Affirming Beliefs by Using Them

Plutarch, Progress in Virtue 79f

“People report these kinds of stories about Aeschylus too and of similar men. When Aeschylus was watching a boxing match at the Isthmian games, one of the boxers was hit and the crowd shouted out. Aeschylus elbowed Ion the Chian and said, “See how training works: the man says nothing when he is struck, but the spectators yell!”

When Brasidas caught some mouse in dried figs and it bit him, he let it got. Then, he said to himself, “By Herakles, there is nothing small or weak enough that it won’t try to live when it’s brave enough to defend itself.

Diogenes, once he witnessed a man drinking with his hands, threw his cup out of his bag. In this way, paying attention and observation make people ready to perceive anything which helps in the pursuit of virtue. This works better when people mix theories with actions, not merely, as Thucydides used to put it, “trying super hard when in peril” but also when facing pleasures and conflicts, when occupied with lawsuits and politics, in this way providing proof to themselves of their beliefs, or, perhaps, affirming their beliefs by using them.”

οἷα καὶ περὶ Αἰσχύλου λέγουσι καὶ περὶ ἄλλων ὁμοίων. Αἰσχύλος μὲν γὰρ Ἰσθμοῖ θεώμενος ἀγῶνα πυκτῶν, ἐπεὶ πληγέντος τοῦ ἑτέρου τὸ θέατρον ἐξέκραγε, νύξας Ἴωνα τὸν Χῖον “ὁρᾷς,” ἔφη, “οἷον ἡ ἄσκησίς ἐστιν1; ὁ πεπληγὼς σιωπᾷ, οἱ δὲ θεώμενοι βοῶσιν.” Βρασίδας δὲ μῦν τινα συλλαβὼν ἐν ἰσχάσι καὶ δηχθεὶς ἀφῆκεν· εἶτα πρὸς ἑαυτόν “ὦ Ἡράκλεις,” ἔφη, “ὡς οὐδέν ἐστι μικρὸν οὐδ᾿ ἀσθενές, ὃ μὴ ζήσεται τολμῶν ἀμύνεσθαι.” Διογένης δὲ τὸν πίνοντα ταῖς χερσὶ θεασάμενος τῆς πήρας ἐξέβαλε τὸ ποτήριον. οὕτω τὸ προσέχειν καὶ τετάσθαι τὴν ἄσκησιν αἰσθητικοὺς καὶ δεκτικοὺς ποιεῖ τῶν πρὸς ἀρετὴν φερόντων ἁπανταχόθεν. γίγνεται δὲ τοῦτο μᾶλλον ἂν τοὺς λόγους ταῖς πράξεσι μιγνύωσι, μὴ μόνον, ὡς Θουκυδίδης ἔλεγε, “μετὰ κινδύνων ποιούμενοι τὰς μελέτας,” ἀλλὰ καὶ πρὸς ἡδονὰς καὶ πρὸς ἔριδας καὶ περὶ κρίσεις καὶ συνηγορίας καὶ ἀρχάς, οἷον ἀπόδειξιν αὑτοῖς τῶν δογμάτων διδόντες, μᾶλλον δὲ τῷ χρῆσθαι ποιοῦντες τὰ δόγματα.

Black-figured ceramic depicting two boxers and a referee, Greek, 7th-5th centuries BCE

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