Now it is best that there should be a public and proper care for such [moral] matters; but if they are neglected by the community it would seem right for each man to help his children and friends towards virtue, and that they should have the power, or at least the will, to do this.”
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
According to Aristotle—and most other thinkers in the great tradition—society should, especially in its laws and customs, be conducive to citizens living a truly good life. Of course, he knows that often it is not. In those cases, he admonishes us to be extra attentive and intentional about our own households and friendships.
This could be perceived as a retreat from society. But it is not. Aristotle, like his great teachers Plato and Socrates, has a profound sense of the other-centered obligations of man. Human persons are designed for something astoundingly great. The nobility of a life well-lived—which is indeed a great good ‘in itself’—is ultimately about living not only with but also for others.
So, if in the all-important pursuit of a healthy context for human growth and life there is a certain turning ‘inward’ toward household and friends—especially in difficult times—it should not be because we have given up on others. On the contrary. Our seeking, along with family and friends, to live as well as we can is the key way we will serve them, and perhaps even bring about a broader renewal.
This should be no surprise. Such a paradox is at the heart of the household. Consider: parents put so much effort into the care of their children, only one day to turn around and send them off. The very structure of the household, if we discover and live the gift, draws us to step up and become ourselves. Those who would focus on their households as a way of seeking their own private fulfillment or creating their own little world have missed the deepest reality of household. It is always about serving, about giving, about loving. Such is human life.
Prioritizing our focus on our households by taking concrete steps to protect and deepen the life therein is easier said than done. It is a way of loving and giving a gift to others: to spouse, to children, to friends and relatives, and also to broader society. It is a way to serve our local community, our nation, and our Church. In good times and in bad.
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Husband, father, and professor of Philosophy. LifeCraft springs from one conviction: there is an ancient wisdom about how to live the good life in our homes, with our families; and it is worth our time to hearken to it. Let’s rediscover it together. Learn more.