April 2, 2018 at 7:00 pm #49801
April 4, 2018 at 12:18 pm #49810
Thank you, ladies, so much for doing these extra discussions! I had a few random thoughts..
–The communal nature of Paideia surprised me. It makes sense to me within a Christian context, but I didn’t realize how Greek that aspect of it is. When I think Greeks pursuing ideals, I always picture the lone Platonic philosopher escaping the cave. But Jaeger makes the provoking case for there being no arete apart from the community. The definition expands in the Homeric age to become married to the the honor due a man. Its seems that it is this communal remembrance and praise of the hero’s achievement which is the core of arete. It is society’s declaration of “noble” that makes the nobleman.
Nowadays we must find it difficult to imagine how public was the conscience of the Greek. […] Yet we must strive to recognize that fact, before we can comprehend what they meant by honour. Christian sentiment will regard any claim to honour, any self-advancement, as an expresson of sinful vanity. The Greeks, however, believed sch ambition to be the aspiration of the individual towards the ideal and supra-personal sphere in which alone he can have real value.
And so he can say “Arete is mortal man. But it survives the mortal, and lives on in his glory […].”
I think that this does ring oddly in our American ears (as Brandy admitted in the recording), however, this dependence upon the declaration and memory of the other, rather than the self, is so central to Christianity. Our pursuit of the Beautiful, the ideal Man (to literally be conformed to His Image) is based upon our willingness to die for the other and our dependence upon Christ to remember us. And so for the Christian, arete is also only possible in the community.
The pursuit of arete, then, in our homeschools would not be only training our children to recognize it in men and works we study, but to foster and direct a virtuous pursuit of what is praiseworthy themselves. And so, as Jaeger says, in this aim at arete “utility is neglected or at least relegated to the background.”
–Practically, I think this encourages me to focus more on hagiography.
April 6, 2018 at 5:53 am #49816
I found the discussion fascinating too. I suppose the question is – can we simply trade arete for Christlikeness? On one level I suppose it works, but even in medieval times, I suspect it was not so clear cut. Who was following Christ better – imaging Him better _ the knight or the monk? The knight had the case for a more traditional arete but was the monk more like Jesus – celibate, spiritual etc.? And then the Protestants came along and made the case that even a farmer can be Christlike by doing his profession well while honoring God’s commands. I would suggest that American ideas of natural aristocracy (which was how I think the founders thought of things – nobility based on ability rather than land or blood relations) come from that Protestant font that an honest profession, pursued in godly service is Christlike, even if it doesn’t follow the form on his life (i.e. celibacy.) I wonder if that is also where we shift to the idea that there is ordinary not just extraordinary virtue.
I have spent a lot of time thinking about nobility and class. I do think American has a sort of nobility but I do think that they are more of a monied elite because there seems to be a lack of that sense of duty. Or at least some minimal form – I vote for welfare therefore I have fulfilled my duty to the poor. And then the culture is guided by the tastes of the masses rather than any taste cultivated by or seasoned with virtue or any other sort of idealized pursuit. It is striking to look back at literature about Puritan households where it was expected that you had a household staff whom you were responsible for on a moral level much like your children. That strikes us a paternalistic – telling poorer adults how they ought to live. On the other hand, you read something like Hillbilly Elegy and it strikes that money doesn’t solve problems, only the personal, moral investment of people with functional habits – more virtue – actually effects change. I am not sure how to teach a child that kind of virtue in this day and age. To the extent that we have household staff it is purely a occasional hire – dry cleaning here, special event cleaning lady there, but ultimately no one with whom we have a relationship. So Jaeger on the first pages of the chapter is distinguishing education, some life skills and such, and culture which forms towards virtue. The Classical renewal I think is trying to find that culture again. Schools can give some life skills and a couple of common sense life mottos, but only a religious concern for our children’s souls can force us to seek culture. Unfortunately, we, as a nation, don’t have a culture (an ideal that we agree on) so we have to look farther back.
Jaeger also says that a Greek noble is separated from a berserker with a death wish by “subordinating his physical self to the demands of a higher aim, the beautiful.” Well, hopefully, in the end we can be enobled by the pursuit of the beautiful which we know is Christlikeness. I know that Calvin didn’t love arete, but instead the Roman version, the animating principle of Roman life was pietas. Calvin obviously redirected us towards God, but the ultimate life was one of pietas – appropriate duty towards God, our benefactor.
April 6, 2018 at 11:19 am #49820
An interesting question, lmlamk.. I think its key to keep arete as just one facet of Paideia. Does the comparison Paideia:Christlikeness maybe make more sense than arete:Christlikeness? I suspect as Jaeger pursues this arete thread in the broader discussion of Paideia, that we’ll be seeing arete’s definition develop, too.
Your points about the “noble” class in America make sense. I think this paternalism must have been even more broadly practiced than even the Puritans. Many noble houses would include chapels within or connected to them. The model we see in England of parishes being so closely tied to the landed gentry stems from the ideal of having your landlord as the moral leader within the community. We see literary instances where the church service did not begin unless the noble was in attendance (which of course would made it all the worse to be late!). Virtue was communally cultivated, merited, and upheld. We seem to have lost any of that community-based social sensibility. We are only capable of judging merit on an individual bases, and so our behavior is based only on the individual, the “self”. And since the easiest way to determine individual merit is with a measurable standard, money has become it.
A difficulty in homeschooling, then, is to keep an individualist ideal at bay. We must be sourcing, and even beholden to the community of the Body for the virtues we are working to tend in our families’ lives.
May 9, 2018 at 4:08 pm #50029
When will you be discussing chapter 2?
July 26, 2018 at 6:23 pm #50996
I am pretty late to the discussion, but so glad to fianlly be joining! This book is fascinating!
On the very first page of the chapter, where he distinguishes between cultural education and technical, I just loved how he said that
The vital factor is tò kalón, the Beautiful as a determinant ideal.
There is a book (a compilation of texts more than a single book by a single author) treasured among Orthodox Christians over the years, called The Philokalia, which literally means “love of beauty”, or “love of the beautiful”. It’s an instructional book really about how to acquire and maintain silence and unceasing prayer of the heart. It represents a standard held by Christians over the centuries for what it looks like to reach for and achieve that ultimate goal of unity with Christ. And I’ve always found it so perfect that the book is called Love of Beauty, because that One Beautiful Person is what we are all reaching for.
So, yeah, I was pretty thrilled to see Jaeger present the idea that the Greeks strove for the beautiful, even if they had not yet recoginzed that it was a Person more than an Ideal.
Another thing I found interesting, because it reminded me of St. Paul in both Corinthians and Hebrews, was the line where Jaeger said
The hero’s whole life and effort are a race for the first prize, and unceasing strife for supremacy over his peers.
Very similar to Paul’s admonition to run the race and strive for the crown.
When he spoke of Christian sentiment regarding any striving for honor as sinful vanity I found myself not quite agreeing, and again I thought of Paul’s words that I referenced above (Hebrews 12:1 and 1 Corinthians 9:24). From my point of view a Christian’s striving for excellence is not prideful (though pride can certainly trip us up in a big way). But we are actually called to pursue excellence as we must be imitators of Christ. So even though we have to be careful to shun pride and vanity, we have a duty to put forth the effort to attain honor as it were. And the Christian pursuit of holiness must also be done within the context of the community (through loving one’s neighbor), and it is the community that honors and acknowledges a saint’s holiness and his struggle and effort to become so.
The discussion of philavtía (self-love) was interesting too. He says
A man who loves himself will ([Aristotle] thought) always be ready to sacrifice himself for his friends or his country, to abandon possessions and honours in order to ‘take possession of the beautiful’.
I LOVE that. Because it’s true. Real self-love, is not wicked or sinful. It’s not the same thing as vanity. When we are whole we can love ourselves along with the whole world, all our brothers and sisters. And taking possession of the beautiful is exactly what we do when we reach out to love our neighbor.
Heatherj, you mentioned hagiography above and I think you’re spot on. The lives of the saints are exactly where we should be looking to see the embodiment of areté as it is fulfilled through Christ. And I think that’s where we also have, within the culture of the Church, our nobility, our aristocracy. The saints embody what it looks like to become one with Christ – they have that manly (by that I mean human-ly) courage and strength and excellence that we should pursue. Christ is the King, and He has His nobility surrounding Him on His throne.
Of course that’s not to say that we can’t see aspects of areté in other places as well, but I would posit that, aside from Christ Himself, the saints are the best examples we have.
- This reply was modified 9 months ago by MrsA. Reason: Typos
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