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Diogenes of Sinope | Plutarch, That Virtue May Be Taught

Plutarch, That Virtue May Be Taught

Why do we, by asserting that virtue is not to be taught, make it a thing that does not at all exist? For if by its being learned it is produced, he that hinders its being learned destroys it. And now, as Plato* says, we never heard that because of a blunder in metre in a lyric song, therefore one brother made war against another, nor that it put friends at variance, nor that cities hereupon were at such enmity that they did to one another and suffered one from another the extremest injuries. Nor can any one tell us of a sedition raised in a city about the right accenting or pronouncing of a word, — as whether we are to say Τελχῖνας or Τέλχινας, — nor that a difference arose in a family betwixt man and wife about the woof and the warp in cloth. Yet none will go about to weave in a loom or to handle a book or a harp, unless he has first been taught, though no great harm would follow if he did, but only the fear of making himself ridiculous (for, as Heraclitus says, it is a piece of discretion to conceal one’s ignorance); and yet a man without instruction presumes himself able to order a family, a wife, or a commonwealth, and to govern very well. Diogenes, seeing a youth devouring his victuals too greedily, gave his tutor a box on the ear, and that deservedly, as judging it the fault of him that had not taught, not of him that had not learned better manners. And what? is it necessary to begin to learn from a boy how to eat and drink handsomely in company, as Aristophanes expresses it, —

  Not to devour their meat in haste, nor giggle,
  Nor awkwardly their feet across to wriggle,†

and yet are men fit to enter into the fellowship of a family, city, married estate, private conversation, or public office, and to manage it without blame, without any previous instruction concerning good behavior in conversation?

Source: Plutarch’s Morals. Translated from the Greek by Several Hands. Corrected and Revised by William W. Goodwin, with an Introduction by Ralph Waldo Emerson. 5 Volumes. (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1878).

diogenes_of_sinope/plutarch_that_virtue_may_be_taught.txt · Last modified: 2014/01/14 23:19 (external edit)