Today I spent some time in Plato and I loved what he had to say about Opinions vs. Truth. Several years ago I wrote an article called "From Opinions to Principles" that's available for free at the Ten Boom Institute because I have been concerned for a long time that we are all full of opinions, but how much truth do we have? When you ask someone the question, "Do you have an opinion?" the answer is always, "Yes!" But when you look deeper to see if they have the truth, often it's missing. Next time you're tempted to share your opinion before being sure you also have the truth, consider Plato's advice:
"Do you not know that all mere opinions are bad, and the the best of them blind?"
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I'm discovering more and more how difficult it can be to discover the absolute truth in history. Here's a simple example from my reading today:
I was going through more of Herodotus and Lycurgus entered the story. He lived in the 700's B.C. and is said to be the Founder of Sparta. This doesn't mean Sparta didn't already exist, it just means that he came and equalized the land ownership and created a communal and militaristic lifestyle for the people. In other words, he is said to have instigated the type of society Sparta was known to have in ancient times.
But once I began to do just the smallest amount of research, the sources were arguing with each other. Some scholars say he never lived, some say he probably did but we don't know much about him, others say we should trust much of what the ancient sources say about him, like Herodotus.
Herodotus mentions that he founded the senate and the ephoralty (a group of magistrates who had power over the king) but the footnote in my book, by the translator says that he didn't found the senate. Then other sources say he didn't found the ephoralty. There's so much disagreement even on the basics about who he was and what he did!
My take on this is that with several sources mentioning him, there must have been such a man and he must have done some of what he is credited with. I don't know if we can ever know exactly what he did and didn't do but I think the best way to approach it is to see what the most ancient sources agree on and go with that. This approach, of course, requires us to be in the original sources in order to better know the truth. I think that's the right way to come as close to the truth as possible in history.
Here is a great quote by Whitehead from The Great Conversation:
"Whenever a book is written of real educational worth, you may be quite certain that some reviewer will say that it will be difficult to teach from it. Of course it will be difficult to teach from it. If it were easy, the book ought to be burned; for it cannot be educational. In education, as elsewhere, the broad primrose path leads to a nasty place."
This is like how Aristotle taught that true learning is accompanied by pain. Sorry folks, but that's how it is!
I'm back from spring break and I'm going to switch gears a little. I was studying the life of Charles Dickens and I discovered that he had some very admirable character traits:
He was incredibly hard working. He often worked to the point of exhaustion and beyond in writing his books and giving readings on them.
He was a very generous man. He was known to always give to charities, did charitable work himself and when he separated from his family he provided abundantly for them.
He was self-educating and gave his whole heart to his writing and his character development.
He was a talented performer and people loved to hear his readings of his books.
He loved his fans and paid much attention to them and sacrificed for them.
I found one major flaw, though, in Dickens character that greatly saddened me: he didn't put family first. He seemed to really be in love his wife when he married her and they had 10 children together but they were very different and over time their relationship worsened. Instead of becoming really invested in her and in the marriage, Dickens spent more and more of his time on his writing and his public engagements and commitments and less and less time on family and home.
They were only married 22 years before he finally left his wife and children. Separation was bad enough, but then he made the situation worse by trying to publicly justify his behavior. Because they had 10 children, this meant that there were many small children left at home. He saw little of them the rest of his life, excepting his two daughters that took his side in the separation and lived with him. He was disappointed in his many sons because "they struggled to find their place in the world."
In the meantime, he fell in love with a young woman (18 years old when he met her, compared to Dickens' 46 years) and over the last 12 years of his life spent much time with her. Divorce at that time wasn't an option so he tried to keep the relationship a secret but most people knew.
Learning these things about Dickens' personal life were quite disappointing to me especially because he created so many heroes in his books that actually had more solid characters than he did. I know he may have been frustrated with his marriage but he chose not to make his children his first priority. What's more fascinating about that is that he was always disappointed his own parents for not being there for him. He wouldn't put family first and failed in his most important work.
I'll always admire his writings and enjoy and learn from them but as for the man behind the work, I wonder how much more he could have been had he followed the examples of the men and women he wrote about.
A few days ago, I posted about how the oracles worked in ancient Greece. It was this fascinating place where people came to receive answers from an old peasant woman in a trance. She spoke in words no one could understand and then the priests would "translate" her words and put them into hexameter.
What's so interesting about not only the oracles but also the way these people lived is that, from what I can tell, they had a religion but no God. Solon mentioned God, capital G, in reference to how we obtain happiness and inferred that God has a will but there's not much more about God in Herodotus' history than that. Yet, there are a lot of things that the people do in these stories that we would consider religious.
They often consult the oracles, asking what they should do in certain circumstances. This is much like prayer, going to a source "higher" than yourself, something supernatural, to try to get answers to your questions. One interesting story about the oracles is when Croesus wants to know whether or not he should go to war with Greece. He sends messengers to all the oracles to ask them what he is doing a certain day at a certain time, to see which oracle really speaks the truth. The Delphic oracle gets it right, so Croesus sends treasures upon treasures to the oracles and then asks the war question. A little bit like bribing to me.
Another religious rite Herotodus talks about is "purification." Several times characters have to purify something. On one occasion, a murderer visits one of the kings so the king must purify him in order to have him enter his house. Another time, one of the kings purifies an island by digging up all the dead bodies around the temple and removing them to another part of the island.
And that's another part of their "religion"--a temple. The oracles tell them what to do but there is always a temple as well. The purpose of the temple isn't very clear in this book so far but there seem to be several and they are considered sacred.
I just keep wondering: Where does God come into all of this? Why are they purifying things? Why are they building temples? Why are they patronizing the oracles? What is the purpose of all of this? Why do people have religious rites and ceremonies when it doesn't seem to have a higher purpose?
As for these ancient Greeks and Persians, I don't know the answers. I'll just keep looking.
Pisistratus was the son of Hippocrates (Hippocratic oath that doctor's take) and wanted to rule the government. Herodotus tells us about his cycle of seizing the government and then losing it, over and over again. It seemed that being the 'tyrant' was the only thing Pisistratus wanted to do.
The first time he seized the government he did it by faking an attack on himself, asking the people for bodyguards and then using them to take over. The next time he dressed a woman in armor, put her in a carriage and told everyone she was the goddess Minerva (Athena) who was his patroness. The last time he waited 10 years in exile, gathering money from those who owed the state money and then, with his son, he returned and was "joined by...partisans from the capital and by numbers from the country districts, who loved tyranny better than freedom."
That last part me really struck and I stopped and thought about that: They loved tyranny better than freedom?! How can that be? Who loves tyranny better than freedom?
So, I did some research. Guess what I found out? It turns out that Pisistratus was a socialist of sorts. He didn't mess with the governmental structure or the laws but he gave the poorer classes a lot of handouts. He tried to help equalize the classes this way and keep the lower class appeased. That's why, when he returned, those from the "country districts" fled to his cause, because he had taken care of them.
What was the truth? That men loved comfort more than choice!! Sure sounds like modern America.