Literally, the title of this piece translates to "the education of Cyrus," though in truth only about the first book or two cover Cyrus's "education," while the others describe the rest of his life. This is meant as a sort of "how to" book on how to rule well, in the form of a biographical treatment of Cyrus, but unlike in The Ten Thousand, Xenophon is not here describing contemporary events, and many historians doubt that this is in more than the most general of ways an accurate depiction of Cyrus's life. Note: by "how to," I mean a book on how to rule as a semi-benevolent authoritarian dictator who is loved and feared by his subjects.
Criticism is a vital part of literature, and for that matter most fields. Active, reasoned critiques help identify weaknesses and strengths, provide multiple interpretations and perspectives on disparate matters, and foster improvement, perhaps more than anything else. They are just as essential to individuals; critical feedback is immensely helpful to improving oneself in any number of aspects, whether that's a specific ability, or more generally. It is something that we are encouraged to actively seek out in order to understand how our work and how we are perceived and received by others. Unfortunately, it is also something that I struggle with receiving.
These arguments look at the published statistics, showing that the virus is apparently under control in Eastern nations, and isn't in Western nations, and suggest that perhaps the supposedly example-setting Western democracies need to take a lesson from these Eastern countries. I have even seen some essays suggesting that the progress of the pandemic in the East and the West demonstrates that the time for Western-style democracy has passed. What is left unspoken in all of these arguments is that these discussions are assuming the primacy of utilitarian morality.
In philosophy, there is a concept called moral relativism. It was particularly popular in the mid-twentieth century, but has fallen out of favor in many circles today. Aristotle's famous question - "is conduct right because the gods demand it, or do the gods demand it because it is right" - is answered in moral relativism with a resounding no, to both alternatives. Instead, moral relativism asserts that conduct is right so long as it is in keeping with the conventions of the culture within that conduct takes place, and conduct should only be judged within that context.
One of these days, I intend to write an essay on the origin and nature of morality. It is a topic that has fascinated people throughout history, and arguably one that underpins some of the most remarkable accomplishments of this species. Anything with such a lengthy history that has already been tackled by so many other people is full of risk - what peculiar hubris is it to think that I have anything original to contribute to such a supersaturated field? - so for now I continue to think and ponder, without putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard on the broader topic. Yet that does not stop me from occasionally exploring a subset of that larger framework, as I intend to do here.
I am excited to announce that for 2021, IGC Publishing will be hosting a Sententia discussion series. This is something that I've wanted to do for quite some time, and have attempted before in various formats to varying degrees of success, so hopefully this forum will help finally promote the concept. Twice a month, I will post a "Sententia" here on the site, and it will be open for comments and discussion, the idea being to foster original thought and productive conversation about complex, relevant, and interesting topics.
We've mentioned logical fallacies on the site before. It turns out that the human brain is not the most reliable machine, at least when it comes to being rational/logical. After all, our brains evolved to help us find better food sources and communicate about the dangers (and discomforts) of eating poison ivy or being attacked by saber-toothed tigers, not to help us analyze the finer points of morality or the inner workings of the cosmos. Functionally, they are just constructions of chemical and electrical signals that react to various stimuli.
We've been hearing a lot recently about how we need to "trust the science," and "follow the science." Anyone who does not agree with the science or the above statements tends to be labeled as unintelligent, ignorant, or otherwise mentally backward, perhaps irresponsible. It is one thing for politicians to use such phrases for political leverage and advantage: science has been invoked for political purposes for about as long as science has existed. To me, it is far more dismaying to see people who claim to be scientists themselves undermining the very essence of what science is supposed to be.