Learning to Read

“Come, then, let’s consider this: Is there some function of a soul that you couldn’t perform with anything else, for example, taking care of things, ruling, deliberating, and the like? Is there anything other than a soul to which you could rightly assign these..?”
Socrates, in Plato’s Republic

Some questions are so basic we are surprised when they are asked. Socrates was surprised that such questions are so seldom asked.

This quotation is Socrates’ answer to one such question: what kind of actions are most human? The human soul is most itself when doing what?

The list with which Socrates answers this crucial and difficult question seems a bit odd: taking care of things, ruling, deliberating, and the like. Aristotle gives what amounts to the same answer a bit more succinctly: rational activity; but Socrates’ words give us more specific things to sink our teeth into. Each in the short series deserves consideration. Yet the first is what has always stood out for me. Taking care of things.

What do humans do, in using their almost divine power of reason, that nothing else in creation can do? We can take care of things.  What a beautiful thought: I have the ability to understand, precisely so that I can protect, nourish, direct. Always in a spirit of taking care. What a gift to be able to take care of things, and most of all, to take care of other people.

Reason can be used in many ways; it can also be misused in many ways. The drama of human life is whether we use it well. Reason is only really itself when it is used reasonably.

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.

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