Tuesday, June 30, 2015

It is more blessed to give than to receive

On the one hand, Jesus tells us that it is more blessed to give than to receive. On the other hand, Socrates tells us in the Gorgias:

And what sort of a person am I? One of those who are happy to be refuted if they make a false statement, happy also to refute anyone else who may do the same, yet not less happy to be refuted than to refute. For I think the former a greater benefit, in proportion as it is of greater benefit to be oneself delivered from the greatest harm than to deliver another. No worse harm, it is true, can befall a man than to hold wrong opinions on the matters now under discussion between us.
We thus have two plausible and apparently conflicting claims: it is better to give than to receive and yet it is better to receive a refutation than to give it. If the conflict is real, then of course we go with Jesus. But is the conflict real? After all, Jesus' saying has the form of a proverb, and we know that proverbs, biblical and otherwise, are not meant to have universal applicability. Wisdom is needed to figure out which proverb applies when.

Jesus' saying seems to me to apply to cases where the giving is a sacrifice, either of the thing given or of one's time and energy in giving it. Socrates, however, is clearly not talking of that sort of giving. Socrates obviously finds it fun to give refutations. There is no sacrifice for him in refuting another. Well, at least in the Gorgias. Eventually, his practice of refuting others costs him his life. At that point it seems that Jesus' proverb applies: giving refutation to others becomes a sacrifice, and it is better for one to make that sacrifice than to be on the receiving end of another's sacrifice.

Maybe a similar thing can be said about another case. We tend to feel that it is better to work on one's own virtue, and to receive virtue from others, than to work on the virtue of others. I think this is because working on one's own virtue tends to be costlier personally, tends to be more of a sacrifice. It is often easier to preach than to do. (And while preaching without doing is often ineffective, that's not universally true. There are many people whose lives have been turned to virtue by the preaching of people whose own lives turned out to be a fraud. One must, though, remember that the preaching is not all that was going on--there was also grace.) So giving virtue to others need not be a sacrificial gift of the sort that Jesus is talking about on my interpretation. But it also can be, in which case the proverb seems to apply.


= MJA said...

Blessed is the good of One or another,
For One is another and another just One.
Giving to One is received by One,
And giving and receiving no greater than the other.
Be One,

Heath White said...

My karate instructor used to tell us it was better to give [blows] than to receive. I do not think that is what Jesus was talking about, either.