Saturday, September 18, 2010

Cheating and the Soul

This week in CWC (a team-taught Christianity and Western Culture course at Bethel), I lectured on Plato’s view of the soul. (Only briefly, because I had to cover Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle in one lecture!) Roughly speaking, according to Plato the soul has three parts: the intellect, which seeks after truth; the spirited part, which seeks after honor; and the appetites, which seek after various worldly pleasures. In a just person, the intellect is in control. Doing what is wrong is never in the best interest of the wrong-doer because it damages the soul by strengthening the appetites (usually) and weakening the intellect’s ability to control them. A clear of example of this is drug addiction: an addict’s desire for the drug overpowers the intellect’s recognition that taking it is a bad idea. Indeed, that recognition gets ignored, and instead the intellect serves the beastly appetite by discerning ways to procure more drugs.

Another example I used is cheating on school assignments and tests. Your intellect may recognize that cheating is wrong; but once you’ve done it, it’s much easier the second time. Appetitive (and maybe spirited) desires are strengthened, the intellect’s control over the soul weakened, and the soul becomes disordered and damaged as a result.

After the lecture, a colleague called my attention to a fascinating article, in last week’s Toronto Globe and Mail, about a recent study of the personality traits of students who cheat. The study found that “Students who admitted to cheating, or who were caught, ranked high on what psychologists call the ‘dark triad’ of personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy.” Perhaps Plato was on to something! It is nice to be reminded that in this most fundamental sense, cheaters don’t prosper.

Here’s the article:
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