Philosophy as Preparation for Fatherhood?


John Kaag (UMass Lowell) holds the surgical scissors and is asked to cut the cord. Time stands still, and he reflects on the relations between philosophy and fatherhood.

The prospect of struggle in life and fatherhood is not an indication that we should opt out, but rather lean in—like Sisyphus, who is destined to push the boulder up a hill, only to have it roll down again. Lean in that way, for all eternity. Plato’s Republic suggests that we can grin and bear it. That centerpiece of Western culture can be boiled down to the burdensome question of how best to educate and cultivate the youth. Socrates is brought to trial for promoting a new philosophy of fatherhood in a culture that is pointedly uninterested. It is, after all, so much easier to let the kids raise themselves…

if you take a fresh look at what Plato is actually saying, it’s pretty clear: Socrates was condemned to death for the sake of the kids, for the chance to raise them in reflective and moral ways. This becomes clear in the Symposium as well, when Socrates explains that the vitality of the state depends on the cultivation of the youth, and that this task belongs collectively to the culture at large…

As a professional philosopher, I found that my fixation on success, both real and imagined, had left me unprepared to see the value of anything else—like beauty, or wisdom, or justice. You could say that being a professional philosopher had made it difficult for me to be an actual one, never mind a person anyone would want to have as their father.

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