Thomas Martin is the O.K. Bouwsma Chair in Philosophy at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Along with his fellow colleagues who are dedicated to the study of the Great Books, he teaches the works of Plato, Aristotle, G.K. Chesterton, Dostoyevsky, and Solzhenitsyn, to mention a few.
If Aristotle's Kid Had an iPod, Conor Gallagher, St. Benedict Press, Charlotte, NC, 2012.
Every parent who is interested in bringing up his children ought to read If Aristotle's Kid Had an iPod, by Conor Gallagher. Every child is longing to be fully human. In fact, as a fallen creature, he is by nature longing, along with every other human being, to be happy. The only way he can do this is by becoming his truer self. Conor Gallagher will assist you in cultivating your child's better self by using the ancient wisdom of Aristotle.
You no doubt are asking how a pagan philosopher who lived centuries ago - twenty-three to be exact - could possibly be of use to modern man? What with all the psychological advancement in child growth and development, healthier diets, vitamins, understanding a plethora of childhood disorders, learning disabilities, including attention deficient disorder and disasters, etc.
Modern educators have turned their backs on the idea that your child has a soul, that his happiness depends on using right reason to govern his passions and be virtuous. Instead, they are fixated on studying your child's neuro-psycho-socio-biological self so they can assess, appease and please his physical needs. This has filtered into the colleges of education, who readily respond to the latest social experts' findings, backed by scientific studies, on how to integrate your child into the global economy.
The public schools have dropped moral education, which would involve teaching your sons and daughters to be ladies and gentleman, for such things as " diversity awareness." The prevailing philosophy is the relativistic doctrine that whatever a person values is valuable because he values it. From this your child is learning that everyone is entitled to his opinions, to tolerate and celebrate each other's differences, and even their queerness - we are all odd in some form or fashion - to become part of the great human mosaic which rests on the philosophy of " live and let live."
So, while your child has access to more information, music, and videos stored on his iPod, iPad or iPhone, he has little sense of who he is or what he is meant to do with his life. The modern child's mind can have access to all information but lack the formation necessary to become a complete human being.
Conor Gallagher's book is a fast-paced guide to Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, which the latter wrote as a manual of conduct to instruct his own son Nicomachus, and even your child, on how to reach his full potential by being a virtuous human being guided by reason.
The book is divided into three parts, which are essential to your child's character formation: Virtue, Friendship, and Happiness.
Being virtuous consists of having moral habits that are formed through learning manners and how to make the right choices by choosing the good for its own sake. In this section, you will learn that virtue is the mean between the two extremes of excess and deficiency. Courage, for example, lies between cowardice and rashness; temperance lies between insensibility and self-indulgence; and generosity lies between greediness and wastefulness. It is important to call virtue and vice by their proper names.
The three types of friendship illustrated in part two are Useful Friendships, Pleasure Friendships, and True Friendships, which Gallagher instructively explains as Utilitarians in the Sandbox, Epicureans in the Sandbox, and Aristotle's Kid in the Sandbox. True friendship is about the good of the Other and it takes your child beyond himself. The final friendship, the Ultimate friendship, is as a child of God, for whom we are made.
Happiness is understood in the third section as the right ordering of the pleasures. As Aristotle notes, " The pleasure proper to a worthy activity is good and the pleasure proper to an unworthy activity is bad." It is important that your child learn that there are good and bad pleasures as he was made to enjoy life. But, as Gallagher notes, " [Y]ou must distinguish between raw, carnal, short-lived pleasure, and a deeper, long-lasting pleasure."
In his Metaphysics, Aristotle referred to humans as "zoon logon echon" or "animals with a rational principle." Man has a soul, and he is endowed with the principle of reason, which is his governing principle. While we can be moved by emotion, instinct, feelings of pain and pleasure, these are not governing principles.
Conor Gallagher quotes some of the most important words in history, words that are self-evident to rational creatures:
Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim.
In other words, the mind is meant to come to a point. Moving from the general to the specific, the point of every person's life is to see the face of God.
Here we are reminded of G. K. Chesterton, who, when asked, "What is meant by the Fall?" answered with complete sincerity,
That whatever I am, I am not myself. This is the prime paradox of our religion; something that we have never in any full sense known, is not only better than ourselves, but even more natural to us than ourselves.
Your child is nuts. There, that got your attention, but that is natural at this point in his life. Aristotle compares human growth and development to that of an acorn that has the potential to develop into an oak three. Your child has been planted in your home; he is cute, cuddly, and curious. In order for your kid to reach his potential, you have to train him as a gardener trains the vines in his vineyard, by pruning, fertilizing, and wiring him up so he can climb, reach maturity, and bear fruit.
In order to teach their children to be better than fallen beings, to become truer selves, parents have to habituate their children in virtue. They can start with the verbal habits of using "Please," "Thank you," and "Yes sir," while making eye contact; the physical habits of standing up straight, sitting like a lady, tucking in shirttails; and, the moral habits of prudence, justice, courage, and temperance.
Your child learns by imitation, which begins in the family and extends to modeling his actions on the moral characters of heroes and saints.
Of course, every parent will want to purchase a copy of Nicomachean Ethics to read for the pursuit of happiness. To wet your whistle, here is some wisdom from the tenth book,
[W]e should try to become immortal as far as that is possible and do our utmost to live in accordance with what is highest in us. For though this is a small portion of our nature, it far surpasses everything else in power and value. One might ever regard it as each man's true self, since it is the controlling and better part. It would be strange if a man chose not to live his own life but someone else's.
Or as Conor Gallagher rightly notes in his conclusion:
If your kid seeks the path of virtue, he will be filled with peace. If he seeks true friendships, he will find more joy in giving than in receiving. And ultimately, if he is virtuous and possesses a true friend, your kid will gain true happiness, a happiness far beyond any notion of pleasure or amusement that the modern world offers. *