Thursday, May 26, 2011

On George Costanza, Callicles, and the Good Life

The beginning of my summer felt a like a slightly subdued version of this. Like George, I wanted to take full advantage of my summer. Unlike George, of course, I don’t have any special interest in Frisbee Golf or in dramatically naming the summer after myself. But I had hoped to take full advantage of having nearly no scheduled obligations this summer. For months I’ve been waiting for time to work on a couple of papers that want to clean up and try to get published. I’ve got dozens of books on my shelf that I’ve been waiting to read (not to mention a few that will find their way to my shelf soon). And ever since I moved to Ohio from Nashville I feel like the time I get to spend playing guitar has been slowly diminishing. I’d hoped to let my summer be a chance to dive into all these things for which I’ve simply lacked the time during the school year. I've spent every summer since I began college landscaping, and as much I enjoyed landscaping and the great folks I got to work with doing it, I've been looking forward to having a summer to spend doing nothing but the things I’m really passionate about.

Like George, however, my initial excitement was rather quickly dampened (though not, in my case, by bees). Only a couple of weeks into the summer I’ve found myself unmotivated and tired. As I’ve noticed, reflected on, and resolved to combat this lethargy, I’m reminded of the title of this blog, which has always had two distinct but related meanings for me. Callicles (as I explain here) is a character in Plato’s Gorgias who is opposed to everything Socrates (Plato’s teacher and the main character of most of his dialogues) stands for, which means he rejects objective standards of goodness, justice, and so on. The task to which this blog is devoted—casting out Callicles—is in part a matter of advancing a view of the world that embraces the sort of objective standards of truth, beauty, and goodness that Callicles rejects. But there is more to the task of casting out Callicles than that. Callicles’ anti-philosophy is, like philosophy, not merely a way of thinking, but a way of life. Callicles insists that the good life is not the examined, self-controlled life endorsed by Socrates and Plato, but a life of self-indulgence. Casting out Callicles, then, is as much a matter of refusing to live a disordered, self-indulgent life, as it is a rejection of a particular set of philosophical claims.

This task of casting out Callicles in everyday life is exactly the challenge that faces me this summer: I can do what feels good at the moment (lay around my apartment, play computer games, get things done I have to do, but accomplish little else) or I can do the things I know are truly worthwhile. The easy, shallow life does feel good for a moment, but the truth is that the pleasures of the shallow life are inferior to the joys of the good life. Even as I was writing the first paragraph of this post, recounting how I had looked forward to the summer, I was reminded of how much I really do love all the things I’ve now got time to do, and what a blessing it is to get to have a summer to do them. As I wind up this post I’m reminded of how much I enjoy writing, the one thing that I have, until this very post, had the more trouble doing than anything else since finishing my semester. Sure, doing the worthwhile stuff is hard, but as Andy Osenga observes, good things always are.

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