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Erasmus, Praise of Folly Essay

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1.) In Joe Sachs translation of, Aristotle’s on the soul and on Memory and Recollection, we are presented with the idea that our soul is broken up in to the contemplative and the practical forms of intellect. We use our contemplative and practical intellect to identify what is good for us, so that our desires reflect our needs. Although, they both work towards the same goal, both are separate and depend on ineffable forces for success. The contemplative intellect is fueled by our curiosity for knowledge. Aristotle was a major believer in contemplation because he believed that living a contemplative life is how humans should live.

A contemplative life allows humans to lead a morally sound life. The more humans engage in contemplation, the closer they are to their gods and the happier they will be. The contemplative intellect is our capacity to determine the potentiality of the practical intellect. The practical intellect is our response to our contemplation. Contemplation can prolong political disasters and prevent us from using practicality. But, we have no choice but to contemplate because to understand we must contemplate and to act morally we must be able to understand. Being able to understand is being able to grasp the potentiality of something. Misunderstanding something’s potentiality is the reason leading a practical life is more difficult. It is human nature to contemplate.

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Distinguishing the two intellects is tricky because Aristotle stresses that we are one soul part of a larger one. However, if it is the same soul producing practical and contemplative intellect, how can life be divided into these two things? Our individuality controls our actions. So, our contemplative is what makes us what we are and our existence is the reason we act (practical). Practicality and contemplation are distinctions within our intellect. Contemplation is to be looked at as human nature, it helps us understand. Understanding gives way to the practical intellect. These two separate intellects not only involve different unknown forces, but they also utilize different types of motion. Practical is a physical motion, while contemplation is a motion in the sense that whenever we are thinking and contemplating, we/our minds are in motion.

The soul seeks truth. Contemplation leads us towards the truth, while practicality is a truth. These intellects are virtues in different parts of the soul. To acquire happiness one must have moral virtue to choose correctly and practicality to choose ‘how.’ For example, one might attain the knowledge, facts, and actuality of how to ride a bike. But, knowing those facts does not determine your potential to ride the bike. Aristotle provides an affective example, “There is something that has knowledge in the way that we say any human being is a knower, because humanity is part of the class of what knows and has knowledge, but there is also a sense in which we mean by a knower the one who already has, say, grammatical skill; and each of these is in potency but not in the same way, but the former is because his kind and his material are of a certain sort, while the latter is because he is capable of contemplating when he wants to, if nothing outside him prevents it” (417a 23-30 Aristotle).

Aristotle tells us the there are different types of potentiality and actuality here. This example demonstrates a ‘knower.’ A knower would be human, know grammar, and talking (exercising knowledge). This example is important in the distinction because it describes the process and the different roles of contemplation and practicality. The contemplative intellect, in this case, would be that the knower is human and has potential without actual knowledge. The knower, with grammatical knowledge, has this knowledge but is not thinking about it. The knower would be exercising knowledge through recognizing grammatical errors in conversation, readings, etc. In the two most previous instances the knower uses their practicality intellect because their actual knowledge of the grammar is their potentiality to think and perform actions.

Contemplation allows us to do, think, and imagine anything we want within out minds/soul. “…The soul is a being-at-work-staying-itself in the way that knowledge is, for both sleep and waking are in what belongs to the soul, and waking is analogous to the act of contemplating but sleep to holding the capacity for contemplating while not putting it to work (practical).” (412b 26-30 Aristotle). Practicality can only utilize what is physical and in front of us.

Aristotle

The connection between these intellects demonstrates Aristotle’s belief that every body contains a soul and the soul is not separate matter. It is a capacity, it doesn’t have a capacity and is inseparable from the body. The soul has no identity. Aristotle believes we are all individual human beings, made up of different forms and matter. But, there is one soul that is in all of us, equally. No one persons soul is ‘better’ than another’s. This is important in the distinction because contemplation takes place in the soul and practicality is what we do with the connection between our soul and body.

2. ) In Erasmus’, Praise of Folly, the character Folly is used to express Erasmus’ philosophy. Folly states that the actions of different people are foolish and she is congratulating them, she calls wisdom foolish and the fools, wise. Throughout the book Folly, with sarcasm and satire, demonstrates the main forms of folly in order to show the importance of folly. Erasmus wanted to share three main forms of folly in his writing.

The first form being, the fundamental form of folly, which is the force in our life that is indescribable. This form mainly refers to religion and faith, but also the folly in any belief of a higher/greater good. The second form is the human folly. In this form, Folly mocked those who deem or consider themselves wise or philosophers. She picked on mainly prominent people, anyone who thought they were better because they knew more about something. The third form is best described by egotistical, hypocritical, and greedy folly. This form depicts the folly of the self-centeredness of humans.

Erasmus as Folly illustrates how the Christians appear foolish at first, yet actually possesses true wisdom. Folly quotes the Bible repeatedly to prove her point. She uses the passages to show how folly is good. Within these passages, Folly says that the bible, values fools more than the wise. For example, Adam and Everwere forbidden to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, but they disobeyed. Thus, knowledge destroyed their happiness. Folly describes the Christian fools as those who, “squander their possessions, ignore insults, submit to being cheated, make no distinction between friends and enemies, shun pleasure, sustain themselves on fasting, vigils, tears, toil, the humiliations, scorn life, and desire only death – in short, they seem to be dead to any normal feelings, as if their spirit dwelt elsewhere than in their body” (p. 128 Erasmus).

Folly deems Christians slightly mad because of their view on life, and how they are so focused on the spiritual and eternal that they barely live. Erasmus contradicts Biblical truths when he is speaking as folly and expresses that life would be meaningless without folly. Our world, especially in the United States, relies on instant gratification, but the Bible clearly teaches that those kinds of things will pass away and are not important. Erasmus challenges Biblical truths when he praises ignorance, self-loveand flattery. This goes directly against the Bible, which speaks out against these kinds of things. He explains that the piousness of Christians is madness.

In the second form, Folly takes the prominent professions of her time and shows their folly. She begins with merchants, who she describes as liars and thief’s yet they are still respectable citizens. Next she attacks a grammarian, “He supposes he’d be perfectly happy if he were allowed to live long enough to define precisely how the eight parts of speech should be distinguished, something in which no one writing in Greek or Latin has ever managed to be entirely successful. And then if anyone treats a conjunction as a word with the force of an adverb, it’s a thing to go to war about” (p. 80 Erasmus). Folly describes the schools as dirty and a waste of time. He believes the teachers teach useless information, but still feel important. He goes on to poets and rhetoricians and deems their professions purposeless.

The narrator’s particular target is the church, “as they roll their rock of Sisyphus and string together six hundred laws in the same breath, no matter whether relevant or not….However, their self-love keeps them happy, and three syllogisms arm them enough to go straight to battle on any subject and with any man” (p. 84 Erasmus). These foolish men explain the ‘mysteries’ of life and the Bible according to themselves. Even the monks exude folly. They take vows of poverty and claim to hate money, but still take part in other vices. This form of folly reminds us to not mask ourselves to make us look better. Just because a merchant is respectable profession, doesn’t make that specific merchant respectable. If a monk gives up his money, does that mean he has no other vices?

“…why shouldn’t I rightly be recognized and named the ‘Alpha’ of all gods, when I dispense every benefit to all alike?” (p. 19 Erasmus). Folly allows life to continue because men must become silly fools to do it. Without her, she exclaims, couples would be married, and women would not repeat childbirth. Without the pleasure Folly gives to life, it would not be worth living. Folly accuses the stoics of attempting to keep all the pleasure for themselves while commanding others to avoid it. As an example, Folly uses childhood and old age. Everyone loves children because they are foolish and innocent. Age and life experiences only fade their beauty and charm. Thus, in old age Folly recognizes a second childhood, freeing us from the worries of life. With old age comes foolishness and senility, which allows them to be happy.

These silly old people are much more fun to be around, then a wise old person. “’Folly is the one thing which can halt fleeting youth and ward off the relentless advance of old age’” (p. 25. Erasmus). Folly discovers that we use passion over reason, “he (Jupiter) confined reason to a cramped corner of the head and left all the rest of the body to the passions. Then he set up two raging tyrants in opposition to reason’s solitary power: anger, which holds sway in the breast and so controls the heart…” (p. 30 Erasmus). Folly is logical, when our human nature puts passion over reason. Folly concludes her praise of folly with a comparison to Plato’s, Allegory of the Cave. A man who lived in a cave by firelight his whole life, one day saw sunlight. But, the two men that remained in the cave, who would seem foolish, are equally as happy with what they believe is real.

3.) Aristotle makes a better case for his outlook on human life. It is important for humans to feel important and feel like they belong and have a purpose. Aristotle’s idea of the one soul, not only offers a sense of unity to the human race but also deepens the mystery of our existence. It is in contemplation that we find happiness, whether we contemplate our future, our past, or the present. Human happiness is rooted in human interaction and contemplation allows us to create commonality and it develops culture. Although the truth of folly is important in understanding human incentives, it is in our intellect that we can find harmony. Folly in itself is a folly. It pokes fun at the ignorance of human lives. Being foolish is innate in our nature. When do people have the best times? When they laugh and feel enjoyment from company. Our folly makes us human, it is necessary for our happiness. Erasmus presents folly as a much more bleak and pessimistic attribute.

When Aristotle describes the soul it is much more pleasing. He stresses that sources/forces like God, are ineffable. These higher powers cannot be identified or described, but to believe in it reassures us that we are meant to be here. Without this mysterious force, who are we? Why are we here? It is our nature to feel wanted and have a purpose. We attempt to find this purpose through contemplation. This is a major aspect of human life. It forces us to look deeper and attempt to act morally. Humans are at their highest potential when they contemplate. Contemplation is a completely isolated process and helps us understand and perceive the world. This ability drives us and helps us advance. In personal experience, I find it is important to really think, ponder, and contemplate the things that make me happy. I can then decide if that is a practical thing to do or if I need to change what makes me happy. For example, drugs may make someone happy in their contemplation, but is that really what they want?

Erasmus and Aristotle have contrasting outlooks on life. Erasmus is very realistic, sarcastic, and satirical. While Aristotle reaffirms that it is all right to contemplate the unknown. Aristotle brings us to higher level of thinking and helps us strive for a happier and morally active life.

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