There be dragons!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

A recent exchange with a student

Hi Mr.Rex,
I was wondering if I could have a moment of your time to ask a question about today's discussion, if it's not too much trouble that is. I wasn't able to ask this during class because we were short on time. Anyways, I don't think Socrates' definition works. There seems to be (to me at least) a large hole in his statement "Justice is minding one's own business". This hole that I'm speaking of has to do with "one's own business"; Socrates states that each man should stick with his trade, for a farmer that is
to farm, for a ruler it is to rule, however how do these men know what their trades are? It seems Socrates is saying that each man is born for a certain part of life, but what happens should men reject their role in life? It would create a need for a myth that gives men incentive to follow said roles. The myth I am speaking of is "The Noble Lie", and as we have questioned before, what happens when a man discovers that all he has believed in is a myth? It would lead to the whole definition of Justice being based off of a lie. When presented with even a slight doubt in the myth wouldn't "one's own business" be thrown into question? Wouldn't masses of men question why they should live a "good" life and question the definition of "good"? Would this cause the act of Justice (if Justice can be put into an act) to show itself to be "good" in and of itself? Thank you for your time,
Arthur Student

Lots of excellent questions here, Arthur.
Remember the quotation from John Henry Cardinal Newman "A thousand questions do not amount to one doubt."
There are three parts to the answer:

1. recall that the division of the city is in order to see the division in the soul. Consequently, "minding one's business" is a metaphor for balance within the soul. If the appetitive desires drive the nourishment and continuation of the body they are in proportion and harmonious. If they rule the rest of the person there is chaos and slavery. So "the business" in this metaphor is really about how does one work toward balance of the three realms within the soul? the 'noble lie' therefore of the metals is told in order that the citizens in the metaphor do their jobs well; but it is, in the meaning of the metaphor, a story told to create balance within the soul.

2. second we need to ask the more profound question of "what is truth?" "what is lie?" If by truth we mean empirical truth only (i.e. that which can be measured, tested, held in the hand) then we have a big problem b/c no story, no words, conversations, loves, or metaphysical realities can ultimately be measured in this post-Enlightenment manner. If, however, we mean a proximity btwn the image and the reality it conveys (which is the meaning of truth Aquinas uses) then the story is true b/c it embodies a reality even if it never happened historically. Lord of the Rings is "true" in this sense, Iliad is "true" in this sense, "Macbeth" is true in this sense. The truth or lie of the story can be discussed, examined, thought about, but its impact is felt in the soul to a much greater level than if it were merely quantifiable by hard evidence (soul itself is another one of those noble lies, BTW - show an ounce of soul or measure its contents!!!!) This realization ought not to stump a person into thinking everything is lie, but rather encourage them to take things far more seriously and pursue what really is true.

3. masses of men ought to question why they should live the good life and should question what the definition of good is. Unfortunately, masses of men do not do just this thing until it is far too late if at all. The noble lie is excellent for growing up strong in understanding of certain things, but at some point it is thrown into crisis b/c the "lie" part outweighs the "noble" part. Most men, at this point, throw caution to the winds and abandon all they have previously held true (getting a Mazarati, or a new girlfriend, or a new apartment) a phenomenon commonly referred to as a "mid-life crisis." I would suggest that it is far more beneficial for this crisis to occur early, with proper training, to see that the "noble lies" which we have heard are only lies in that they are unprovable by empirical evidence and that nobility is still something to be striven for such that we might honorably deal with life and manfully face death.

I hope this helps answer your very good questions.

1 comment:

  1. I assume Arthur Student is a high school lad, and mid-life is a long way off for him. So, I would add that the "mid-life crisis" phenomenon has a younger sibling. It goes by the name of college. Many a good teenager, when leaving home for the first time to live with other students (including the opposite sex) of his age group, tend to lose it a little (or a lot). No more parents advising them not to do that ("that" can be any number of things) means that they are more likely to go and do just that. If they don't do all that, they must be some kind of prude.

    However, college is a great place to assert the "noble lie." Leave home if you must (everyone has to sometime), but remember to pray, attend Mass, drink responsibly, and above all else (this is important for all young males), remember that every girl is somebody's daughter. Keep up the gentlemanly act. Even if it IS just an act, it's at least gentlemanly.