Ancient Greek Wisdom- Education – The Hunt Or The Platter? Part#3

“But I will employ only one more illustration, and dwell no longer on this topic. Lycurgus, the Lacedæmonian legislator, took two puppies of the same parents, and brought them up in an entirely different way: the one he pampered and cosseted up, while he taught the other to hunt and be a retriever. Then on one occasion, when the Lacedæmonians were convened in assembly, he said, “Mighty, O Lacedæmonians, is the influence on moral excellence of habit, and education, and training, and modes of life, as I will prove to you at once.” So saying he produced the two puppies, and set before them a platter and a hare: the one darted on the hare, while the other made for the platter. And when the Lacedæmonians could not guess what his meaning was, or with what intent he had produced the puppies, he said, “These puppies are of the same parents, but by virtue of a different bringing up the one is pampered, and the other a good hound.” Let so much suffice for habit and modes of life.”

~ Plutarch, Plutarch’s Morals, around 100AD. Greek philosopher (Plato), Priest of Temple of Apollo that housed the Oracle of Delphi, Roman Citizen, well known.

(For a brief history of Plutarch, read the introduction in Part #1)

Though I found the other sections on marriage partner procurement (part #1) and alcohol and procreation (part #2) rather humorous to read, this section on education was rather insightful, as it shows a common thread through education for over 2000 years, right to the ancient Greeks. I am certain it could probably be traced back another several thousand years futher.

We can educate a child to eat a fish, or how to catch a fish. To consume what someone else places before him, to no great effort or sacrifice of his own, or to take to the hunt to provide for himself. To have enough fight, and vinegar to enjoy the chase and hard work of producing something for themselves, and to share with others, like a family unit of wife and kids. Laying around waiting for the platter to be delivered.

Plutarch suggests the difference is in the education.

Was socialism a coherent ideology in the first century? The concept that other humans have the right to take the fruit, from another persons hard work. What if some humans work or study much harder than others, spend more time and money in training? Is it fair to have equal outcome when both have equal opportunity and some chose not to take the opportunity, or apply the same work? Or shall we let the redistribution of wealth be by charity, then it is willfully given out of virtue, versus taken away by force or legislation?

Plutarch speaks of training and work as critical assets to building knowledge. Education can build on natural ability, but natural ability alone is deficient, Plutarch says it is part of a triad of natural ability, training/theory (study), practice (use of the knowledgeable in hard work)

To speak generally, what we are wont to say about the arts and sciences is also true of moral excellence, for to its perfect development three things must meet together, natural ability, theory, and practice. By theory I mean training, and by practice working at one’s craft. Now the foundation must be laid in training, and practice gives facility, but perfection is attained only by the junction of all three. For if any one of these elements be wanting, excellence must be so far deficient. For natural ability without training is blind: and training without natural ability is defective, and practice without both natural ability and training is imperfect.

The last line is insightful “Practice”, the use and application of ideas, knowledge, information, in a working way…. is “imperfect” without training and ability. Seems to suggest you can work hard at something but if the idea is fundamentally flawed, an error, or misguided, it is not going to help anyone reach the goal. We can expend much effort to climb a wall, only to realize we propped the ladder on the wrong wall.

For just as in farming the first requisite is good soil, next a good farmer, next good seed, so also here: the soil corresponds to natural ability, the training to the farmer, the seed to precepts and instruction.

What does Plutarch mean by “Natural a Ability”? We should not jump too quickly to assume this is a reference to unusually gifted people. I think he simply means people with no developmental or mental impairment that would have great effect on a person’s learning. Yet, Plutarch later in his writings, suggests that poor soil can be amended with hard work and good education, and that good soil can also become depleted without care, which is poor education and sloth. (Should poor education, one that ruins a fertile healthy field of a human life with some good natural ability, be equated with no or little education? Or, is there actually poor kinds education?)

“And are these the only things that teach the power of diligence? Not so: ten thousand things teach the same truth. A soil naturally good becomes by neglect barren, and the better its original condition, the worse its ultimate state if uncared for. On the other hand a soil exceedingly rough and sterile by being farmed well produces excellent crops. And what trees do not by neglect become gnarled and unfruitful, whereas by pruning they become fruitful and productive? And what constitution so good but it is marred and impaired by sloth, luxury, and too full habit? And what weak constitution has not derived benefit from exercise and athletics? And what horses broken in young are not docile to their riders? while if they are not broken in till late they become hard-mouthed and unmanageable. And why should we be surprised at similar cases, seeing that we find many of the savagest animals docile and tame by training?”

Plutarch reminds us that hard work helps anyone (a dog taught to hunt will always eat), while sloth and laziness, (the dog with his face in a plate he contributes nothing too) will lead to social dependency.

“For good natural parts are impaired by sloth; while inferior ability is mended by training…… The wonderful efficacy and power of long and continuous labour you may see indeed every day in the world around you.”

Finally, Plutarch ties education to moral virtue. This was always the case historically. It is only today under the postmodernism ideology (worldview) that universities would flaunt as a recruitment point, “values free” education. That really means virtue free too, as postmodernism feels there are no absolutes of right and wrong, good or evil, moral or immoral. What is right or wrong is changeable, based on our circumstances, culture, and who has the power. We will only see the true full effects of this values free education as a human race in another 50 years. However, the first fruits we are seeing right now are not promising, in my opinion.

For the Ancient Greek philosopher Plutarch, and the people of his day, our character, our virtue, is what we do, what actions we habitually live day in and day out. This shows the true depth of our Education, if we have balanced the triad (ability, training, and practice) well.

“For the Greek name for moral virtue is only habit: and if anyone defines moral virtues as habitual virtues, he will not be beside the mark.” Plutarch

MORE in The Plutarch Series

Ancient Greek Family Advice Part #1

Ancient Greek Family Advice Alcohol and The Groovy Part #2

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