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Necessity, the mother of virtue

Today’s guest contributor is Dr. Paul Carrese of Arizona State University. Dr. Carrese provides us some food for thought from some insightful resources–and best wishes for weathering the current quarantine with virtue.

You may have heard the adage “necessity is the mother of invention;” quite apt when everyone is adapting to a global disruption. Turns out, the phrase is traceable to Plato’s Republic (Book II, 369C), where Socrates considers how to arrange a better society. 

In his book The Hungry Soul, the natural scientist and political philosopher Leon Kass argues that a deeper meaning of Socrates’ thought might be: necessity is the mother of virtue. This semester, all students and teachers have tested that proposition, and students of the liberal arts are prepared to seek deeper meanings to the range of challenges confronting us in all dimensions of life.  

Our own community of liberal and civic education at Arizona State University has discussed those questions in classrooms and in a new public program, the Pandemic Dialogues – webinars discussing Thucydides, Boccaccio, Poe, and the fascination with a Zombie apocalypse–plus a podcast on Albert Camus’ novel The Plague.  

Civilization has always confronted suffering and plague, along with the challenge to respond with virtue.  Joining those who read the Declaration of Independence every July 4th, we recall that America has rallied to face even graver challenges. 

Best wishes to the classical education community, studying and seeking virtue, together in spirit, even only virtually for a time.

Paul Carrese is Director of the School of Civic & Economic Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University. He also serves as an Academic Advisor to the Institute for Classical Education.

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