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A Vision of the Good

The following is a summary of key points raised in our weekly Philosophical Happy Hour discussion of 9 November 2022 during which we discussed the lacking vision of the good in our contemporary society.

Ideologies and False Idols

Why do left-leaning progressive politics seem ascendant in the Western world? One does not need to dig deep into the past to answer the question. Simply stated: progressive ideology presents a credible, albeit vague, image of the good. It is motivated by a final cause, and therefore provides a purpose for its adherents. By nature, material comforts and pleasures attract us. So, too, does the idea of self-determination seize us: the ideal of pursuing freely whatever goods we find desirable. Even as it touts values like diversity, equity, and inclusion—and authoritarian means to their realization—progressive ideology uses these words to paint a utopian image.

Conversely, those identifying themselves as “conservative” appear as uninspired, motivated by no vision of the good but, at best, ideals of governmental non-interference. At worst, they appear as reactionaries—in possession of no reasoned belief, but stimulated by threats against their comforts. In the short-term, this may gain adherents and even stoke enthusiasm. But it does not produce an enduring image and results in only a brief movement. (One can see this, I believe, in the “MAGA” phenomenon.) Others may point to God or the afterlife, but—more often than not—such beliefs seem divorced from the real world.

Ideologies—whether enduring, as on the progressive side, or transitory, as on the conservative—draw adherents who lack integral habits of purposive living. This lack of purposive life makes itself felt most keenly in the experience of loneliness. As our ability to communicate declines, so too do our relationships with others. Increasingly, conditions of isolation envelope the Western individual (and perhaps especially the American). Simple ideological mantras, which do not require careful thinking, allow groups to feel united without having to communicate. Numbers of close friends decline; ideologies sweep up the lonely.

Discovering the Good in Speech

What can we do? There is no magic bullet. There is no easy solution. What we face is not a technological shortcoming, but an essentially human difficulty. Loneliness is not new. Arguably, everyone experiences it at some time, and in some degree. What resolves loneliness is being-with others in a properly human manner. This manner requires conversation: listening to one another, speaking to one another; writing to one another, reading one another. Real conversation attends to more than just the words, even as the words make it properly human. It attends to the person.

In our digital age, we must learn new habits for attending to persons. The screen reduces the reality of the other to a two-dimensional abstraction. We talk at one another, instead of with. Anything truly good is a good to be shared. It requires community. Atrophied linguistic abilities undermine our ability to form community, and therefore to discover the good. Think: when you receive good news, your first impulse is, most likely, to share it with others. If you cannot find anyone with whom that news can be shared, disappointment follows.

We at the Lyceum Institute talk often of community. While most of us possess some meaningful associations—family, religion, perhaps a few close friends—in close geographical proximity, we nonetheless recognize that we benefit from one another’s presence (even digitally). This benefit consists in our real conversation. We share ideas, humor, beliefs, struggles, and—most of all—a desire to grow in knowledge, understanding, and the love of wisdom.

It’s not perfect. But it is good.

This Week [5/24-5/29]

First: Summer Seminars are open! 

Science: On Being, Language and Reason, and Cause in Aristotle’s Organon

This seminar treats Aristotle’s methodology for coming to know reality in two parts. In the first part, to be led by Dr. Daniel Wagner, students will gain understanding of the primary terms for defining (Topics), the classification of the most general concepts of the intellect (Categories), and the method of reasoning used for defining beings, which Aristotle calls induction (ἐπαγωγή/epagoge) and division (διαίρεσις/diairesis and ἀνάλῠσις/analusis) (Posterior Analytics). In the second part, to be led by Dr. John Boyer, students will gain understanding of Aristotle’s method of deductive demonstrative reasoning and explanation by proper cause (αἰτία/aitia), which constitutes scientific understanding (Posterior Analytics).
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Semiotics: An Introduction

Among the specific goals for the seminar are to understand the general theory of semiotics—as the study of the action of signs—which was founded in Charles Peirce and has since been developed; though we cannot truly grasp this notion of signs unless we first understand the categorical basis of Peirce’s thought, or his “phaneroscopy”; and by grasping this phaneroscopy, along with the general notion of “sign”, we will further pursue the goal of understanding how signs play a role in specifically human thinking.
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Thomistic Psychology: World and Passions

Contrary to both [an extreme Stoicism and a libertine Humeanism], the Aristotelian-Thomistic perspective sees in the intellect and human body a hierarchical complementarity, for the passions are a means of receipt and response to the world—and especially the specifically human world—in which we live and by which we pursue our proper ends. Thus, understanding the dynamism of world and passions is essential to understanding the rectitude, and failures, of our passionate dispositions.
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5/24 Monday

  • Quaestiones Disputatae – Inquirere (9:30-11am ET).  First of two May Inquirere sessions.  These sessions, lasting anywhere from 30-90 minutes, allow us to work out our questions communally in a live chat.  There are three ways in which someone may participate in an Inquirere session: as an Inquirer, as a Responder, or as an Observer. An Inquirer is seeking to define and develop a question.  A Responder brings updates to their question and works in a live dialectic on what updates have been brought.  Observers listen and comment on the inquiries and responses given.
  • Exercitium Linguae Latinae (2:00-2:30pm ET). Legemus ex Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata ut melioremus nostrum locutionem et augeamus familiaritatem vocabulis.

5/25 Tuesday

  • Ex Sancto Thoma Legimus (10:00-10:30am ET).  Legemus ex Sancto Thoma et convertit in linguam Anglicam; practicum bonum et utile est!
  • Philosophical Happy Hour (5:30-7:00pm ET). Join us for drinks, conversation, lively debates, and get to know the Lyceum Institute and its members!  Open to the public: use the “Send Us a Message” form here (write “Happy Hour” in the message box) to join us on Teams!

5/26 Wednesday

  • Exercitium Linguae Latinae (2:00-2:30pm ET). Legemus ex Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata ut melioremus nostrum locutionem et augeamus familiaritatem vocabulis.
  • Quaestiones Disputatae – Inquirere (3:00-4:30pm ET).  The second of two May Inquirere sessions.

5/27 Thursday

  • Ex Sancto Thoma Legimus (10:00-10:30am ET).  Legemus ex Sancto Thoma et convertit in linguam Anglicam; practicum bonum et utile est!

5/28 Friday

  • Open Chat (9:30-10:30am ET). Our regular Friday-morning open chat, allowing conversation between those in the West and those in the East–bridging the international community of the Lyceum Institute.
  • Exercitium in Lingua Latina (11pm-12am ET).  Etiam exercitium in Lingua Latina!  Ista hora conveniens Orientalibus est (11am Manila time).

5/29 Saturday

  • Latin Class (10-11am ET).  Remanemus magistro et discipulis in ludo, dum docet et discunt… eh… alius discit sed alius queritur.  O puer improbus!