A Passage From Plutarch’s “Life of Timoleon”

Here is a morsel to chew on.

I was reading a bit of Plutarch this morning and came across a passage that is worth sharing.  It is from the Life of Timoleon (6):

So true is it that men’s judgments are unstable, and may easily be swayed and carried away by casual praise or blame and forced from their own rational thoughts, unless they acquire strength and steadiness of purpose from philosophy and reason.

It is not enough, it seems, that our actions should be noble and just:  the conviction from which they spring must be permanent and unchangeable, if we are to approve of our own conduct.  

Otherwise we may find ourselves becoming prey to despondency, or to sheer weakness, when the vision of the ideal which inspired us fades away, just as a glutton who devours cloying delicacies with too keen a pleasure soon loses his appetite and becomes disgusted with them.

Remorse may cast a sense of shame over even the noblest of actions, but the determination which is founded on reason and understanding is not shaken even if the outcome is unsuccessful.

There are to points to me made with regard to this passage.

The first is the idea that the intention behind actions matter as much as the actions.  I have stated this point before.  In Pantheon, I devoted Chapter 1 to the question, “Must the Right Thing Be Done for the Right Reason?”  There, the question involved a moral question that arose in T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral.  We concluded that intentions do indeed matter; actions founded on a shifting and uncertain base are unworthy of being called good.

The second point is not stated directly by Plutarch, but is implied.

And it is the idea that the only taming influences on our wild and tumescent spirits are philosophy and reason.  When someone asks why we should study philosophy, the response should be this:  it is the best way of teaching us the survival and coping skills needed for life.

Could anything be more valuable, or more relevant?

Not only this, but it reminds us how we are separated from the animals.  Reason and speech are the two things that distinguish us from the beasts of nature.  Animals apparently possess neither reason, nor any sophisticated form of speech.  Animals may act “bravely,” but they do not really have a sense of justice, equity, or reason.

And so by cultivating these things, we elevate ourselves, and fulfill the role that Nature intended for us.

Read More:  Your Defiance Is Your Abundance

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