question and the demand for an answer. It is Plato that first put into such lovely words the demand that he who shapes know. It is Plato who portrays the sage Socrates repeatedly (remember repetition is evidence of approaching reality)engaging he who claims to know. Socrates asks for the knowledge and is generally confronted with a kind of soul-sickness that is the cause of a kind of pretense to wisdom or knowledge. The new reader of Plato becomes exasperated with the dissatisfying ending. There is always gesturing at the solution, but there is never the solution. What is produced is longing for the solution. Implications?
I will not claim to know. That is first. Do you turn away? I do not blame you. But, note. The refusal to make claims to knowledge is not the refusal to work toward knowledge. It is the proper position of the seeker, he who is loyal to wisdom (philo-sophia). The seeker of wisdom is necessarily the one who lacks. It is he who recognizes poverty of spirit (in the sage Jesus’ framing of things). The Socratic ideal is the beauty of the in-between soul. The Socratic ideal is the proper shape of the soul of he who wants but lacks.
It is the arrival of he who wants to get started!
He who does not recognize sickness seeks not healing?
He who does not recognize lack does not seek filling?
Can we use the Socratic ideal to work on soul-beauty? Is Socrates sexy? Oh dear reader. If you want proof read Plato’s Symposium. There Plato makes his claim. The most beautiful (and I mean sexy) in body, Alcibiades, tries to bed the older Socrates…and reports that he failed! The entire roles are reversed. What was deemed proper was for the older and less beautiful to seek the beauty of the young. Alcibiades shows up at the dinner party, drunk and jolly with a party of revelers, an instantiation of the god Dionysus if there ever was one. His mouth loosened by wine Alcibiades waxes poetic on both the beauty of the snubbed nose, balding, elder Socrates and his efforts to bed him. Enough. Socrates is sexy. But note that it is not body sex. It is soul sex. It is Socrates’ soul that is appealing. It is its shape that is worth looking at.
What does Alcibiades show? First, he and Socrates spent the day wrestling, determined to spend the night alone in the gymnasium, Alcibiades lied down next to Socrates AND SOCRATES SLEPT SOUNDLY. Let me drop a word: temperance. Second, Alcibiades reports that during the Peloponnesian War when he and Socrates were both stationed at battle Socrates stood out all night barefoot in the cold without sleep at his station lost in thought; Socrates never retreated in battle; and furthermore Socrates defended and rescued the militarily renowned Alcibiades when he was under attack in battle! Let me drop another word: courage. I must move on. But how to move on from the image of temperance and courage!?
May I offer you, dear reader, the cardinal virtues. These well-recognized powers of soul that shape its activity (feeling and action) are excellent categories for beginning to shape the soul. They are ideals to be achieved. The cardinal virtues are: prudence (practical wisdom), temperance, courage and justice.
A bit of quick and dirty classification and analysis to help with the sense of comprehensiveness of these parts of beautiful soul shape. I am going to discuss them in order that I think they are achieved. This is controversial. But I offer you my best.
Virtues are not of the will. They are developed with will (work) but they themselves are like settled muscularity. They are the results of work. And once there they improve the work that has to be done and take much less in maintenance than the work required for development.
Temperance and courage are moral virtues of feeling. In human activity we are almost always approaching what appears to be good for us or what appears to be evil. Temperance is for approaching the good which is pleasurable. Courage is for approaching the evil which is painful. Looking for training? Every moment is an opportunity. To the degree that you want to develop courage or temperance Aristotle recommends acting temperately or justly. It is action that precedes the character.
Sugar? Sexy body? Rest and leisure? Engaging any of them well requires temperance. Work towards it.
Work? Resistance? Hurdles to overcome? Challenge? Engaging any of them well requires courage. Work towards it.
Justice is a moral virtue of action. Justice involves responding to what is given with equality employing just the right amount to meet what is required or demanded. I do not wish to get in the weeds of details now. Each day presents us with tasks, opportunities, costs and benefits. We are engaged in trade each day. Just response involves giving each moment its due.
The person with calm soul and right feeling brought about by temperance and courage will find it most natural to respond well and justly in action.
Finally, prudence. Prudence is NOT a moral virtue in Aristotle. It is an intellectual virtue. Prudence is accuracy in weighing and measuring. At each moment as much clarity of sight is required to act justly. Why do I put prudence last? Because, dear reader, messy feeling caused by a lack of courage or temperance will produce unclarity in sight and measurement.
Consider how crack and porn look to the “addict” (he who wants these more than other things). And then compare how crack and porn look to he who sees clearly (prudence). To a large degree the difference there is in feeling and desire which as a way of being a large part of the clarity of vision. The way things look and thus how they are weighed in value is determined by feeling. So, the final sage, filled with practical wisdom, is also he who is just, courageous, and temperate. In the end we have been talking about the same achievement the entire time.
That final claim is a claim about the unity of virtue. While we use different words–prudence, temperance, courage, justice–we refer to the same reality–the beautiful soul.
To long for it is to have recognized the deep need and the superficiality of bodily beauty. I do not mean that bodily beauty is irrelevant. I only mean that compared to beautiful soul it is nothing. The sexiness of virtuous character is like soul-gold. It is a commodity that is only achievable by the soul who goes in for it. It is the product of much work. It is production. But it is oh so bountiful.
A life of virtue is far superior to a life of the absence of virtue but with equal weight in earthly gold. There is no comparison.
Once the seed of virtue grows, flowers, drops its own seed on the soil of the soul, the generosity of beauty and what it will do to the surrounding landscape, and the bounty it will provide he who cultivates it knows no bounds.
Rare is the human who has even approximated something like its limit. We do not yet know the upper limit. We have lights like Buddha, Lao Tzu, Socrates, Jesus who each attracted by their character. We have seen the good and beauty. It is up to each of us to do what he can to cultivate the only piece of property that is ours and cannot be taken from us: soul…character.