“The Character of Socrates” by Xenophon

“The Character of Socrates” by Xenophon

  • Socrates always said what was on his mind to friends
    • Also made sure that they were independent enough to pursue the avenues they were suited for
    • He knew all his friends very well – often probing their minds w/ questions
  • He taught his friends w/ all his heart the things a person ought to know, & at least be familiar w/ any subject
    • Geometry – Good for surveying & owning property, & being able make use of the land. Going too far into it excluded research into other subjects
    • Astronomy – helped plan journeys by land or sea. It helped hunters & pilots measure distances & directions. But trying to know why the gods made the heavens that way wasn’t possible to understand & trying to do so would drive you crazy
    • Arithmetic – good for business & geometry – but don’t get carried away!
    • Health – you should learn all you can from those who know what to eat, drink & how to exercise
  • He was often forewarned by a deity of what to do & what not to do. Some thought he was crazy for this – he wasn’t.
  • He lived w/ a death sentence hanging over him for 30 days. It was so long b/c it was during the month when it was illegal to execute prisoners
    • But during this period, he lived exactly how he lived before
    • When he had been indicted, he wouldn’t even discuss the case.
      • When pressed on trying to build his defense, he replied:
        • “Don’t you think I have been preparing for it all my life?”
    • He refused to stop his way of life because his life had been growing in goodness
      • If he were to live on, he would have died of old age soon anyway
  • He felt if he were to die unjustly, let those who killed him bear the shame of killing him
    • Posterity judges the dead based on the injustice they did much more than the injustice they had to bear
    • He said he’d be remembered fondly, much more than those who took his life because he lived his life to make others better & to corrupt or wrong nobody.
  • Anyone who knew Socrates knew what sort of a man he was & they searched for virtue & helped out anyone in their own quest
    • He was so religious that he did nothing without consulting the gods
    • He was so just that he did no injury to anyone
    • He was so self-controlled that he never chose the pleasanter over the better course
    • He was so wife that he need no counselor & never erred in his judgment of good & bad
      • He suggested that everyone follow virtue & gentleness
        • Seemed to be a truly good & happy man.

Of Youth & Age – Sir Francis Bacon

Of Youth & Age – Francis Bacon

  • Youth is a relative term
    • Your mind is the real key
  • But the youth tend to have a wilder imagination
    • But some people are a bit too crazy & passionate to do anything productive
  • Look at Caesar & Septimius Severus
    • Septimius was known to be a wild child
      • But was considered a very good emperor
  • Some rulers like Augustus, Cosimus of Florence and others
    • were pretty calm in their youths
  • Younger men are better to create than judge
    • Better to do than advise
    • Better for new things than tradition
  • Age gives us experience
  • Youth are usually impatient, passionate & careless
    • Bite off more than they can chew
    • More prone to extremes – makes more problems
      • unlikely to apologize for stepping on people’s feet
  • Old men say “no” to too much
    • delay too much, risk too little, give up too soon
  • Best is to use the both for their own good
    • The balance of both – one helps the other
  • Young men learn better
    • Old men teach and act better
  • The young haven’t had time to develop their intelligence & inner strength
    • They haven’t had time to appreciate the subtleties of life
  • The young have the opportunity to use their enthusiasm for speech & rhetoric
    • It looks silly on old people

 

“Upon Some Verses of Virgil” by Michel de Montaigne (1580-1595)

Loosy, you got some 'splainin to do.

Loosy, you got some ‘splainin to do.

“Upon Some Verses of Virgil” by Michel de Montaigne

Montaigne is getting older and all he’s got left is to look back at life. He wants to live a comfortable life but wants to be temperate and moderate. This is difficult because comfort requires avoiding pain and that means going toward pleasure, the opposite of pain.

It’s strange that we are free to think whatever we want but we aren’t free to say whatever we want. He finds it sad that women can only really have his books around as a part of the furniture rather than something to be read. He enjoys female company and wants them to appreciate his work.

Why is it that we blush at the talk of sex but we are just fine with talking about robbery, betrayal and murder? When we strip ourselves of being able to talk about some topics, we stop ourselves from being able to talk about parts of life.

The idea of marriage is distant to our biological need for sex in pleasure and procreation. Marriage usually falls apart when sex is the sole focus instead of friendship, which is a much stronger foundation for a marriage. A good marriage should be based on friendship, much more so than sex and love. Love makes us weaker and less rational. Marriage is about duty and friendship rather than passion, which is something that causes us to resent one another in the end. It’s clear why few men make their mistresses their wives because they want the passion to remain and not have a shitty marriage. Marriage is still good but love is purely based on pleasure and that tends to be irrational and intemperate.

Women aren’t really to be blamed. Men and women are subject to the same desires and emotions but somehow society punishes them for acting on them. They are trained from a very young age to be simple in the ways of love, dress, language and knowledge when it comes to sex. We should relax our standards a bit because they have bad consequences.

Men are supposed to flaunt their virile physical traits while women are supposed to hide their femininity. A lot of images of woman are representations of temptation but not so for men. This is an idea that women are weaker than men morally. But even the greatest warriors, like Alexander and Caesar wouldn’t compare to a woman who successfully restrains herself from all that “tempts” her. It’s stupid to bridle in a woman what is completely natural.

Societies differ in roles of love, sex and marriage for men and women. Looking at those differences may make our culture seem a bit silly. But life is half serious and half silly. And ignoring the silliness of sex and love and solely focusing on the serious side of life in to ignore half of life. There are things to be serious about but not 100% of the time.

Laziness is bad but so is working constantly. You need to work but you also need to put your feet up. That is a part of moderation. We shouldn’t completely forget about physical pleasure but we shouldn’t completely submit to it either.

We should hold women to the same standard as men. Not higher, not lower. Men and women are cast in the same mold and the only real difference is education and the roles we play in society.

“That the Relish of Good and Evil Depends in a Great Measure upon the Opinion We Have of Them” – Michel de Montaigne (1580-1595)

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That the Relish of Good and Evil Depends in a Great Measure upon the Opinion We Have of Them – Michel de Montaigne

People are often bothered by their views on things, not the things themselves. We choose to see them as good or bad. If that’s so, why not choose to see things as good? There is a wide range of opinions on good and bad, so it seems unlikely that there is any universal good or evil.

But there is a lot of people who see death as a bad thing, but… there are many examples of death being the more favorable outcome. In the case of suicide, people choose death over life. In some cases, life is so horrible that death is a welcome event. On the other hand, there are many examples of people choosing life over death. We are naturally averse to things that expose us to the risk of death. For most of us, death is something to be avoided.

Pyrrho pointed at a pig on his boat in the middle of the storm. The pig was so ignorant of the likelihood of death that he didn’t seem all that bothered. The rest of his crew panicked. He used the pig as an example, “The pig doesn’t seem to mind, so, why should we?” The pig was ignorant of the danger and it was that ignorance that served him well. We humans are more in tune to the dangers of death. Why can’t we use our intelligence to convince ourselves that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing?

People can tolerate all kinds of pain in different ways. Some will crack at the mere mention of pain or torture. Some people can just deal with the pain. Others see pain as some sort of punishment being served by the gods. And still others see the delay of death worse than death itself.

Courage and coward tend to play a large role in our happiness and unhappiness with respect to pain and fear. If you can put up with pain and fear, i.e. being courageous, the shittiness of death and pain will not be so harsh. Cowards have it worse because the idea of death and pain are painful themselves.

Virtues like valor, force, resolution, etc. help us because we can convince ourselves that it’s not so bad. Remember that death will alleviate us from our pains, so in some sense it can be a good thing.

Engaging in too much pleasure or pain may have bad effects on the soul and mind because our sense can cloud our thoughts and affect our actions. This can affect our reason and make ourselves slaves to seeking pleasure and avoiding pain when it is bad or irrational to do so.

It’s not poverty that makes us greedy, it’s being rich. Montaigne gives us examples of his life over three phases.

  1. When he was a young man, he didn’t really have much money. He was happy to receive any help he could get from others and give any that he could offer to others. He was poor but happy. He took whatever fortunes came his way and just had to deal with the shit life threw at him.

  2. He was able to get a bunch of money to the point where he was considered rich. But this really put money on his brain and it was all he could think of. He was constantly worried and anxious about making money, keeping money and not losing it. He was unhappy and a complete pain in the ass to deal with.

  3. Later, he was able to convince himself to live a fairly modest life. Money wasn’t on the front of his mind. He was able to see that money isn’t really what makes you happy. In fact, it makes you miserable. Happiness comes from other things.

Rich or poor, your appetites don’t really change. Fortune doesn’t really favor the rich or have it in for the poor. It plants a seed for us. How we treat that seed and view it as it grows is what makes us happy or unhappy. Being rich or poor is really independent of happiness.

“Of the Education of Children” by Michel de Montaigne (1580-1595)

Michel de Montaigne = Bruce Springsteen

Michel de Montaigne = Bruce Springsteen

Montaigne is asked by Madame Diane de Foix, on what the best way of educating a child is. He starts off saying he doesn’t know and then goes on for many pages on the best sort of education.

It’s very difficult to read into what a child’s natural talents are and how to cultivate them. However, nature may make it impossible to teach some children certain things because they don’t have the natural capacity for the subject.

A tutor must have a stronger emphasis on good morals and understanding than on pure booklearning. Also, he can’t give the student more than he can handle. The best is to establish the student’s sense of perception and teach him how to figure things out for himself.

There should be an equal amount of exchange between the teacher and the student. The tutor must monitor the student’s progress and make adjustments according to the student’s changing needs as he grows.

Avoid pure regurgitation of facts and check for understanding along the way. The kid must be able to look at something from many different angles. If learning becomes too difficult without results, the student will grow a distate for learning altogther.

He should be made to examine everything and not just take someone’s word on the matter based on authority. If he does this, his mind will become cemented and he’ll feel like he knows everything. He’ll learn to stop looking which will make him stop finding.

Real learning and wisdom come from taking what you’ve read and taken in and combining them to form your own thoughts. You shouldn’t put out a list of everything you’ve read out on display. What’s really important is the thoughts that these books have given birth to. Understanding improves perception and that perception will benefit everything you do and all the future learning you will do.

Travelling and studying away from home is very important. The world is where everything happens and locking a kid away in a room trivializes the knowledge because he’ll never experience it first hand and never be able to use it right away.

However, it’s important for kids to be removed from the smothering affection of the parents. They will get too dependent and therefore unable to work or experience more unpleasant but absolutely necessary things in life. In order for a tutor’s authority to become complete, the child must be removed from the parents so as not to create a conflict in authority between the two.

In general, people focus too much on their own thoughts, knowledge and desires and not enough on what others have to offer. In order to do that, we have to have instilled in us a sense of modesty and penchant for silence in order to listen. Arguments should be chosen and constructed with subtlety, care, brevity and pertinence. However, the truth should be held in the highest regard, so much so that you should yield to it whenever you’re in the wrong.

Giving a student favor and advantage will ultimately hinder his ability to fight through situations in life which will give him no favors, if not a disadvantage. Reason and virtue should be inherent in everything in the child’s words, thoughts and actions. There are snakes everywhere, so you will have to have your wits about you in every situation you find yourself. You should be pleasant so as to encourage the right people liking you and being on your side and also not to give people a reason to dislike you.

Studying history is important because the past has so many lessons to teach us about how to act now. There are so many people throughout history whose example we should follow or not follow. Learning about their lives and circumstances can give us valuable insight into our own times and people today.

Going out into the world with the knowledge and wisdom the child has gained along the way will not only give him the sense of accomplishment but also the ability to put that wisdom and knowledge to good use.

The liberal arts are good for providing real ways of learning how to live our lives and examples of how to do so or how not to do so. This sense of morality will be coupled with the ability to use logic and understanding of the physical world. With mastery of the physical world and morality, there’s very little that can stop him. Also, physical exercise is not to be neglected because he will need a healthy body for his healthy mind. This includes both mental and physical moderation to preserve himself.

Staying away from idle chatter and bullshit is important. Conversations don’t necessarily have to be serious and intense but something other than pure entertainment should be taken away from them. All the conversations that have happened and are happening right now should give the reader or listener some sort of ability to learn how to live his life better through other people’s thoughts and experiences. This means he will have to go out and talk to people in the world. He’ll probably have to learn other languages to find people with a dramatically different disposition and learn from them.

It’s important to introduce an element of fun into learning in order to keep his interest and to allow him to learn in different ways. This includes physical activity, games and laughter. This will not only engage him but more him more well-rounded. Indulging children is bad but making them prisoners in a jail called “school” is even worse. Beating them and berating them is not going to make them want to learn.

Keeping the knowledge of ignorance and the hunger for more understanding and wisdom will keep a student engaged in philosophy forever because he will be curious to know things that he’s sure he doesn’t know. That allows him to remain humble yet wanting to know more. Focus on rhetoric and sophistication will teach the kid to pull the wool over people’s eyes instead of getting into real conversation with some real purpose to it. Words are nice and pretty but actions mean so much more.

Montaigne’s father had a decent amount of money and put him in the care of a German tutor who taught him everything in Latin. They traveled around a lot learning everywhere they went. He spoke it all the time and wasn’t able to speak French until he was about 6. The teacher didn’t have an extremely regimented system of learning but made sure that something was going to be learned. He told many people about this later on and it became a hit with many others looking to educate their kids. This form of schooling made him want to learn more and more and eventually become wiser and wiser and live a happier life.

“Of Pedantry” by Michel de Montaigne (1580-1595)

Even Montaigne's (the inventor of the essay) Essays came back with with scribbled notes from his fucking professor. "Nice set up but your evidence needs improvement."

“Your stitch up of us pedants is duly noted. Not enough quotations from Ancient Greece. 12/20.”

“Of Pedantry”

I was always annoyed, when watching Italian farces, to see the pedant (teacher, tutor) to be the complete idiot of the play. Perhaps it was because they just weren’t able to explain themselves to the rest of the characters but it seems that a lot of people are annoyed with pedantry. Even the Romans learned to wretch at the words “Greek” and “scholar”. But it must be that those from a clerk mindset aren’t the right ones to be masters of learning.

It finally occurred to me why this is so. It seems that if you jam your head full of knowledge but don’t do the same with understanding and reason, then your head is really just full of facts and nothing more. You don’t become any wiser. Just like you can drown a plant with too much water, too many facts can really cause damage to your mind. Also, you become more fixated on the acquisition of knowledge rather than on understanding it. But you usually see men who have done very well for themselves knowing a lot.

Philosophers are also seen as pretty out there by other people. Do you think they’d ever been sitting on a court bench? I’m sure that they’d want to. They don’t really see high officials, princes and kings with any sort of reverence because they were descended from King So-and-So 20 generations back. That’s just a coincidence and doesn’t seem matter a bit to justice. But that image of philosophers given to us by Plato isn’t really what we’re seeing today of these pedants. Those men were able to make themselves higher through learning. What we see today is the sort of person who learns in order to rub our faces in the fact that they’re so high and we’re so small.

The philosophers were not men just of talk but of action. Archimedes was able to use his skills in Geometry to help his countrymen of Syracuse in devising all sorts of military equipment based on his knowledge. Some others saw how corrupt and inept government officials are and avoided politics altogether. They stuck to Philosophy until the government got its head out of its own ass. They’d rather stay away from idiots and corrupt politicians and theorize on whatever than to stoop so low as to fraternize with those who either aren’t worthy of the company or might corrupt them. Some would rather make a mint in business than to do politics. Some would call those men wise but not prudent but it might also be that they don’t want to deal with all the shit involved in politics.

So it seems that all that money spent on education gives us just pure knowledge and nothing with respect to judgment and reason. We should focus more on who has learned better rather than who has learned more.

It’s like the pedants are just feeding us like birds feed their young. They are just stuffing our mouths with whatever they picked up from somewhere else. We collect this stuff just to collect it. We don’t actually do anything with it. Even I do the same thing dropping quotes from this guy or that guy. It’s as if to say, “oh, look at how much I’ve learned.” Never mind if what I’m quoting has anything to do with what I’m saying or if it’s even true. It’s really just to try to impress everyone with pretty words or how many books you’ve read.

We use other people’s words to say things but what is it that we have to say? We are really just parroting others’ words. That reminds me of some fella in Rome who would always have some scientist around him to have on hand when he was with friends. When he wanted a quote from Seneca or Homer, he’d have the guy give him the quote. The guy thought this was his own knowledge because he employed people who knew him. I know a guy I was talking to who, whenever we were talking about something,  would whip out a book to find out what I was talking about.

We take other people’s knowledge and opinions of our own without bothering to learn how to make our own. What’s the point of all this learning if we don’t actually use it for anything other than show? If I want to make someone feel better, I can use someone else’s words. It’s unoriginal and stupid. You can learn through other men’s words but you can’t become wise through other men’s wisdom. That’s got to be done by yourself.

Some of these guys go away to school and spend their time being so precise in what they learn not in how they learn. They are away for 14, 15 years and come back no wiser than they were before. The only difference is that the fact that they learned Latin and Greek has made them look smarter to everyone around them.

These pedants try to play themselves as the heroes of humanity but really what do they do for us? Not only do they not make us better, they actually make us worse. At least with a carpenter or a mason, they give us something practical. But these guys make us worse off and we have to pay them! A lot of these guys have got absolutely no common sense. You’ll see more humble but skilled men talk about things with common sense and humility. They stick to what they know but our pedants will never stop letting us know how much they know about everything. They’ll wow us with fancy words but behind them there is nothing.

I’ve known a bunch of people who will spout of a ton of gobbledygook  about this and that all day but never really answer anything asked of them. On the other hand, I’ve got a friend who falls under the same category with such a great into any topic you present him and can give you amazing answers in spite of pedantic education. So, not all of these characters are shysters.  But the point of that is that education must better us, not just load us with facts, etc. Some parliaments only accept members with a good educational background but make no inquiry into their judgments. Education is very important but judgment’s more important.

In some cases, it’s best that someone who would become a pendant never actually go through his education. Learning shouldn’t be tied someone’s soul but to his work. Then his work will be applied to his soul. If he learns to use it properly in his work, then he will be a master of it. If he doesn’t, he will be its victim.

The business of knowledge is not to give sight to men but to direct the eyes. Knowledge is not enough to make a man’s mind reasonable and pure. It’s similar to a poorly shoed cobbler and a run-down physician. Some of the people who profess a knowledge don’t actually follow the advice they’re handing out. In some cases, trying to push philosophy on people does them more harm than good because their minds aren’t conditioned for it. Persians would take their children and hand them over straight away to be raised in how to live properly and not to their mothers or nurses. Once they were taught right from wrong, they were taught to ride and to hunt. At 14, they were given religious and moral instruction to make sure they lived good lives. In Sparta, the youngsters were required to make judgments based on sound reasoning before they were turned out to be fully-fledged  citizens.

At the time, people were sent out all over Greece to learn about rhetoric, painting and music. But they were sent to Sparta to learn how to govern and run an army. Socrates never had any use for the Spartans because they never focused on grammar, art, etc.

It seems at this point that Turkey is the biggest empire. They put military above learning. Rome was very big until it focused so much on learning and pedantry. The learning only persists when the learning knows its smaller place and doesn’t usurp the vigor of military and warlike state.