Intemperate Lives, Disordered Wills, and Darkened Intellects

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. Raphael-Plato-and-AristotleHow 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.

Mitchell Kalpakgian, Ph.D. has completed fifty years of teaching beginning as a teaching assistant at the University of Kansas, continuing as a professor of English at Simpson College in Iowa for thirty-one years, and recently teaching part-time at various schools and college in New Hampshire. As well as contributing to a number of publications, he has published seven books: The Marvelous in Fielding’s Novels, The Mysteries of Life in Children’s Literature, The Lost Arts of Modern Civilization, An Armenian Family Reunion (a collection of short stories), Modern Manners: The Poetry of Conduct and The Virtue of Civility, and The Virtues We Need Again. He has designed homeschooling literature courses for Seton Home School, and he also teaches online courses for Queen of Heaven Academy and part-time for Northeast Catholic College.
Articles by Mitchell:

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  • KarenJo12

    1. Using Socrates to defend Catholic sexual morality is rich. Socrates himself hated his wife and chased after Alcibiades. In the Symposium he approves the story explaining homosexuality as the highest form of love.

    2. Pleasure may not be a perfect guide to goodness; pain, however, is a near-faultless warning against wrong. Food should taste good, and the fact that so much of our industrial food doesn’t is an indictment of our system of agriculture and food production. A lifetime of contraceptive sex doesn’t produce misery any more than a lifetime of eating fruit does. It can, but so can having too many children. For women especially the ability to control our fertility is an absolute necessity if we want to be anything but mindless domestic drudges with tragically short lives. (Pregnancy is many many many times more dangerous to women than either abortion or any form of birth control, not that Catholics care at all about the health and wellbeing of women. In your church the only good woman is a dead woman.)

    • old man river

      Karen Jo,

      Don’t you know that abortion and the pill cause cancer? If that isn’t misery, please me what is. Since when does pregnancy cause cancer? Please see your doctor.

      • KarenJo12

        The pill increases the risk for breast cancer in some women but provides significant protection against ovarian cancer. Breast cancer is many times easier to detect and treat than ovarian cancer. Abortion does not cause any kind of cancer. Pregnancy, however, raises a woman’s risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, heart problems, as well as risks for being beaten by her husband or partner. These risks are in addtion to the fact that it is not possible for a woman to have job and a large family, so pregnancy enormously increases a woman’s economic instability.

        • Dr. Robert Schwartz

          Although I have just read your several responses to Socrates’s
          views, the illnesses and threats you mention are still compatible with women’s lives. Modern medicine has changed the equation enormously. Most significant for you to include the next time? Science has identified a perfectly natural means of avoiding pregnancy. It is called “the rhythm method,” and it is nature’s way, and because it is consonant with human nature, it is in total conformity with the teachings of the Catholic Church, the repository of human morality, given by God Himself through His divine guidance.
          Fortunately, modern medicine is our human inheritance today, and women who may be concerned can go to a physician and a priest for assistance, both physical and moral. Christ will never abandon the person who seeks Him. Societies will continue to form through the wisdom of God-centered nature.

          • cminca

            They have a name for people who rely on the rhythm method. “Parents”.

            And the CC is not the “repository for human morality”. It is the repository for Catholic morality–nothing more.

          • Dr. Robert Schwartz

            The rhythm method, developed through the physical science of the human body, is nature’s way of informing people of the timing of conception. It is wholly consonant with nature and, therefore, with the morality taught through the Catholic Church. To discuss that morality further, please write me directly:

      • stubbikins

        Why do you lie so much?

    • Ann Smith

      That’s crap. The Time magazine article on this has been debunked already. Faulty research methodologies produced the big pregnancy lie. The truth is that abortions create a plethora of complications and even death five and ten years down the road at rates many times of those among women who carried their pregnancies to term. Catholics believe that every human is precious and worthy of dignity.

  • cminca

    “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”

    In other words–“anyone who doesn’t agree with the Catholic Church is “less than”.”

    You’ve just described the entire history of the CC in one paragraph. Problem is–you have not proven that these “truths” are “self-evident”. They aren’t. The Catholic Church is not the final arbitrator of anything except Catholic dogma.

    So judge all you want–but don’t be surprised when people call you on your anti non-Catholic bigotry.

    • Dr. Robert Schwartz


      Write me for further discussion and clarification, please: RNShistory

  • Mitchell Kalpakgian

    You do not need to “prove” self-evident truths. They are obvious to anyone who is willing to see, think, and be open to the structure of reality. Medical science has proven beyond a doubt that life begins at conception– a truth that was universally known before there was sonogram. Mother Nature proves that marriage is the union of one man and one woman–known by all cultures and civilizations throughout the accumulated experience of the human race. Why? Because it’s obvious. If abortion is not infanticide, why are their body parts and blood? Because anyone with eyes can see it.

    The Catholic Church us based on reason, science, natural law, the BIble, God’s teachings, and faith. Please think and offer some argument. Don’t just yell “bigot” and walk away. How petulant and irrational

  • Chesterton Apostle

    Karen Jo, Plato condemns homosexuality in THE LAWS, calling it “an outrage on nature” and “the deliberate murder of the human race.” Check your facts.

  • barbieahayes

    Dr. Kalpakgian, what makes some people humble and open to truth, beauty and goodness while others are arrogant and wanton? Is there a transcendent element? St. Paul speaks about the dichotomy in Romans 1:18-32.

    In verses 24 and 25, “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen,” St. Paul talks about God’s punishment and how those to whom God does mete out retribution (as opposed to correction) have/had the knowledge of Truth but choose/chose to squander it.

    • Mitchell Kalpakgian

      You ask the question that always puzzles the mind. Openness to the truth demands childlike docility, receptivity, and openness to what “is” in its aspects of truth, beauty, and goodness–the attributes of God. Openness and receptivity to the truth always entail conformity to it, surrendering to some higher authority than one’s wishes, opinions, and ideas. This openness acknowledges the “givenness” of things that has pre-existed throughout the ages. Physical laws, biological laws, and moral laws do not change for anyone.

      Many resist this obedience to higher law or divine authority because they imagine it inhibits their freedom, obstructs thinking, or interferes with their pleasures. They imagine they are independent of God’s moral laws and expect morality to adapt to their desires and to approve of all their choices–as if man invented the truth or formed the moral law. That is exactly St. Paul’s point: lies serve the creature who does not sincerely desire the truth because it evokes guilt and demands a change of heart.

      • barbieahayes

        Thank you, Dr Kalpakgian. You describe what these grave sinners lack, humility. I think obedience to God has to do with how we are nurtured and the choices we make along the way. Every act we choose has a connection and a consequence to our transcendent nature and thus to our sins. I grew up in an intact family with a mother and father who respected God and His Church without question. Our lives revolved around God and family. We were taught to live the virtues, and to live humbly by my parents’ example. My parents served.

        I think of the devil’s fatal response to God, “Non serviam,” when I try to understand the mental malaise of secular progressives. They choose not to serve God, even though they know His commandments, and in so doing they default to the service of Lucifer. There really is no middle-ground.

        May God bless you for your work.

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