Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Whether Odysseus should warn his men about Skylla and Charybdis

          In Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus should have warned his men about Skylla and Charybdis for three reasons: Odysseus and his men resolutely and firmly survived many dangers together, Odysseus and his crew were able work together, and the crew was responsible for themselves.

      The first reason Odysseus should have warned his men about Skylla and Charybdis is that Odysseus and his men resolutely and firmly survived many dangers together. Odysseus and his men survived the destruction of their comrades on the journey home from Troy. Odysseus and his men are all tough and hearty Trojan War veterans. Odysseus and his men have even travelled to Hades and back together.

      The second reason Odysseus should have warned his men about Skylla and Charybdis is that Odysseus and his men were able to work together to get home. If he shared information about the coming danger, he would have shown trust and confidence in his men, thereby inspiring them to hold fast. He would not have had to carry the burden and worry of the dangers ahead all by himself. He would have also benefitted from any ideas his men may have had in order to survive the ordeal.

      The third reason Odysseus should have warned his men about Skylla and Charybdis is that the crew was responsible for themselves. Odysseus’ men were able to prepared themselves for the encounter with these foul, brash and vicious monsters. The men themselves were very motivated to go home, as was Odysseus. The men, not Odysseus, were responsible for how they react in times of danger.

      Therefore, Odysseus should have warned his men about Skylla and Charybdis because Odysseus and his men resolutely and firmly survived many dangers together, Odysseus and his men were able to work together to get home, and the crew was responsible for themselves.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Whether Brutus should have conspired against Caesar.

          “These conspiracies were not the work of the worst men, but of the noblest, most high-spirited, and most courageous, because such men are least able to brook the insolence of princes.” Though written some two hundred years before the death of Julius Caesar, the Greek historian Polybius noted that tyranny would cause noble men to rise up against them. As a noble man, Brutus should have conspired against Caesar for three reasons: the expediency of the conspiracy, the character of Caesar, and the character of Brutus himself.

     The first reason why Brutus should have conspired against Caesar is that the conspiracy to kill Caesar was expedient. Simply exiling Caesar was not enough to free Rome from his ambitions, as he might return once again in force and plunge Rome into yet another civil war. Also, death was a common penalty for those who plotted to replace the Republic with a monarch, so Caesar’s death was just. Finally, Cassius, known as a very shrewd and cunning Roman, organized and initiated the conspiracy against Caesar, and increased the likelihood of its success. Therefore, Brutus should have conspired against Caesar.

     The second reason why Brutus should have conspired against Caesar is that the character of Caesar demanded it. Caesar had already demonstrated his ambitions by marching on Rome in spite of the laws forbidding it. Further, he retained in his services Mark Antony, a violent, manipulative, and ruthless figure. Lastly, Caesar showed contempt for the people’s duly elected Tribunes by punishing them for their actions at the feast of Lupercal. Therefore, Brutus should have conspired against Caesar.

     The third reason why Brutus should have conspired against Caesar is that the character of Brutus himself demanded his participation. Brutus’ family honor demanded his participation because his ancestor Junius Brutus helped drive out the last king of Rome. Secondly, Brutus loved the Republic in his own right, and had already served in the Senate. Finally, Brutus was not afraid of dying for the sake of doing the right thing. Therefore, Brutus should have conspired against Caesar.

     Thus, Brutus should have conspired against Caesar because of the expediency of the conspiracy, the character of Caesar, and the character of Brutus himself.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Whether Socrates should have instructed Meno’s slave

          In Aristotle’s Politics I.5, the noted philosopher wrote: “For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient; from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.” That some are fit to rule, while others to be ruled is a very controversial statement and has bearing on the broader question of who should receive an education. More specifically, it has some relation to the issue of Socrates and Meno’s slave. Socrates should have instructed Meno’s slave for three reasons: Socrates was skilled at teaching, the slave was made in God’s image, and an educated slave was a benefit to Meno.

     Socrates should have instructed Meno’s slave because Socrates himself was skilled at teaching. Meno respected Socrates and recognized the benefit of having a conversation with him about life’s most essential questions. Socrates was very capable of helping even the hostile Anytus better understand what virtue is and what it is not. Socrates demonstrated throughout the Meno dialogue his ability by helping Meno himself gain deeper insight into virtue.

     Socrates should have instructed Meno’s slave because the slave was made in God’s image. God created the slave, and all men, with the capacity for reason, and the slave demonstrated this clearly. Socrates also revealed to Meno that his slave was not merely a soul, but a soul and a body that was able to observe the world around him. Finally, Socrates’ interactions elicited the slave’s capacity for language and speech, another critical human attribute associated with Imago Dei.

     Socrates should have instructed Meno’s slave because an educated slave was a benefit to Meno. An educated slave had greater capacity and usefulness to their masters. This led to a slave saving more of his master’s time, as Meno would not have to laboriously explain exactly what he wanted accomplished. Together, the slave’s greater ability and economy with Meno’s time enabled the slave to make and save more of Meno’s money and resources.

     Socrates should have instructed Meno’s slave because Socrates was skilled at teaching, the slave was made in the image of God, and an educated slave was a benefit to his master. This issue matters to all men because, independent or indentured, prosperous or poor, they were made in God’s image and flourish through the education of the soul.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Whether Evander should have allied with Aeneas.


           Imagine having to chose between sides in a titanic struggle between great and fearsome peoples. This is what Evander does in Book VIII of Virgil’s epic poem, The Aeneid. Though he was king of the Arcadians in Italy, Evander was an old man, too old to fight, whereas His son, Pallas, was a young man, too young to fight. When Aeneas reached Evander’s kingdom, he asked for aid in the war against the Rutulians and Latins. After hosting Aeneas for the night and pondering the matter, Evander chose to ally with Aeneas.

      The question remains whether this was the right choice. While everyone agrees that Evander was in a difficult position and wants him to make the right choice, some believe that Evander should have allied with Aeneas, and others believe that Evander should not have allied with Aeneas. Despite this disagreement, it is clear that Evander should have allied with Aeneas for three reasons: The gods supported pious Aeneas, Aeneas demonstrated good qualities, and the decision had good consequences.

     The first reason Evander should have allied with Aeneas is because the gods supported pious Aeneas. In fact, Aeneas is the son of Venus herself, who showed steadfast support for Aeneas’ quest to found Rome. Further, the Italian river-god, Tiberius, also supported Aeneas and directed the Trojan prince to seek out Evander for men and aid. Most importantly, Jupiter, the king of the gods, supported Aeneas, as he granted not only the founding of the Roman people to Aeneas, but to Rome herself “empire without end.”

      Secondly, Evander should have allied with Aeneas because Aeneas demonstrated good qualities. As already alluded, his support from the gods indicated that Aeneas was very pious, and Evander himself was very pious, as seen by his observance of rites in Hercules’ honor during Aeneas’ arrival. Aeneas also possessed prowess in battle, and would be able to teach the inexperienced Pallas by excellent example. Finally, Aeneas, being wholly of non-Italian stock, was qualified to lead not only Evander’s army, but also the Etruscan army as well. The Etruscan army sat encamped, waiting for the fulfillment of a prophecy about the coming of a non-Italian leader, such as Aeneas.

      Finally, Evander should have allied with Aeneas because the decision had good consequences. The combined arms of the Trojans, Etruscans, and Evander’s Arcadians defeat the Rutulians and Latins and end the war. The precincts of Arcadia encompass the future site of Rome itself, and so Arcadia becomes the Eternal City. Finally, the alliance with Aeneas was critical in his defeat of Turnus. This enabled Aeneas to fulfill his fate as founder of Rome in Italy, and allowed Rome to complete her destiny as bringer of law to the world.

      Some believe that Evander should not have allied with Aeneas because of the danger to Pallas, and the fact that the Trojans were already a defeated people. The young, inexperienced Pallas found himself in a fight with Turnus, a soldier as cunning as a wolf, that ultimately cost him his life and brought Evander great sorrow. Yet, it must be remembered that Pallas died with great glory and honor, and left a great name for himself among his friends and enemies alike, and Evander mourned not for his son’s chance at honor and distinction, but his youthful death before Evander’s own.

      Additionally, given that the Trojans had already been defeated by the Greeks, some question whether Evander was wise to ally with Aeneas. Not only had the Trojans been defeated, but their king was killed, they were exiled from their homeland, and few in numbers. Nevertheless, Jupiter himself had granted to Rome an endless empire, and it was Jupiter alone who decided the Trojan War in the favor of the Greeks.

      So, the danger to Pallas and the past defeat of the Trojans are not sufficient reasons to keep Evander from allying with Aeneas and joining the destiny of the Arcadians and Trojans.

     Evander should have allied with Aeneas because the gods supported pious Aeneas, Aeneas demonstrated good qualities, and the decision had good consequences. This issue was especially important to the Arcadians, because their fate became intimately tied up with that of Rome, a city that dominated first Italy, then the known world.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Abraham Kuyper, Part IV


This is the conclusion to my four-part introduction to the Dutch theologian and statesman, Abraham Kuyper. Read Part I, Part II, and Part III)
During all of his life, Kuyper never set down the pen, writing many different devotional and theological books. Following his term as Prime Minister, Kuyper was invited to Princeton to deliver the Stone Lectures. His lectures focused on the idea that Christianity is a life-system, or worldview, and that its distinctive stamp on reality makes it fundamentally different from its competitors, including Islam and Modernity. These ideas would come to shape the theological and philosophical minds in the United States, especially those in the Reformed and Presbyterian communities.

Kuyper understood that Christianity was an all-encompassing system of beliefs. He knew that he could not relegate his faith to one little box. Rather, Christian truth saturates everything. He articulated this in a series of talks published as Lectures on Calvinism. The extent to which Abraham Kuyper acted on what he believed is plainly seen in his involvement in so many different spheres of life and culture: in journalism and writing, in the Church as pastor and theologian, in government as a party leader and Prime Minister, and in education as a university founder.

The study of Kuyper and his writings is difficult since so few of his works have been translated into English. Further, since he is a relatively unknown figure, there are few secondary sources available. When I wrote a paper on him in college, this was a wall I constantly ran up against. Nevertheless, there are some books and essays that will give you a start:

Lectures on Calvinism
Since it was delivered in English this is the most popular and easily acquired book by Kuyper. He introduces the idea of life-systems, or worldviews, and shows how it affects art, science and many other "spheres" of life.

Principles of Sacred Theology
This is the only other work by Kuyper himself that I have been able to get my hands on. While I only had time to read parts, what I did read looked good and I’d love to finish it someday.

Worldview: A History of the Concept, by David Naugel
This is a book mentioned at the beginning of the series that introduces Kuyper by way the discussing the history of the "worldview."

“Abraham Kuyper and the rise of Neo-Calvinism in the Netherlands” by Justus M. Van der Kroef
This is a good biographical overview of Kuyper’s life and work. It comes from a periodical called Church History, Vol. 17, No. 4 December 1948.

"Dutch Reformed Philosophy in North America" by Thomas K. Johnson
This essay does a good job of showing the connections between Kuyper's thought and later thinkers. Most of the figures discussed are probably not familiar to most readers (or at least, I had never heard of them), but again, it shows the impact that Kuyper's ideas had on those who came after him.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Abraham Kuyper, Part III


In Part I, I introduced Kuyper as a forgotten figure who has played a key role in developing the intellectual tools that many Christians today take for granted when defending the faith. In Part II, I gave a short biographical overview of Kuyper. Today, we continue the biography and look at how he waged his war on modernism.
Abraham Kuyper once said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: 'Mine!'” Since God is the creator of all things, all things belong to him. Thus, all areas of human existence owe homage to God. What he is expressing is the same idea found in Psalm 24:1: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.” If all parts of reality belong to God, then his truth is supreme and affects all areas of life: philosophy, economics, education, government--everything.

Driven by this belief, Kuyper took the field against modernity in every sphere of life he could. He became involved in politics and helped found the Anti-Revolutionary Party, whose main aims were to resist the secular spirit of the bloody French Revolution. He also founded and edited two newspapers, De Heraut, and De Standaard. These papers allowed him to communicate and appeal to the people of the Netherlands. When the state-controlled church went too far, Kuyper helped found a new church. Not content to stop there, he was also instrumental in the founding of the Free University of Amsterdam. The university helped train and educate pastors in Christian doctrine, free from the liberal taint of the state-run universities, such as the one that Kuyper himself had gone to. Kuyper’s involvement in politics increased when he won a seat in Parliament, and culminated when the coalition he formed won control and made him Prime Minister.

In Part IV, I will conclude this introduction to Kuyper and focus on some of his ideas as well as list some resources for those interested in learning more.

Abraham Kuyper: Part I, Part II, Part IV

Friday, January 11, 2013

Abraham Kuyper, Part II

In Part I, I introduced Abraham Kuyper as an important example in the context of Christian apologetics, worldviews and cultural contribution. Today, I will be giving a brief overview of Kuyper’s life and the ways in which he sought to influence his culture.

Abraham Kuyper was born in 1837 into the family of a Dutch Reformed minster. He studied at the University of Leyden, focusing on theology as his father had. While at Leyden, he was indoctrinated by the latest liberal theology of his day, rooted in German theories of higher criticism. It was not until he went to his first church in the rural dutch countryside that he became a Christian, largely due to the faithful example of the simple farmers in his congregation. Despite being indoctrinated into the liberal spirit of the age at the university, it is Providential irony Kuyper was converted by pious low- and middle-class Dutchmen. Kuyper then devoted the rest of his life to fighting modernity and its liberalizing influence on the dutch church as well as the culture in general. He saw the conflict as a war, describing it thus:
Two life-systems are wrestling with one another, in mortal combat. Modernism is bound to build a world of its own from the data of the natural man, and to construct man himself from the data of nature; while on the other hand, all those who reverently bend the knee to Christ and worship Him as the son of the living God, and God himself, are bent upon saving the “Christian Heritage.” This is the struggle in Europe, this is the struggle in America, and this also, is the struggle for principles in which my country is engaged, and in which I myself have been spending all my energy for nearly forty years.
In Part III, we will learn more about how Kuyper waged his campaign against modernity.

Abraham Kuyper: Part I, Part III, Part IV.