All loves can go awry when they become disconnected to goodness, truth, and beauty. We can love learning and still not learn if we do not discipline ourselves: Socrates called this being a glutton at a feast of words when he saw this error in himself. At the end of Republic Book I, Socrates tells his listeners why he thinks they have had an entertaining discussion, even chewed on some good ideas, but he is unsatisfied.
He thought, but this day he did not think well. If Socrates could make this mistake, then we can as well. Socrates felt that he “had snatched at one dish after another.” When a child, I loved all-you-can-eat buffets, because getting enough food was the focus. Quality? Like most children, I preferred unlimited softserve mediocrity to a small portion of gourmet ice cream. Over time I outgrew that and a diet (no more soccer to whip off the calories!) killed this habit dead.
I realized that one thousand calories of “meh” could be replaced with a few hundred of tasty delight: less calories, more flavor! Quality of the items I ate was improvement, but I was still missing something vital to adult enjoyment of food: the menu or meal plan.
Foods eaten together with courses of food designed to complement each other . . . That is better than just a series of foods I love, even if the series was all high quality yummy. There is a meal and not just a serving of food in a well planned dinner.
The quality of the individual portions matters, but does so the design of the whole. These insights work fairly well for most pleasures, include intellectual ones. Do we love wisdom? We have chosen wisely, but do we love well? We might love science, for example, but fail to understand how science connects to philosophy or theology. We are gluttons for a certain kind of learning and so fail to gain other kinds. This does not just diminish our potential pleasures, causing us to miss out on types of wisdom, but can do harm.
Eat a banana, it is good for you. Eat only bananas and what was good will make you sick. Instead, the banana fits in a balanced diet and can be complimented with other foods. In the same way too much of one kind of knowing, makes us ill. Theology, philosophy, mathematics, science are all part of a balanced intellectual diet.
Socrates grabbed whatever conversational pleasures he could and so was distracted from the full feast he might have had. The good feast would have required knowing the scope and sequence of the intellectual meal: where had they come from? Where were they going? Snatching up other tasty ideas distracted Socrates from the better whole . . . He was tired of talking at the end of Book I, but had not really gained.
The all-you-can-eat buffet did not present a meal plan and so we got full (and fatter!) on our favorites. The undisciplined intellectual life will present the thinker many choices between treats, but he needs a worldview to guide his selection. If you are a Christian, then let your view of reality guide your intellectual activity. As you discover truths, beauty, and goodness, put them in place without this grand vision. This is the advantage Christians have, so we should use it. Of course, other mature religions and philosophies can do similar things and so the practioners of those worldviews should do the same.
Think with quality, but also think according a general plan to get the full glory of the life of the mind. As I have done this, I have had to change aspects of my worldview when the plan did not find room for some glorious new truth. The menu and the food elements shape each other and so does a general worldview and a given research project or discussion.
My Christianity has been shaped by individual elements of reality I have discovered, but my discovery has also often fit into a whole life and been valuable because of my Christianity.
Let’s celebrate an intellectual feast.
*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.