Since 1980, there has been a rise in world obesity. Now, you might be saying that that is skewed towards the developed world but the fact is that there are more obese people now than there used to be.
This is not how the great thinkers that influenced our society saw it. The giants of western democracy: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, all lived their lives pushing physical fitness along with intellectual stimulation. Brains worked together with brawn.
The famous Greek historian Thucydides puts it aptly,
“The Society that separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools”.
Look at the most successful people today. Most businessmen, CEOs, actors, entrepreneurs, hold physical fitness highly. Read any article that circulates the web about positive change and success. You can be sure that most, if not all, mention the importance of physical maintenance.
Even the great Theodore Roosevelt, a sickly child, took the advice of his father to build his body to reach the heights that his mind dreamed to achieve, to push himself to become one of America’s most renowned leaders. It goes to show that both brains and brawn are necessary in accomplishing great tasks in one’s life. In fact, this philosophy of balancing one’s intellect and physicality go back to the very breadwinners of modern democracy.
Yes, Socrates, Plato, and even Aristotle epitomized the power of finding temperance in sports and philosophy. In many cases, their physical background would play a huge role in their great philosophical contributions, from how children should be raised to how to run government.
For instance, Socrates and Plato saw physical fitness and medicine as analogies to good legislation and the judicial system. Regular, effective exercise is just like effective legislation. They aim at preventing or reducing faults. On the other hand, medicine and judicial review (going before a court of law), implies trying to correct an evil or fault. Exercise and good laws are proactive, while medicine and the court system are reactive.
Aristotle emphasized working on improving a person’s moral virtue. That is a virtue that could improve over regular practice through a person’s life. He put an emphasis on not eating too much or too little. By doing so, a person could gain all the good consequences and avoid the negative ones of food.
His school, the Lyceum, was strongly connected to the gymnasium as such, combining physical training with academic learning. His teachings were not of the traditional, sit-at-your-desk and be lectured. No. It came what was to be called, the Peripatetic School. Meaning to wander, Aristotle’s students would walk with their teacher as they discussed concepts of philosophy, law, etc.
Then we have Plato, a man who grew up with a strong connection to the art of wrestling. Being christened the nickname “Plato” to his original, “Aristocles”, his physical broadness gave him this nickname. This physicality to Plato would become sort of like a philosophy, especially in his famous works, The Republic where he emphasized a balance between physical activity and intellectual pursuits.
He pointed out that when a person focuses on either brains or brawn while neglecting the other, that person becomes unbalanced. The person who focuses exclusively on their physicality, becomes dimwitted and brutish. At the same time, the person who focuses exclusively on their intellect becomes sullen and physically weak, unable to fully actualize what his mind has gained knowledge in.
In all three cases, the impact of retaining physical training not only provides balance to a persons intellectual goals, but it enhances them. Many of the great works that the “Big Three” of Western Philosophy were heavily influenced by the regular exercise involved in its philosophers’ personal development.
“In order for man to succeed in life, God provided him with two means, education and physical activity. Not separately, one for the soul and the other for the body, but for the two together. With these two means, man can attain perfection.” Plato