“It appears, I said, that as the eyes are designed to look up at the stars, so are the ears to hear harmonious motions…” Socrates in Plato’s Republic
They normally escape notice in my morning glance in the mirror. Face shaved, hair (the increasingly lonely hold-outs) reasonably in place. All clear in teeth and nose.
Ears don’t even get a glance. They’re just there; doing their thing.
What exactly are they for anyway? As with other significant parts of the body, there is an amazing combination of the mundane and the sublime. They have a rather pedestrian purpose while also they can really come alive–when doing what they’re most about. So there is hearing, and then there is hearing. It is good to hear that the shower is running, or that the ice I’m skating on is cracking.
Then there is Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet, or Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. Socrates seems to think that our ears are actually designed to be able to appreciate great music. He also thinks such appreciation requires cultivation and discipline. Having ears does not assure that I hear.
But there is more. A four year old’s gratitude: “Thank you, Daddy!” A student’s crossing the boundary of confusion and insight: “Now I understand!” Or a spouse’s gentle correction and encouragement… Herein deep harmonies, beyond full expression, are put into words. They ring like great music in our ears. The more we have learned to listen, the more our ears give us a window into the homeland of our soul.
Plato (427-347 B.C.), a student of Socrates, and teacher of Aristotle, is considered one of the greatest philosophers of all time. The Republic is one of the most widely read and influential of all books.
Image: Annibale Carracci (16th c.), Self-Portrait in Profile
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE:
“Peace is the tranquility of order.” St. Augustine, The City of God There are few words that exercise such a power over our hearts, and our imagination. A few years ago I was giving a lecture at a division-one university, introducing students to some basic points in...read more
When I was down beside the sea A wooden spade they gave to me To dig the sandy shore. Robert Louis Stevenson, At the Sea-Side A Child's Garden of Verses There is nothing quite like playing alone. To watch it is a privilege. Indeed, in watching one might even...read more
For not only that we might act, but even when we intend to do nothing, we prefer sight, as we may say, to all the other senses. Aristotle, Metaphysics This year the fireflies have been stunning. Last night my wife and I were mesmerized; we just sat and looked. And we...read more
Husband, father, and professor of Philosophy. Bacon from Acorns springs from one conviction: there is an ancient wisdom about how to live the good life in our homes, with our families; and it is worth our time to hearken to it. Let’s rediscover it together. Learn more.