Wisdom, She Cries Out: No Slack Given in the Argument (Summer in the Republic 64)

Wisdom, She Cries Out: No Slack Given in the Argument (Summer in the Republic 64) August 11, 2018
Mercy from God is needed. We all fail wisdom.

If you love wisdom, then you pray for mercy from God, because wisdom is unrelenting. Wisdom keeps pressing her case without ceasing. Are you tired? Wisdom deserves attention. Are you wrong? Wisdom tells you.

Wisdom is unchanging while our circumstances change. How we apply wisdom certainly shifts and this creates the (sometimes comforting) illusion that wisdom changes. If it changes, then it is not wisdom, just practical advice. Meanwhile, goodness, truth, and beauty go on. The truth was that there was no Kingdom of Prestor John for explorers to find, never was, and never will be. Nothing was going to change that. Withholding wages a person has earned is not good, was not good, and never will be good whatever excuses an unjust employer makes. All people are created in the image of God and so when marketers tell us some people are not beautiful due to their skin color, then they are wrong.

Wisdom cries aloud.

The conclusion is often easier to see than the way to get to the conclusion. We strongly suspect, even are fairly sure, that justice is better than injustice. We hope that the just life (Lord have mercy!) is happier than the unjust life. However, powerful people (so different from being happy!) often assert that they are happier and that their injustice is good or at least that power is the only good there is.

We think these tyrants are wrong, and philosophers like Plato agree with us, but showing us the truth is harder. Wisdom cries aloud, but the tyrants buy sound systems and try to drown out her voice with their money and power. The temptation is to find a bigger sound system and pump up our volume. We will simply assert more strongly . . . Nobody will be persuaded, but perhaps we will win?

And I suppose if the only choice is a just dictator, then that would be better than an unjust one. Shouldn’t we at least try, however, for wisdom done wisely? Shouldn’t the truth be done beautifully? Isn’t goodness power enough?

Plato thinks so, but in his Republic shows how hard it is to live this way. (How often I have failed at this!) In Republic, Socrates has tried to persuade students and a bad teacher that justice is better than injustice. He fails and so out of fear shuts down the discussion using his great rhetorical skills. He is right, badly.

Glaucon, whose very name means he sees well, wants more. He wants justice to be defended justly! Glaucon hopes that even the sophist, the man who defends injustice for money, can be persuaded and join the community. We will see in Book V of Republic that this can happen. Wisdom is powerful when we listen with wisdom.

Socrates does right by his student and admits his error:

I would really like to persuade you.

Glauon wants wisdom and so wants more than just an aspiration:

Well, so far you haven’t succeeded. Consider this question. Is there some kind of good we ought to strive for, not because we expect it to bring about profitable results but simply because we value the good for its own sake? Joy might be an example, or those sorts of harmless pleasures that leave nothing behind except the memory of enjoyment.

Glaucon is listening to wisdom and so gives Socrates the honest score: so far not so good. He saves the conversation by asking a question that can get the conversation back on track. Note this: the reason the question is so good is that it is both sincere and practicable. Glaucon (like most of us) wants to live a happy life and hopes happiness and virtue can go together. They often do not seem to do so, but Glaucon knows that some martyrs have reported that even martyrdom for justice is sweet. Is that possible? Can a man know that before he must sacrifice superficial happiness? Is there a deeper joy? He thinks so, but wishes to know so.

Too often, however, academic discussions are not so we can change how we live, but as edutainment. There is, I suppose, nothing wrong with crossword puzzles or any other kind of edutainment. They are a good way to excercise our faculties for the vital task of hearing wisdom and doing what she says. A serious discussion is practicable: if we see joy, a thing good for its own sake, then we will pursue it. We will do what we find! Few would not want to do a thing good for its own sake!

So the student has pressed us toward Wisdom who has gone, after all, no place. We have wondered and failed her, but, thank God, the Mother of God, who is also God’s creation, is patient and loving. She is merciful, because He is merciful. Lord have mercy on me, a sinner!


*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. Part 13. Part 14. Part 15. Part 16. Part 17. Part 18. Part 19. Part 20. Part 21. Part 22. Part 23. Part 24. Part 25. Part 26. Part 27. Part 28. Part 29. Part 30. Part 31. Part 32. Part 33. Part 34. Part 35. Part 36. Part 37. Part 38. Part 39. Part 40. Part 41. Part 42. Part 43. Part 44. Part 45. Part 45.5. Part 46. Part 47. Part 48. Part 49. Part 50. Part 51. Part 52. Part 52.5. Part 53. Part 54. Part 55. Part 56. Part 57. Part 58. Part 59. Part 60. Part 61. Part 62. Part 63. Part 64.

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