In Plato’s Phaedo, the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates, a teacher renowned for seeking the truth, loving the truth, defending the truth, and dying for the truth, explained to his pupils that the sublimity of wisdom does not reveal its glorious beauty to those who do not live a moral life. No matter how intelligent, educated, or sophisticated a pupil is, he cannot attain the heights of wisdom if he lives an impure life. Truth, pure by nature, does not reveal itself to the impure: “For one who is not pure himself to attain the realm of purity is a breach of universal justice,” Socrates states. Just as a woman who is courted by a man does not accept a marriage proposal unless she is convinced of his honorable intentions and true love, so wisdom does not submit to anyone with ulterior motives who seeks knowledge with selfish designs. It is not the educated who possess wisdom by virtue of their learning, but the pure of heart who love truth for its own sake with disinterested intentions that achieve the object of their desires.
The highly educated represent the foremost proponents of the sexual revolution’s agenda of no-fault divorce, the contraceptive mentality, legalized abortion, same-sex marriage, and Planned Parenthood ideology. Professors, editors, lawyers, and journalists have waged intellectual battle for their cause, and Supreme Court judges have legalized unjust laws and violations of natural law and Christian morality. How does one explain the fact that the intelligentsia do not see self-evident truths (the child in the womb is a living person, aborting a pre-born child is infanticide, marriage is the union of a man and a woman for the purpose of founding a family)? Socrates’ statement illuminates the answer. They live intemperate lives, have impure hearts, reject religious knowledge, lack a sense of the sacred, or think with a darkened intellect.
Those who do not honor the truth as sacred in origin or possessing venerable authority subject it to manipulation. Rather than surrendering to the authority of wisdom with docility, the impure mind twists the truth to accommodate the passions and prejudices. Those who legalize immorality or propagandize on its behalf indicate their approval or willingness to engage in these practices and justify them as settled law sanctioned by authoritative judicial or legislative bodies. If man’s desires are not tempered and ordered by reason, then, in Shakespeare’s famous phrase, “reason panders will.” Reason becomes the slave of desire and invents excuses, theories, and laws to provide justification for immorality and alleviate guilt. The educated and intelligent resort to sophistry and all the artfulness of rhetoric and of oratory to popularize and glamorize evil.
Socrates pursued the truth with a lover’s desire and rejoiced in it as the most precious of gifts, calling philosophy “the greatest of arts” because it leads the mind to a discovery of eternal realities, the highest standards known as the true, the good, and the beautiful that hint of their sacred origin: “absolute beauty, goodness, uprightness, holiness.” The sexual revolution has displaced these sublime ideals and divine standards with the license of uncontrollable desires, the propaganda of the media, unjust human laws, and court decisions that substitute radical ideas for venerable moral traditions and timeless absolute standards.
Instead of philosophy—literally, “the love of wisdom”—the sexual revolution resorts to all of the tactics and ploys of sophistry, the clever rhetoric of making the weaker argument appear the stronger. The Sophists, Socrates’ greatest critics and foremost enemies, always identified “the good” with the pleasurable rather than the moral or the just. Socrates, however, argued that justice teaches self-control and that happiness results from the order in the soul that temperance instills: “I maintain that a man and a woman are happy if they are honourable and good, but miserable if they are vicious and wicked.” Like the Sophists of Socrates’ day, all the advocates of the sexual revolution are committed to the cult of pleasure, intemperance, and self-indulgence which they rationalize as freedoms, rights, and liberation.
Socrates divides human nature into pure souls and impure souls, a pure soul ordered by the power of reason controlling the appetites and the impure soul corrupted by the excesses of gluttony, lust, and avarice. In Gorgias, The Sophist Callicles insists that pleasure identifies the essence of happiness and goodness, not self-control or moderation: “luxury and excess, and licence . . . are virtue and happiness; all the rest is mere pretence, man-made rules contrary to nature, worthless cant.” The Sophist, claiming that temperance is “contrary to nature,” has reduced man to an animal without right reason, without self-control, and without a conscience. Socrates, in reply, compares the desires of the intemperate man to a leaky vessel or sieve, “a life of intemperate craving which can never be satisfied.”
This leaky vessel Socrates compares to a dirty bird always eating and eliminating and to a man constantly scratching without relief. Socrates struggles to convince the Sophist of the world of difference between “good and bad pleasures,” between rational pleasures ordered by reason and animal desires ruled by instinct. The Sophist, however, contends that “a man who is going to live as a man ought should encourage his appetites to be as strong as possible instead of repressing them, and be able by means of his courage and intelligence to satisfy them in all their intensity by providing them with whatever they happen to desire.” The Sophist’s argument summarizes the premise of the sexual revolution: no matter the harm, the disease, the immorality, or the consequences, all sexual pleasure is permissible by mutual consent.
What does a life of contraception lead to but the uninhibited pursuit of a “bad pleasure” with the same futile self-defeating results as pouring water into a leaky vessel? What does abortion do but eliminate and waste the good of human life because human beings, like dirty birds incapable of repressing the appetite, choose “a life of intemperate craving which can never be satisfied”? What do all the arguments, rhetoric, and propaganda of the apologists for the sexual revolution amount to but the sophistry of making reason the slave of passion, calling the weaker argument the stronger, reducing man the rational animal to man the “trousered ape” (C.S. Lewis’s phrase), and defining human nature as animal instinct rather than the rational order of the soul?
Socrates asks the Sophist a final probing question: who does more good for the health of the person, the cook who panders to pleasure by serving only sweet desserts or the physician who prescribes bitter medicine to cure the sickness? Pandering to man’s lower nature does not produce the happiness of a human being with a rational soul. Even though there are good and bad pleasures, the pleasurable is not synonymous with the good, and the painful is not always the same as evil. The lawful use of reason distinguishes between temperate and intemperate, rational and irrational pleasures, but the Sophist only pursues the pleasurable at all costs to both the body and the soul, “without drawing any distinction between better or worse pleasures or caring about anything at all except the giving of gratification by any means, whether for better or worse.” Intemperate pleasures produce disordered wills; disordered wills cause darkened intellects; darkened intellects pander to the body and ignore the soul. The wisdom of the great philosopher is eternal light for darkened intellects.