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A book is a literary compass that has the potential to direct our thoughts and actions:

"Everything we read stimulates our mind to think, and what we think determines what we desire, and desires are the seedbed of our actions. Given this iron law of human nature--from reading to thinking, to desiring, to acting--we are shaping our destiny by the ideas we choose to have enter our minds through print." - Fr. John Hardon, S.J., The Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan

Welcome to my own personal exploration of life through reading the great books of the world.

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Location: Spokane, Washington, United States

"Every soul that uplifts itself uplifts the world." --Elisabeth Leseur

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Saturday, September 30, 2006

A Second Reading of Plato's Crito

On my second reading of Crito, I think I see Socrates’ arguments, but I am not sure about their universal application. He argues that since he has been lawfully tried and found guilty, he would be wrong to try and escape. This would do harm to the laws, validate the jury’s opinion of him as a bad influence on the youth, and make him a fugitive.

Would it really harm the laws? Or would it simply be an indictment against the jury? On the other hand, Socrates’ escape would imply that an individual has the right to interpret the law and apply the law as he sees fit, which might lead to rampant vigilantism (is that a word?).

And how is Socrates’ situation different from, say, Henry David Thoreau’s? Thoreau broke the law by not paying taxes for what he considered a morally upright reason. Was he wrong to do so, according to Socrates’ logic? Should he instead have put his energies into changing the laws, rather than disobeying them? How about Mahatma Gandhi? Sometimes it takes the momentum of a few law-breakers to force the politicians to change the status quo. Is that morally right?

And where does Catholic teaching fit into this? Should a person who is (in his own mind) unjustly convicted try to escape rather than accept death? That's not what the early Christians did when they were persecuted. They accepted their martyrdom in imitation of Jesus. They knew what Socrates knew: that death is not something to be feared if one has lived an upright life, but rather something that leads to eternal joy. And the early Christians knew something that Socrates could not have known: even if one has lived morally corrupt life, there is still hope if we but turn our hearts toward Jesus and repent.

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posted by Nick Senger at 6:51 AM 2 comments Links to this post

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Random Thoughts on The Apology of Socrates by Plato

It has been about two and a half years since I last read The Apology of Socrates, and I have taken a more methodical approach to reading it this time. It seems to me that the real essence of the Apology is the question, “What is wisdom?” Is it wise to continue to defy the authorities and be put to death? I think Socrates would say yes, as long as you are doing the good. Several times he said he would rather be poor or even die rather than stop helping people to examine their lives.

Is wisdom practical knowledge? It seems to me that it must be more than that. If Socrates is wise, as the Delphic oracle suggested, then wisdom must have something to do with an awareness of oneself as a learner or knower. Socrates’ life task was to find people with the reputation for wisdom and discover if they were indeed wise. His method was to question them, mostly on their assumptions and definitions. His big discovery, I think, is that most people don’t really think as much as they suppose they do. Most of our “thinking” is done on the surface, and can more accurately be described as judging too soon. If we call this kind of thinking “pre-judging,” then it is easy to see that the world is a very prejudiced place, with most people making decisions based on quick impressions and hasty generalizations, rather than on deliberate, careful consideration.

Why did the jury convict Socrates and sentence him to death? It seems to me it was because of their “prejudice” against him. They judged him based on their surface ideas, the ideas that they “inherited,” so to speak, from their culture. No doubt they thought that they were doing the right thing, but their beliefs came from incomplete reasoning or worse yet, from no reasoning at all.

Socrates decided to spend his life working with one person at a time, rather than trying to change the system. So did Jesus. He did not try to bring about major social change. He touched the lives of those around him, those closest to him. And he was executed for his efforts. Mother Teresa practiced the same philosophy: one life at a time, one poor person after another. Mortimer Adler felt the same way. He did not spend his time trying to reform the educational system, though he longed for it to change. He tried to make changes on a local scale.

Socrates (at least the idealized Socrates of the Apology) said over and over that to do the good is the most important thing--that death was not to be feared. He continued his life task, even after receiving his death sentence. Would that we all could have such courage and conviction.

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posted by Nick Senger at 10:32 PM 0 comments Links to this post

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Slight Change of Focus

I can never stay with one interest for very long--that is my curse and also my gift. It is a curse because I abandon many projects in mid-stream. It is a gift because I get to learn so much about our world. What I'm trying to say is that the focus of this blog is going to widen. My interest in Catholic literature is still very much alive and vibrant, but my taste for reading it comes and goes. Thus the long gap between my last post and this one.

What does not seem to change, however, is my desire to read. So, rather than wait until I read more Catholic literature before I post again, I decided I would give this blog more of a "great books" focus. Catholic books will still certainly be a part of my postings, and the list of great Catholic books will remain, but this blog will now begin to deal with additional great literature as well.

I just need to remind you (and myself) that I am no great authority on literature, nor do I want to be. I'm just an ordinary guy who wants to learn more about his world through exploring great books and great ideas. As you might have been able to tell from an earlier post, Mortimer Adler is one of my literary heroes, and lately I've been re-reading some of the books he recommended. I've also discovered his philosophy of education, as described in such books as The Paideia Proposal and The Paideia Program, and as an educator I find his ideas fascinating. I would be very interested in hearing from anyone who has had personal success in implementing his ideas in their classrooms, especially in schools that are not Paideia schools.

Thanks for understanding my whims and fancies, and hopefully this new focus will give me the freedom to post more frequently.

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posted by Nick Senger at 6:01 PM 0 comments Links to this post