Families that Discuss together, stay together

Families that Discuss together, stay together
Families that Discuss together, stay together

Friday, April 23, 2010

Lyceum Lessons on Liberty

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My wise thrifty husband delights in spending time in second-hand stores. His patience and diligence add up to furnish our home with beautiful and simple treasures. Recently David brought home an old solid oak bookcase from our local Deseret Industries Thrift Store. After a vigorous cleaning and polishing it was pristine as if it were newly handcrafted, but more beautiful still was David’s manner of action. A careful observer will perceive that he takes pleasure in doing things well. With a vision of excellence and the mastery of superb skill, he uncovered the beauty of the oaken cabinet. What constitutes this manner of excellence? Aristotle would say it was arête or virtue.

Virtue in the classical sense is best understood in knowing the aim of a specific tool. Precisely as a tool has its noble and distinct purpose, equally a man is created for a noble and virtuous end. Virtue, for Aristotle, was doing what we were created to do individually and doing it beautifully. The full measure of virtue was to think and act like God; it was the greatest aim for an Aristotelian society.

As Aristotle’s mentor, Plato taught that a just being would create a just society. Thus virtue was directly linked to freedom and liberty according to the classical school of thought. From the Lyceum gardens of Greece came the propitious words of Aristotle, “The highest good is the end of politics, while it takes the greatest part of its pains to produce citizens of a certain sort, namely, ones that are good and inclined to perform beautiful actions.” His students learned that moral virtue was an active state. It is not just a habit, but an effort of concentrating and paying attention and being ready to learn more.

The American Founders were strong believers in the principle. As statesmen in colonial times they understood the souls of men as they constructed possibly the most successful society in the world’s history. Being well versed in first principles, an enlightened constitution was created to promote the long yearned-for freedoms from a despotic Britain. Virtue would be the guiding principle in the new nation. Said Benjamin Franklin, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”

Are we a virtuous people? Are we doing well and beautifully those things we were created to do? Only as individuals can we answer these questions and only as individuals can we endeavor to make virtue our habit as we actively work at it in all situations of life, whether it be polishing an oaken cabinet or creating a free society.
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