The Wise Dad versus the Big Head Dad (Summer in the Republic 12)

The Wise Dad versus the Big Head Dad (Summer in the Republic 12) June 16, 2018
Wise Dad.

I have a great dad, many people (I have discovered) do not. A great father loves wisdom so much that he will not leave the argument no matter where it leads.  My dad still shows me this in his eighties. Some fathers cannot be bothered with new ideas, but Dad  gave up his career to do what he thought was right.

I want to be like my dad.

Another kind of father develops a “big head.” Let’s call that kind of father “Cephalus.” The Big Head Dad wants wealth more than wisdom. My father will sit with us for hours hashing out arguments in an event he calls “Celtic Evensong.” (There are cigars, strong drink, and much argument.) Cephalus the Big Head runs off to do his old man stuff, but the good father, even when he is an old man, stays with the younger men looking for the truth. If he turns out to be wrong, then he will admit the error and keep walking.

In Republic, Cephalus is the host of a discussion that begins to examine justice. What is justice? Is it what we think it is? The moment his cherished ideas are challenged Cephalus is out of there. Socrates is not sure he is right and asks one question too many and so Cephalus runs off to “do religion” leaving his son, Polemarchus, to search for wisdom:

Well, said Cephalus, I think I shall bequeath the argument to you. I must attend to the sacrifices.

I am your proper heir in any case, said Polemarchus.

Of course you are, said Cephalus with a laugh. Then he left the room.

Sad words.

Cephalus leaves the search for justice “with a laugh.” The Big Head has given up on wisdom. This might be fine if he was just a fool, but he knows a thing or two. His experience counts and he is needed. He would help Socrates and provide some real-life experience to a discussion that now will be dominated by angry young men. Cephalus does not care. He leaves his son and goes off to do his old guy stuff. He “offers sacrifice,” because he is afraid to die, yet the pursuit of wisdom is better than sacrifice!

Perhaps if Socrates was the only teacher in the room this father might be excused, but there is another, greedy, angry teacher: Thrasymachus. This teacher-for-money wishes the young men to live for power. What is justice? Thrasymaschus mocks justice, because he only cares about winning. Meanwhile, instead of being there to help, Cephalus is gone.

He never returns. The Republic is barely started but the natural father of the discussion is absent without leave. Cephalus does not care about the education of the city. He laughs. Cephalus does not care about his son. He laughs and leaves.

I have watched Dad spend hours with people trying to find the truth. He does not give up. If they have questions, he does not laugh and leave. He might laugh, but the good Dad stays. The Big Head, Cephalus, cannot be bothered with our callow questions and so he goes off to sacrifice, but the good God, the just Father, loves obedience more than sacrifice.

He loves the persistent seeker of Wisdom more than the Big Head.

Happy Father’s Day, good Dad. You are wise and you have never been a Cephalus “Big Head”!


*I begin an informal summer reading of Republic using Scott/Sterling (a new translation for me). Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11. Part 12.

**I have no idea how much of what I know is just Professor Al Geier filtered through my eccentricity. Here is to you Al!





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