Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Discipline

Robert Oppenheimer in a letter he wrote his brother Frank in 1932:

"You put a hard question on the virtue of discipline. What you say is
true: I do value it -- and I think that you do too -- more than for
its earthly fruit, proficiency. I think that one can give only a
metaphysical ground for this evaluation; but the variety of
metaphysics which gave an answer to your question has been very great,
the metaphysics themselves very disparate: the Bhagavadgita,
Ecclesiastes, the Stoa, the beginning of the Laws, Hugo of St. Victor,
St. Thomas, John of the Cross, Spinoza. This very great disparity
suggests that the fact that discipline is good for the soul is more
fundamental than any of the grounds given for its goodness. I believe
that through discipline, though not through discipline alone, we can
achieve serenity, and a certain small but precious measure of the
freedom from the accidents of incarnation, and charity, and that
detachment which preserves the world which it renounces. I believe
that through discipline we can learn to preserve what is essential to
our happiness in more and more adverse circumstances, and to abandon
with simplicity what would else have seemed to us indispensable; that
we come a little to see the world without the gross distortion of
personal desire, and in seeing it so, accept more easily our earthly
privation and its earthly horror. But because I believe that the
reward of discipline is greater than its immediate objective, I would
not have you think that discipline without objective is possible: in
its nature discipline involves the subjection of the soul to some
perhaps minor end; and that end must be real, if the discipline is not
to be factitious. Therefore I think that all things which evoke
discipline: study, and our duties to men and to the commonwealth, war,
and personal hardship, and even the need for subsistence, ought to be
greeted by us with profound gratitude, for only through them can we
attain to the least detachment; and only so can we know peace."

Quoted in Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin's biography of Oppenheimer,
American Prometheus. Because I read this on a Kindle, I don't know the
page number.

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