The Christian Never Multi-Tasks

It is a not uncommon notion in our busy lives that we are told we need to “prioritize,” or “put our lives in order” so as to avoid the burn-out of our busy lives. We have many packed schedules, commitments of friends, family and work, and duties and responsibilities that burden us day and night. If we would only reflect on what matters most and rank all other things in order of importance, we would be able to get a grip and manage our lives. Just do a cursory search for “time management” techniques to find many such strategies.

Such advice, however, does nothing to minimize our busyness, it only attempts to manage it. We remain busy and divided in our lives, and consequently the burdens of our lives are not relieved, they are just hidden. Let there be just one thing to trip up our techniques and schedules and the thin veil will be pulled away.

This is because the problem is not that we have failed to properly manage our time, the problem is that we have divided ourselves.

The Christian need not “prioritize.” The Christian does not have “many commitments.” Says Kierkegaard,

[Christian love] is no busyness, least of all a worldly busyness, and worldliness and busyness are inseparable ideas. For what is it to be busy? One ordinarily thinks that the manner in which a man is occupied determines whether he should be called busy or not. But this is not so. It is only within a narrower aspect of the definition that the manner is the determining factor—and this only after the object is first defined. He who occupies himself only with the eternal, unceasingly every moment—if this were possible—is not busy. Consequently he who really occupies himself with the eternal is never busy. To be busy means, divided and scattered (depending upon the object which occupies one), to occupy oneself with all the manifold things in which it is practically impossible for a man to be whole, whole entirely or whole in any single part, something only a lunatic can successfully do. To be busy means, divided and scattered, to occupy oneself with what makes a man divided and scattered. But Christian love, which is the fullfilling of the law, is whole and collected in its every expression, and yet it is sheer action. (Kierkegaard, Works of Love)

kierkegaard2This is how Kierkegaard understands both Christ’s beatitude: “The pure in heart shall see God” (Matt. 5:8) and James command: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8). To be “pure” in heart is to be unmixed in will and desire, as James contrasts it with the “double-minded.”

Only the pure in heart are able to see God and consequently keep near to him and preserve this purity through his keeping near to them; and the person who in truth wills only one thing can will only the good, and the person who wills only one thing when he wills the good can will only the good in truth. (Kierkegaard, Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing)

The Christian, therefore, has only one task: to will the good. All the Christian’s actions are related to loving God. As Kierkegaard defines Christian love: “For to love God is to love oneself in truth; to help another human being to love God is to love another man; to be helped by another human being to love God is to be loved.” (Kierkegaard, Works of Love) This guides every Christian action, it is the only thing the Christian has to do. The Christian does not have a busy schedule—the Christian has a single task: love.

Or, as Christ commanded: “Seek first the Kingdom of God.”

What is Art?

'Fountain'_by_Marcel_Duchamp_(replica)“That’s not art!” is a not uncommon reaction to Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain. As we ponder the mounted urinal with letters scrawled across it, the question equally arises, “if it isn’t art, why isn’t it art?” And this must naturally lead to the fundamental question, “what is art anyway?” This confusion that comes to the average person when encountering certain “modern art” is further confused by the general ambiguity and broad use of the term “art” in a variety of contexts. For we sometimes speak of the “medical arts,” the “performing arts,” the “liberal arts,” “the culinary arts,” or we may even speak of the “art of basketball,” or the “art of living well.” So, what exactly is “art” and how do we know if something like Fountain would constitute a work of art?

The purpose of this essay is neither to offer an evaluation of whether Fountain is “art” nor whether if it is art, whether it is good or bad. Rather, this essay seeks to outline a beginning taxonomy through which we could possibly consider these questions. A single definition of “art” seems unlikely to account fully for the variety of objects and activities that we normally speak of as “arts.” For this reason, classifying different kinds of “arts” might possibly help us to understand the variety of ways we experience art in the world.

The first major division of “art” is the somewhat self-referential distinction of art as a “cause” on the one hand, and as an “effect” on the other. When we speak of art as a “cause,” it refers to the rules that govern an action and the skills needed to achieve some end; thus we speak of the “art of basket-weaving” or the “art of ship-building,” etc.  Art as an “effect,” refers to the “work of art” that is produced as a result of the actions of the one operating under the rules and skills of production. So the cause of the basket is the “art of basket weaving,” and the effect of basket-weaving is the “basket” which is produced. Both these (cause and effect) are properly “arts.”

We can refer to that which is produced as an “artifact,” but not all “arts” (as a cause) produce artifacts (as an effect). For example, the “medical arts” (as a cause) refers to all the scientific knowledge concerning the health of the body, along with the various skills needed to attain that health (like surgery or diagnosis). However, the one practicing the “medical arts” does not produce an “artifact.” Instead, the “health of the body” is the effect of the causal “medical arts.” Similarly, the “art of logic” (cause) produces syllogisms (effect), and the “art of governing” (cause) leads to the “act of ruling” (effect), but neither produce artifacts.

St. Thomas Aquinas from  by Carlo CrivelliThe two notions of art, however, are not on equal footing logically. For “art as cause” is the fundamental meaning of “art;” while “art as effect” is derivative or dependent (as is the case with all cause and effect relationships). Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and Kant all seem to agree on this point. Aristotle defines “art” as “identical with a state of capacity to make, involving a true course of reasoning” (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1140a9-10).  And likewise says Thomas, “Art is nothing else but the right reason about certain works to be made. . . . Art, properly speaking, is an operative habit” (Thomas, Summa Theologica, I-II. Q. 57 A. 3). The cause is fundamental because it must come prior to the effect—without knowledge of “how-to” there can be nothing produced.

On this account, all actions have an “art”—it is the “know-how” to produce a desired effect, and all “arts as effects” will have a corresponding series of rules governing their production. (This statement is not entirely accurate, as will be seen below. For, according to Kant, the distinguishing characteristic of the “fine arts” is precisely the lack of universal governing rules, and yet there being an effect desired by the work of the artist.  How these two ideas can work together consistently will be explored below.) Hence Thomas’ reference to art as “right reason” concerning things “to be made”. And so points out Kant that “every art presupposes rules which are laid down as the foundation which first enables a product, if it is to be called one of art, to be represented as possible” (Kant, Critique of Judgement, 136.).

Art, therefore, is like science in that it involves a kind of speculative knowledge concerning the nature of reality. However, “science,” properly speaking, aims at knowledge of “what is,” while “art” aims at knowledge of “how to make X” or how to achieve a desired effect. In some cases there is clear overlap between “science” and “art”—as is the case of the “science of medicine” and the “art of medicine.” For without the “science of medicine” it is dubious that a doctor could achieve the health of the body, which is the desired effect of the “art of medicine.” On the other hand, some arts seem to be able to operate somewhat independently of the corresponding science. For example, it seems that a person can be quite capable in the “musical arts” yet have little knowledge “music theory”—and vice-versa.

adler4The remaining discussions of the various kinds of “art” all deal with arts as “effects.” In the first major sub-division of “art as effect” we can distinguish between arts which produce something outside of the artist and arts which work on the mind of the artist (i.e., those which do not produce something outside the artist). The latter of these are called “liberal arts” and are most closely associated with education. According to Mortimer J. Adler, “the liberal arts are traditionally intended to develop the faculties of the human mind, those powers of intelligence and imagination without which no intellectual work can be accomplished…once all were acquired, the student was “free” to stand before all things as a whole, both to know and to act” (Adler, What Is Liberal Education?). Traditionally the liberal arts were seven in number, constituting the language and mathematics arts necessary for the student to be “free” to know and to act in the world.

The former arts (those which produce something outside the artist) are variously called the “mechanical arts,” the “servile arts,” or the “practical arts.” What they have all in common is some end beyond the formation of the human mind. For example, the “medical arts” would fall under this category because the end of the art is something produced outside of the doctor (i.e., the health of the body of the patient). Hence, in this category would fall all manner of “arts” which will need to be further divided—for within this category of arts would include such things as the “art of carpentry,” the “art of the pianist,” the “medical arts,” and even the “fine arts.”

Immanuel_Kant_(painted_portrait)In further separating the “arts” at this point, Immanuel Kant is most instructive. According to Kant, when it comes to arts which produce something outside the artist, there are two broad categories: the “mechanical arts” and the “aesthetic arts.” The difference between the two are the ends the artist has in mind when creating the artwork. To understand the difference, we must go back the original distinction between “art as cause” and “art as effect.” There it was argued that all “art” is created according to the “universal reason”—that is according to some rule. These “arts” are here called the “mechanical arts”—they are arts made for some use. And hence they are sometimes called the “useful arts.” Here would include certain “industrial arts” like carpentry, ship-building, etc.

However, according to Kant, the “aesthetic arts” have no “useful” purpose in mind when they are created, or rather, they are not created according to a “universal rule”. The consequence of this, is that there is no “right or wrong” to the “aesthetic arts” in the same way there is a “right or wrong” in the production of a chair. For the chair, there are universal rules of carpentry by which the artisan works, but not so the painting. There is no “right or wrong” way to paint the Flint Hills. Furthermore, the painting of the Flint Hills is not made for some use in the same way that the chair is made for sitting.

“Aesthetics arts,” however, are not without an end, for the artist must have some end in mind when acting, otherwise he would not act. According to Kant, the end of these arts is pleasure. As such, Kant distinguishes between two kinds of “aesthetic arts:” “agreeable arts” and “fine arts.” The “agreeable arts” have pleasure as “sensation” as their end. Here Kant seems to have in mind perhaps the “culinary arts” and such “arts” as are pure enjoyment, as in “entertaining narrative, the art of engaging the whole [dinner] table in unrestrained and sprightly conversation, or with jest and laughter inducing a certain air of gaiety” (Kant, Critique of Judgement, 134-135).

And so we have finally arrived at the distinguishing features of the “fine arts.” The “fine arts” belong to that broad category of arts which are effects of human actions and which produce something outside of the one acting, and yet are ones for which there is no use. But unlike the “agreeable arts,” the “fine arts” are presented not as objects of “sensational enjoyment” but of a pleasure aimed at “modes of cognition.” That is, they are presented as objects of Beauty. Kant seems to have in mind Thomas Aquinas’ understanding of Beauty: “Beauty,” says Thomas, “relates to the cognitive faculty; for beautiful things are those which please when seen” (Thomas, Summa Theologica, I. Q. 5 A. 4). And by “seen” Thomas and Kant have in mind “seen by the mind.” So, if we ask the question, “what is that painting for?” the answer is “for enjoyment, for contemplation.”

Kant also denies that “fine arts” are meant to communicate something. Because “fine arts” are not made according to a universal rule, and although they present Beauty to the mind for contemplation, the “fine arts” are devoid of concepts. That is, they are not meant to “mean” one thing or another. Says Kant, the “fine arts” do not “permit of the judgement upon the beauty of its product being derived from any rule that has a concept for its determining ground” (Kant, Critique of Judgement, 136). So to ask, “what does this painting ‘mean’?” is to misunderstand the “fine arts.” “Fine arts” are presented to the mind as an object of Beauty for contemplation, which is what Thomas indicates is the nature of “beautiful things.”

German_School_(16th_century)_-_The_Lute_PlayerOne final division of “arts” should be addressed. Within the “fine arts” we can distinguish between “plastic arts” and “performing arts.” Both of these would contain the characteristics described for “fine arts” above. The difference here is that “plastic arts” would constitute whole, or completed art forms which involve the manipulation of matter. Such things as painting, sculpting, ceramics, etc. would fall into this category of “fine arts.” The “performing arts,” by contrast, are “fine arts” which are always “in progress” in their presentation. Such art forms as theatre or “musical arts” would fall into this category. A musical performance, by its nature, is always in “progress” of presentation, unlike a sculpture which is a completed whole.

If we now return to our original queries concerning Duchamp’s Fountain, we now have the conceptual categories with which to place it. The original urinal that Duchamp repurposed would seem to fall under that category of industrial arts which produce ceramic fixtures. The fixtures are made for certain uses according to universal rules. The question, however, whether something can be repurposed and presented as “fine art” by merely scrawling some letters on an object and calling it “fine art” is not something we are capable of evaluating at this point. The general direction of the discussion would seem to allow for such a piece as constituting “fine art.” If it is a “fine art” we are still left with the question of whether it is any good. Kant would seem to indicate that that question itself violates the nature of the “fine arts” and Beauty. What we have not explored in this essay is the true nature of Beauty and whether it has an objective definition. Thomas indicates it does, Kant that it does not. The method by which we could evaluate Fountain would have to settle this definition first, for the “fine arts” depends upon presentation of “art” as an object of Beauty for contemplation. If Beauty does have objective content we could possibly evaluate Fountain as either “good” or “bad,” but if Beauty has no objective content the most we could say is that we either find Fountain “enjoyable” or “unenjoyable” as a judgment of the mind. What we have seen, nevertheless, is that Fountain falls generally within the definition of “fine arts,” and what we mean by the “fine arts.” So, yes, that’s art!

Socrates Prophecies the Internet

You [Theuth] who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours [writing] will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.

~Plato, Phaedrus, 275

Of course, Socrates was speaking of the invention of writing, but is there any more apt description of the Internet Age?

James V. Schall on the New State Religion

But if it is the state itself that insists its legislated or juridical doctrines are the ruling force, it can and does cause both restrictions on the public expression and cause legal and financial burdens on people who disagree with it. Religion is forced to support the “religious/ideological” laws of the state that now defines what is to be tolerated. To disagree with the state causes financial loss and requires approval of what people hold to be wrong. The difference between Jefferson’s hypothesis and the situation today is, at bottom, that the modern state is not just a “temporal order” but itself a quasi-established religion that enforces what it will or will not allow in ultimate questions about human life and death.

~James V. Schall, “Obama’s Right to Worship Ushers in New State Religion”


Alvin Plantinga, Always the Gentleman

AlvinPlantingaThat Juggernaut of Christian philosophy, Alvin Plantinga, is at it again, with all the grace, dignity, and winsome repartee that has defined his work as a scholar. This time, it’s in an interview in the New York Times where Plantinga touches on such diverse topics as The Problem of Evil, The Evolutionary Argument against Naturalism, evidentialism, Calvin’s sensus divinitatis, and concludes with the claim that, contrary to modern atheists, it is not the theist who is intellectually deficient, rather it is the atheist who is irrational.

One of my favorite lines from the interview:

Some atheists seem to think that a sufficient reason for atheism is the fact (as they say) that we no longer need God to explain natural phenomena — lightning and thunder for example. We now have science.

As a justification of atheism, this is pretty lame. We no longer need the moon to explain or account for lunacy; it hardly follows that belief in the nonexistence of the moon (a-moonism?) is justified. A-moonism on this ground would be sensible only if the sole ground for belief in the existence of the moon was its explanatory power with respect to lunacy. (And even so, the justified attitude would be agnosticism with respect to the moon, not a-moonism.) The same thing goes with belief in God: Atheism on this sort of basis would be justified only if the explanatory power of theism were the only reason for belief in God. And even then, agnosticism would be the justified attitude, not atheism.

From: Is Atheism Irrational?

The Incomprehensible Pleasure of Solitude

Aristotle claims that “the first principle of all action is leisure.” Many modern people would be tempted to agree with Aristotle, thinking that we work so that we may have things we like and do things that bring us enjoyment. Yet, if modern people knew what Aristotle had in mind by “leisure,” it is unlikely that they would endorse such a view. Today, leisure, is synonymous with “amusement” or “entertainment.” A search online for “leisure activities” is likely to return such things as amusement parks, sporting events, or any number of outdoor activities or vacation spots. Yet Aristotle would hardly reckon these among proper “leisure activities.” In fact, these activities are quite un-leisurely.

What, then, does he have in mind? For the Greeks, the word leisure is σχολή (scholē), from which we derive the word “school” (a fact that never ceases to confound students), and meant both “time free from labor” or “spare time,” and also the content of that spare time. It was defined negatively as “time not working” and suggested the proper activities that a human being should be about while not working. Furthermore, the negation of scholē, a-scholē, meant “busy,” connoting “busy at work.” The word scholē was translated in Latin as otium and likewise denoted “time free from labor” and like the Greeks, the Romans negated this work to suggest “business:” neg-otium, from which we derive the English word “negotiation.” In the case of both scholē and otium, the time for “not working” connoted time spent in learning, thinking, contemplation, reading, writing, etc. In essence, it was time set aside for the mind, not the body, to work. This, as Aristotle indicates, is the primary function of the human being. Similarly, Isocrates argues that “it is acknowledged that the nature of man is compounded of two parts, the physical and the mental, and no one would deny that of these two the mind comes first and is of greater worth; for it is the function of the mind to decide both on personal and on public questions, and of the body to be servant to the judgements of the mind” (Isocrates, Antidosis)

Leisure activities thusly understood mean simply cultivating and using the innate, universal human faculties in the discovery and performance of truth. They are activities distinguished from “amusement” in that “amusement” is aimed only at pleasure. Leisure, on the other hand, is precisely the time for “musing” or thinking, not “a-musing” or not-thinking. Leisure activities are anything but idleness, for they involve a great deal of effort by the mind. An effort that is fundamental to the very nature of humanity, yet one so difficult that people would rather abandon the endeavor altogether (and consequently their humanity) than to take the time to pursue truly noble ends. And “leisure,” says James V. Schall, “is the noblest name of all” (Schall, On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs, 102). It is the noblest because it is what makes humans, human. Furthermore, these activities are ends in themselves, and not means to other ends, as is work. As Mortimer J. Adler points out, “Leisure activities, in sharp distinction from labor or work, consist of those things that men do because they are desirable for their own sake. They are self-rewarding, not externally compensated, and they are freely engaged in” (Mortimer J. Adler, Reforming Education, 100).

220px-Blaise_pascalThe inability to use free time for leisure is symptomatic of our inability to be human, and consequently to be happy. As Aristotle points out, we work that we may be at leisure, that is, that we may do those activities which truly become a human. As Adler says, “The good life depends on labor, but it consists of leisure … Leisure activities constitute not mere living but living well” (Ibid.). According to Blaise Pascal, that people cannot use their leisure time properly is what leads them to create a multitude of distractions and evils: “I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber. A man who has enough to live on, if he knew how to stay with pleasure at home, would not leave it to go to sea or to besiege a town.” (Pensées, 136) He continues,

That is why men are so fond of hustle and bustle; that is why prison is such a fearful punishment; that is why the pleasures of solitude are so incomprehensible. That, in fact, is the main joy of being king, because people are continually trying to divert him and provide him every kind of pleasure. A king is surrounded by people whose only thought is to divert him and stop him thinking about himself, because, king though he is, he becomes unhappy as soon as he thinks about himself. (Ibid.)

That quiet and solitude are “incomprehensible” for many people demonstrates their inability to use that part of them which is the highest, the mind. A person who cannot sit quietly with their own thoughts shows that he is at odds with himself, he cannot stand to be with himself. Certainly humans are not just their minds, but they are certainly nothing less. This incomprehensible solitude is essential for a flourishing human life, for the cultivation of the essentially human faculties can only be accomplished through leisure activities. Therefore, a recovery of leisure and leisure activities as something other than amusement is necessary for human happiness.

What Is Philosophy? A Very Short Overview

“For it is owing to their wonder that men both now begin and at first began to philosophize.”

St. Thomas Aquinas from  by Carlo CrivelliClassically (and etymologically), Philosophy is the “love of Wisdom.”  “Love,” in this sense, is the eros or “passionate desire” for Wisdom and Truth.  Philosophy investigates and seeks to answer the perennial, fundamental questions of human existence: “what is the purpose of life,” “what does it mean to live well,” “what is truth,” “can truth be known,” “what is good and evil,” etc.  Given this breadth of inquiry, Philosophy qua philosophy is not an end in itself; instead Philosophy encompasses all disciplines / knowledge as they tend towards Wisdom and Truth.* Since all Wisdom and Truth are grounded in God, Philosophy naturally leads to Theology.  Furthermore, because all Wisdom and Truth is essentially theological, Philosophy itself is always at the service of Theology; as Theology is the Queen of the Sciences, Philosophy is the ancilla theologiae (the Handmaiden of Theology).  Philosophy serves as the ancilla theologiae in three ways:

Ratio (method / procedure) First, Philosophy equips Theology with the rules of thought / Reason by which the mind operates, the dialectic of argumentation by which the mind investigates Truth, and the analytic and synthetic processes by which the mind discovers Truth.

Auctoritas (authority) Second, Philosophy provides Theology with insights discovered by the great philosophers (both Christian and non-Christian) who arrived at the Truth with the light of Natural Reason and practices deference to their authority.

Concordia (union / harmony) Third, Philosophy coordinates its discovered Truths with Theological Doctrine and subordinates these Truths to Revelation.

*Related to this definition, philosophy is also the investigation into the presuppositions of any subject / discipline.  It asks and attempts to answer the foundational questions of all areas of study (e.g., “how ought we to proceed in the study of X?”).  Thus, philosophy incorporates the Seven Liberal Arts and the Four Sciences as it provides a “philosophy” of each of these disciplines: e.g., “the philosophy of grammar,” “the philosophy of science,” “the philosophy of arithmetic,” etc.

Be Wise as Pigs and Innocent as Horses

animal-farmIn his commission of the Disciples, Jesus tells them that they must “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16 ESV). Why the unity of both wisdom and character? Is not simply being a good person enough? In George Orwell’s Animal Farm we are presented with a perfect illustration of why moral virtues must be coupled with intellectual virtues. While Christ uses the metaphor of serpents and doves, Orwell utilizes horses and pigs. In examining Orwell’s characters we can see that both goodness without wisdom and wisdom without goodness are undesirable.

The horse, Boxer, has two defining characteristics. First, he is a morally innocent character. He is obedient, loyal, hard-working, and trusting through and through. One would be hard-pressed to find a more honorable character. Second, he is dim-witted. He is consistently portrayed as lacking any real mental ability. Boxer is introduced by Orwell in a way that unites these two marks of character: “A white stripe down his nose gave him a somewhat stupid appearance, and in fact he was not of first-rate intelligence, but he was universally respected for his steadiness of character and tremendous powers of work” (Orwell, Animal Farm, 4).

Boxer’s lack of intelligence is seen throughout the story. Following the animal rebellion, the pigs come to power and begin the instruction of the animals. “Their most faithful disciples were the two cart-horses, Boxer and Clover. These two had great difficulty in thinking anything out for themselves, but having once accepted the pigs as their teachers, they absorbed everything that they were told, and passed it on to the other animals” (12). The pigs try to teach Boxer to read, but he cannot learn letters passed D, or when he does, he forgets A B and C (21). When Napoleon is able to chase off Snowball, Boxer is deeply troubled, but unable to summon the mental powers to understand why Napoleon did this. After much mental struggling Boxer finally surrenders whatever mind he has left with the motto, “Napoleon is always right” (35). Even when Napoleon recasts Snowball as the villain of the Battle at Cowshed, Boxer knows this is not what happened, but is unable to contend with this falsehood. In spite of his moral unease at this lie, because he cannot think it out for himself, must fall back on “Napoleon is always right” and doubts his own memories (49). Boxer is aware of this defect of mental acuity, but puts off cultivating the mental virtues until retirement: “It would be the first time that he had had leisure to study and improve his mind. He intended, he said, to devote the rest of his life to learning the remaining twenty-two letters of the alphabet” (72). Of course, by then it will be too late for Boxer.

Despite this simple-mindedness of Boxer, he also has an admirable list of moral virtues. He is humble, docile, obedient, diligent, meek, and loyal. When he hears Snowball condemn Mollie’s ribbons, he immediately throws his own straw hat in the fire with all the other human artifacts (14). As Animal Farm is trying to get off the ground, Boxer gets up half an hour earlier than everyone else in order to work and adopts the motto, “I will work harder!” (19). After the first windmill is destroyed Boxer works at night in addition to his day labors (42). At the Battle at Cowshed, Boxer is overcome with guilt when he kills a boy: “‘I have no wish to take life, not even human life,’ repeated Boxer, and his eyes were full of tears (27). When Napoleon sends his dogs after certain other pigs and Boxer himself, Boxer kicks them away and presses one beneath his hoof. Yet even though it was Napoleon who had sent them after him, Boxer looks up to Napoleon to find out what he should do with this dog he has pinned (50). Even after this slaughter by Napoleon and the dogs, Boxer cannot bring himself to blame Napoleon, though he knows something isn’t right. Instead, he blames himself. “I do not understand it. I would not have believed that such things could happen on our farm. It must be due to some fault in ourselves” (52).

It is this combination of excellent moral virtue without corresponding intellectual virtue that ultimately ruins Boxer. After the Battle of the Windmill, Boxer is injured with a split hoof and pellets in his leg, yet he “refused to take even a day off work, and made it a point of honour not to let it be seen that the was in pain” (66). Finally, he works himself to exhaustion pulling stones for the windmill (71). In his blind trust of Napoleon, Boxer allows himself to be led off to what he thinks is a hospital. In what is the most tragic of all the events within Animal Farm, Boxer is makes one last effort to save himself:

All the animals took up the cry of ‘Get out, Boxer, get out!’ But the van was already gathering speed and drawing away from them. It was uncertain whether Boxer had understood what Clover had said. But a moment later his face disappeared from the window and there was the sound of a tremendous drumming of hoofs inside the van. He was trying to kick his way out. The time had been when a few kicks from Boxer’s hoofs would have smashed the van to matchwood. But alas! his strength had left him; and in a few moments the sound of drumming hoofs grew fainter and died away…Boxer was never seen again. (73-74)

In stark contrast to Boxer, is the pig Napoleon. Boxer and Napoleon stand as direct opposite of character and intellect. Where Boxer is simple and weak-minded, Napoleon is shrewd and wise. Where Boxer is moral and innocent, Napoleon is corrupt and wicked.

Napoleon’s brilliant mind as a thinker and a politician is quite evident throughout Animal Farm. Napoleon and the other pigs teach themselves to read and write, no simple task (15). Napoleon himself develops the new philosophy of Animalism and establishes the Seven Commandments (16). He becomes the primary teacher to all the other animals (20-21), and all the animals come to acknowledge Napoleon and other pigs’ superior intelligence: “It had come to be accepted that the pigs, who were manifestly cleverer than the other animals, should decide all questions of farm policy, though their decisions had to be ratified by a majority vote” (29). This is primarily because “the pigs were so clever that they could think of a way round every difficulty” (17). Napoleon’s intellectual ability is matched by his political cunning. He is able to out-maneuver Snowball, chase him off, and convince the rest of the farm that Snowball was really their enemy. He does this by convince the animals that their memories of the Battle at Cowshed was wrong, that Snowball had led the charge against them, not defended them (49). Napoleon is also a shrewd negotiator as he is able to play Frederick off of Pilkington in order to sell off the wood at a high price, even though he is cheated by it and the farm suffers an attack (60-63).

Furthermore, Napoleon is as wicked as he is smart, and his wickedness is manifest in his hypocrisy. He takes the cow’s milk for his own consumption (17). He takes away the pups from their mother, one of the very criticisms he had made of Farmer Jones (22). He moves the pigs into the house, again which was forbade to the other animals because the house is a symbol of decadence and evil (41-42). He starves out the Hens to get them to produce more eggs which will be sold off to humans (46). In a vicious demonstration of power, he has numerous animals slaughtered in public (50-51). After the Battle of the Windmill the pigs get drunk, and like most people suffering the effects of a hangover, Napoleon forbids anyone from consuming alcohol with punishment as death. Of course, once the hangover wears off, Nap sets off a special part of the farm just for growing barley. Only the pigs are allowed to consume it (65). Napoleon is also consumed with sex as he is apparently sleeping with all the sows, “producing thirty-one young pigs” (67). He begins wearing ribbons which they had forbade Mollie from wearing (67).

While the other animals are starving, Napoleon and the other pigs consume sugar and other fine goods. “The pigs seemed comfortable enough, and in fact were putting on weight if anything” (68). Of course, he his height of evil and hypocrisy is sending out Boxer to the knacker and using the proceeds of his death to buy whisky (73-75).

From these two examples we can see the importance and necessity of combining intellectual and moral virtues. Both of these are necessary for the fully developed person. Intelligence without morality leads to the great abuses of power that have occurred throughout history. Morality without intelligence leaves one open to the abuse. If you cannot think for yourself, you are at the mercy of those who can. It is in this light that Christ commands his disciples to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16 ESV). Paul also applies this same principle in his exhortation to the Ephesians:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. (Eph 4:11-14 ESV)

Orwell, in Animal Farm provides a fine example of the importance of uniting the intellectual and the moral virtues. For without both, we see the great catastrophe that can occur both within the individual and in society.

Works Cited:
Orwell, George. Animal Farm and 1984. Orlando: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2003.

Would Aristotle Send His Son to a Public School?


[ Disclaimer: please understand that I am not, in this post disparaging those people who work in public education. My criticisms are leveled against the Philosophy of Education which is driving modern Progressivist Education. I wholeheartedly support those people who are working hard in public schools, in spite of the philosophy which drives it.]


Aristotle stands in between two giants of history: his teacher, Plato, and his student, Alexander the Great. As both a student of a great teacher and a teacher of a great leader, one wonders just what Aristotle thought of education. Today there are several strains of educational theory which each offer their own views on the means and ends of education. Aristotle himself had an insatiable thirst for knowledge, so one wonders just what kind of education he thought best? A brief analysis of his Nicomachean Ethics reveals that Aristotle would likely reject modern theories of education.

In Book I of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle begins his discussion of ethics with the observation that whenever a person acts, they always act with some end in mind, some purpose, goal, or good. Further, he observes that the ends we have in mind are mostly means to other ends. For example, I brush my teeth. This is not done, however, without purpose. Clearly there is a good I have in mind for the action, for otherwise I would not brush my teeth. People may brush their teeth with different goods in mind. For example, one person may do it in order to avoid gingivitis, others to have a “clean” feeling in their mouths. Either way, the end in mind is a means to another end. In the former case the end is health and in the later it is pleasure.

Aristotle links the chain of means and ends and asks, is there something towards which all actions aim? That is, is there a “last end” or a “highest good” that we have in mind when we act? Aristotle asserts that the end we all have in mind is “happiness.” (See Note at end of post) That is, whatever we do, we do because we think it will make us happy. All people, says Aristotle, agree on this, but that is as far as the agreement goes. Just what is meant by “happiness” is highly disputed. Some might say that happiness is found in wealth, some that it is found in pleasure, others that it is found in honors. Is there any way to settle this dispute? Aristotle thinks so.

The question of “what is human flourishing or human happiness” must be defined in terms of what it means “to be human.” For, to find the “good” of anything, we must know its function. For example, the good of the computer rests in its functioning as it was designed to function (compute) and it reaches its “good” when it functions (computes) according to the way it was designed to function. The guitarist is a “good” guitarist when he plays the guitar in the way it was designed to function. So, if a human being has a function, the human being’s ultimate “good” will be functioning according to its nature (i.e., we will find fulfillment (our good) when we function according to our essence). Yet, how might we determine the human function?

To determine an object’s function one needs to discover what distinguishes it from all other objects. What is it that makes it, it? What is it, within humans, which makes them “human” and not “whales” or something else? Aristotle claims that the human function is “the soul’s activity that expresses reason [as itself having reason] or requires reason [as obeying reason]” (Nicomachean Ethics 1098a7-8). That is, it is the ability to think or to know that is unique and the principle element that makes a human, a human.  However, it is not merely “thinking” but rather reasoning and acting in accordance with reason. Furthermore, it is not just thinking and acting, but thinking and acting well; that is, excellently or virtuously. Aristotle concludes, “each function is completed well when its completion expresses the proper virtue.  Therefore the human good turns out to be the soul’s activity that expresses virtue” (1098a15-17). Happiness, therefore, “is an activity of the soul expressing complete virtue” (1102a5).

So, what has all of this to do with education? Education itself is an action and therefore may be analyzed with regards to its means and ends. The central dispute in contention is two different theories as to the end of education, and how these relate to the end of human “happiness.” (Here and throughout, I will not assess the means (i.e., methods and materials) by which the two views on education attempt to reach their ends, but only the ends themselves.)

On the “Progressivist” view of education, the primary purpose of education is vocational in nature. For example, the United States Department of Education’s stated purpose is “to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.” No doubt, the competition to which this statement refers is “jobs” or “careers.” The consistent message from politicians with regard to education is that students need to be prepared to enter the “workforce,” and that we must be more “competitive” in math and sciences so that Americans will not be displaced by foreign competition in the job market. So, when the question is put forth as to the end of education, the answer is, “to secure a career.”

On the “Classical” view of education, the primary purpose of education is to rear children into adults. Education on this view has the whole of the person in mind, to train boys to become men and to train girls to become women. It is not taken for granted that as children grow they will naturally mature into adults. This begs the question of what we mean by “adult”. There are a range of answers to this question, but invariably the Classicist will answer along the lines of Aristotle outlined above. The Classicist holds that the end of education is to train the child to think and act well in accordance with virtue. Says Aristotle, “excellence, then, being of two kinds, intellectual and moral, intellectual excellence in the main owes both its birth and its growth to teaching (for which reason it requires experience and time), while moral excellence come about as a result of habit…” (1103a14). Habits themselves are trainable and we must, through education, come to learn “to enjoy the things we ought and to hate the things we ought” (1172a22).

So, which of these two views of education is most consistent with the end of “human happiness?” The Progressivist view of education, while it may prepare a student for a job, has confused the means with the end. For if it is asked, “why do we want people to have careers,” the answer, most assuredly would be, so that they can be “happy.” How exactly having a career ipso facto makes one happy or just what “happiness” is, is never quite addressed, especially given how unhappy so many people are in their careers. It isolates a single part of life and leaves the children to fend for themselves in all other things. Furthermore, it eliminates even the possibility of educating for “happiness” precisely because it attempts to remain neutral with regard to the definition of “humanity.” Thus, Progressive education is reductive by its very nature, treating children not as humans who need to be nurtured, but as animals that need to be trained.

Contrariwise, the Classicist has in view an education that creates, not young adults who are prepared for a specific career, but adults who are prepared to live well no matter what their career. For “career” is not an end itself, but a means to an end. Occupation is but one part of life and unless the child is taught to think and act well, even with an occupation, the child can never be fully “happy.” Furthermore, Classical education allows the student to stand before and judge all things, thus preparing the child for whatever may come. The carpenter, who has received only training in carpentry, may be able to judge what is or is not a good wardrobe, but not what is or is not a just society. Such judgments, however, are necessary for the fully formed human.  For, to know, to judge, and to act well is what it means “to be human.” As Aristotle says,

“Now each man judges well the things he knows, and of these he is a good judge. And so the man who has been educated in a subject is a good judge of that subject, and the man who has received an all-round education is a good judge in general” (1094b27-95a1).

Given this, it seems unlikely that Aristotle would have entrusted the education of his son to the modern public school system. The education which Aristotle endorsed was one which conforms to the purpose of human beings, contributes to their proper functioning, and enables the child to grow into adulthood. An education that only equips the student to accomplish a single task is not meant for the free, liberated man. Without the ability to stand before all things and judge, the child is at the mercy of those who can. What needs to be assessed now are the best means by which to accomplish this end.


Aristotle uses the word “eudaimonia” which is misleadingly translated as “happiness,” and notoriously difficult to define. Etymologically, “eudaimonia” means “well-spirited” but may best be translated as “flourishing,” “blessed,” or “fulfilled.” The English word “happiness” is derived from the Old Norse “happ,” which means “chance” or “luck.” Clearly this cannot be what Aristotle has in mind. See, Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics 1099b9-17.