Alienation From Self, Aristotle, Authenticity, Being True To Yourself, Christianity, Cultural Traits, Culture, Ethics, Eudaimonia, Happiness, Human Nature, Ideas, Judaism, Life, Living, Memes, Morality, Morals, Pride, Purpose, Quality of Life, Religion, Religious Ideologies, Self Image, Self-Flourishing, Values, Well Being

Pride in Aristotle and Christianity

“The description of the proud or magnanimous man [in Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics] is very interesting as showing the difference between pagan and Christian ethics…”.  — Bertrand Russell.

SUMMARY:  Pride to Aristotle was a virtue, and a means to happiness, but to Christians, it is a sin, and a means to unhappiness.

(About a 7 minute read)

In Judaism, pride is called the root of all evil, a valuation that seems in part to have been carried over into Christianity, for Christians regard pride as the first and foremost of the Seven Deadly Sins.

In Catholicism, the Seven Deadly Sins are not to be confused with “Mortal Sins” — they do not automatically damn you to hell if you fail to repent of them before death, but they are pretty much bad enough anyway.

In contrast to the Jewish and Christian views, pride was an actual virtue to Aristotle.  Which of course, raises the question, “Why did Aristotle think pride was a virtue?”

Continue reading “Pride in Aristotle and Christianity”

Abuse, Aristotle, Consciousness, Ethics, Feminism, From Around the Net, Human Nature, Humor, Late Night Thoughts, Life, Love, Morality, Morals, Outstanding Bloggers, Poetry, Stolen From The Blogosphere, Wisdom

Late Night Thoughts: Love, Consciousness, Moralism, Red, and More

(About a 10 minute read)

The half moon is riding high tonight.  Silver light on the lawn.

The weather is warm enough now that I can leave the doors open most of the night to let the air in through the screens.   This is the stillest part of the night.  The city is for the most part asleep, so there is very little traffic on the nearby roads.  Besides, my cottage is far enough off the closest road that passing cars are usually muted.

In a couple hours, the birds will start singing.  Then a bit later, the dawn.

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One of the very few posts on Café Philos with more than 80,000 views is The Difference Between Loving Someone and Loving an Idea of Them.

The post’s core notion is that one sign we love an idea of someone, rather than love them, is that we are trying to change them to fit our notion of them.  Especially if we are trying to change them against their basic nature.

Of course, me being me, it took 600 words, two personal stories, and one reference to beer,  to get that idea out.

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Have you noticed how some folks seem to bill you for the love they give?  Maybe they can’t seem to say, “I love you”, without expecting you to feel obligated to them for it.  Or maybe it’s not so much when they say “I love you” as it’s when they do something for you that they charge you for it.  But they always send out a bill, and expect prompt payment on time.

My second wife was like that.  I didn’t hold it against her, I didn’t hate her for it, because I knew she got the behavior from her mother.  All the same, I couldn’t live with it, and it was one of many reasons I divorced her.

She liked to go to an all night restaurant and sit up as late as four in the morning drinking tea.  Her work hours allowed for that:  She started late in the morning and worked until late in the evening.   But mine often didn’t.  Still, she felt I was obligated to go with her because, as she explained more than once, “You have a monopoly on my heart”.  Which, if you knew her, you would have recognized as a subtle threat to cheat, to break that monopoly, unless she got her way.

Now and then, we’d have a falling out, during which times she’d burn all the poems I’d composed for her since our last falling out.  The first time, it surprised me, but afterwards, I just thought it was funny.

For the longest time, I was convinced I could change her, but in the end I was only kidding myself.   She had a lot of good qualities that woman, but the price of her love became far too great a price to pay.

 One Way to Pay a Bill

 I would rather sit beside evening waters,
Feeling air lift across my arm like lips,
Smelling moisture that could be breath
From one who comes near enough to care

Than go late into a restaurant
Where air is still as dust in a corner
And light twists through incandescence,
Malnourished, to strike at shadow with a rag.

Although if I told you this
You’d accuse me of disregarding now and forever
Your right to stay up until four with your tea;

Then some weeks later you’d accuse:
I lacked an enthusiasm for sunsets
Which deprives you of romance —

“Since I have a monopoly on your heart”,
You’d say.

I’ve lived with you and noticed
When your heart flicks on, “I love you”,
It sends a bill for the energy used,
Which it feels seldom is paid for gracefully
Or on time.

I’ve willed for your love in the absence of another,
But shouldn’t your heart account in its books
The warmth you’ve taken, now and then,
From burning my poems?

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For the most part, it seems to me the relationship between our consciousness and the rest of our mind (or brain) is like that between a monkey and an elephant.

The tiny monkey is full of pride at being atop the elephant.  It sits there stubbornly trying to direct the elephant’s path with its constant chatter, hops, and gestures.  And the monkey is always deluded into believing it is the master of the elephant.  But almost invariably,  the elephant ignores the monkey to go its own way, taking the monkey with it.

Consciousness, it so often seems to me, is almost entirely a commentator on our behaviors, and almost never the cause of them.

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Beauty is the Beautiful Lie

I’m never quite sure
When I look to horizons
If it’s brighter out there
At the dawn or the dusk.

And I’m never quite sure
When I look for the truth
If its the truth that I find
Or only my own dust.

And I’m never quite sure —
But when I listen to flowers —
Their lies seem the truest
Of the lies I’ve been told.

There lies seem the truest
Of the lies I’ve been told.

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Moralistic people are not necessarily moral people, just as you can be clownish without being an actual clown.  To be moralistic, one only needs to be swollen full of moral-sounding judgments.  “By the Faith, did you hear that Sakeenah divorced her husband! And he a good provider, too!”

I think one thing that so very often distinguishes moralistic people from profoundly moral people is that moralistic people usually think in terms of absolutes, while profoundly moral people usually think in terms of odds, or probabilities.  The former tend to see things as black and white; the latter tend to see things in shades of grey — or even better — in colors.

Which do you suppose is the more realistic?

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I am still looking for great and snerklesome blogs, by the way.  If you know of a blog that has some stand-out characteristic of it, something that makes it special or unique, please leave a link to it for me in the comments.  Even if it’s your own blog.  Especially if it’s your own blog.

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One of the very few things I find generally irritating about women is that so many of them undervalue, underestimate, and over-criticize themselves.

Of course, I realize it’s not their fault, that they are all-too-often trained to do those horrifyingly destructive things, and they are not to blame for it.  But spontaneous irritation doesn’t pay much attention to causes: It is a response to the fact of the matter, not to the cause of the matter.

Men do it too, but women do it more often.  Both are irritating as a cruise vacation on the River Styx when they do it.  Folks really should pay attention to Aristotle on this issue.  Aristotle believed that genuine humility was claiming for yourself no more and no less than is your due.

To him, claiming more than your due is arrogance, while claiming less is false modesty.

Of course, I am not talking about self-deprecating humor here.  I almost never find that irritating.  An ability to laugh at yourself is a precursor to wisdom.  I’ve never known a wise person who was incapable of laughing at themselves.

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Red

I like the red
the red of her red skirt
Her red skirt
Her red skirt outside
outside in the sunlight
outside in the sunlight
now.

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A young friend has been emailing me tonight for advice with a woman he’s romantically interested in.

Naturally, I told him a safe way for him to gauge her interest in him without his having to awkwardly ask her if she is indeed interested (because such frankness is so often embarrassing to both parties) is for him to quietly spread jelly on his chest and see if she offers to lick it off for him.   “If she does, Arjun, it’s a good sign!”

I pride myself on my “being there” for today’s youth.  So many adults these days refuse to impart their hard won nuggets of wisdom to the up and coming generation.  Tsk. Tsk. Tsk.

But not me!

After explaining to me that she and he had very different political views, Arjun went on: “I’m more worried about losing the potential romance along with being rejected due to being perceived as unattractive than merely losing it due to something like difference in worldviews. Both scenarios wouldn’t be desirable for me, to be sure, but being seen as unattractive and rejected due to that would be painful for me.”

How would you yourself guide him?

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Adriana has written a good, solid blog post on the topic of whether the feminist movement should re-brand itself as the egalitarian movement.  It is, perhaps, a surprisingly important question.

I mostly agree with her points, but I’m thinking about challenging her to a mud-wrestling match to determine the truth or falsity of one of her points — a point I happen to disagree with.  I haven’t quite yet decided whether to write my own post about it, though.

You can find her article here.  It’s quite obvious she put a lot of thought and work into it, and it’s well worth a read.

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The sky is a pale blue-grey wash now that silhouettes the trees.  The birds are singing, their songs interweaving like the tree branches.

And now the first pinks blush on the horizon.

Abrahamic Faiths, Aristotle, Belief, Christianity, Community, Culture, Faith, Family, Friends, Happiness, Intellectual Honesty, Islam, Judaism, Liars Lies and Lying, Psychology, Quality of Life, Relationships, Religion, Society

Can Non-Believers be Truly Happy?

It’s true that happiness can be achieved without having faith but that’s only temporary happiness. You’ll find very few faithless people who are truly satisfied with their lives , and I believe that true satisfaction can only be achieved through faith.

On the other had, a non-believer can sometimes achieve happiness through other worldly things.   i.e.  For some, happiness is due to the material wealth they obtain, to being able to spend their money as they like, to buying whatever they want and consuming more and more each day.

For people like that, consumption, experiencing every beauty and pleasure, is the greatest source of happiness in their lives.

Yet, such desires are like a bottomless well — they never come to an end. Because of their desires people emerge who are never satisfied with anything they obtain, who always want more and better,  and who believe that they will be able to live happier lives if they acquire more things, and better things. However,  all their efforts only gain them a temporary happiness.

— An Internet Acquaintance

Every now and then, someone has come along to tell me that, because I don’t believe what he or she believes, I am not as happy as I could be.  Sometimes they even tell me I am not happy at all.  Now, my first, gut reaction to this “news” is almost always the same: I think they are a lunatic.

That’s my first impression, my gut impression.  I think it a modest insight.  It says a little, but not much.  For anyone who goes around saying, “You are not truly happy because you do not believe what I believe”, is to some extent a lunatic, are they not?

They might be many things besides a lunatic.  They might be arrogant.  They might be foolish.  They might be ideologically intoxicated.  They might not know up from down.  But we should not be surprised to find they suffer from one psychiatric disorder or another.

Of course, someone can be both a lunatic and, at the same time, right.  I know this because I myself am both a lunatic and at least sometimes right.  And, since it is possible to be both a lunatic and right about something, we cannot logically reject the lunatic’s notion that, “You are not truly happy because you do not believe what I believe”, on the mere grounds that it is a lunatic who says it.

So, is there anything at all really wrong with that notion?  Can non-believers be truly happy?  Or is the lunatic right to claim non-believers cannot be truly happy?

Well, my internet acquaintance who I quote above would argue that anyone who fails to believe what he believes cannot be truly happy.  As he puts it, non-believers can be happy, but their happiness is only temporary.

To me, that seems to imply he thinks believers such as himself have achieved enduring, constant, or permanent happiness. But is belief or faith sufficient to produce enduring, constant, or permanent happiness?

It would be silly to think so, wouldn’t it?

Who is there among us who does not know at least one believer who is both faithful and unhappy?  I myself know several, but I do not know any believers who are both faithful and always happy.

It seems believers can be happy, but their happiness is only temporary.  But if that is the case, then in that respect there is no significant difference between believers and non-believers.  I think my internet acquaintance has some explainin’ to do!

What are the real causes of human happiness?  It turns out the science on this matter is still in its infancy and very little of it seems at this point to be conclusive.  Nevertheless, there have been some interesting, but tentative, findings.  Among other things, it happens  the real causes of human happiness are apparently realizable even by non-believers.  What a surprise!

Dr. Alan Carr, writing in Positive Psychology: The Psychology of Happiness and Human Strengths, describes not one but several factors which studies have suggested contribute to or cause human happiness.  Among these factors are personality traits such as optimism and self-esteem; cultural traits such as living in a society with a high level of social equality; and so forth.  And I recall that other researchers than Carr have found that the quality of one’s friendships is extremely important to one’s overall level of happiness.

As for myself, I rather like something Aristotle once said about happiness, which he identified with well-being, self-flourishing or perhaps self-realization.  The relevant passage is difficult to translate, but here is a heavy paraphrase of it: “When choosing your life’s work, you will discover your happiness or bliss at that place where your individual talents and skills intersect with the needs of your society.”  Aristotle had much besides that to say about human happiness, but that’s my favorite.

Significantly, none of the science suggests the silly notion that non-believers cannot be truly happy. And even thoughtful sages like Aristotle give no indication that belief or faith is essential to genuine happiness.  Those particular notions appear to have been snatched from the clouds that surround the heads of at least a few proselytizing believers, rather than arrived at through research and reason.

To sum: It looks like my internet acquaintance is not only a lunatic, but a BS artist.  Of course, it is always fun to be BSed. So perhaps that is the real reason that very many of us non-believers are deeply happy these days — we are happy because we are  so often BSed by proselytizing believers such as my internet acquaintance.

At least that’s how I see it.  But what do you make of all this?

Aristotle, Dominionism, Fascism, Freedom, Liars Lies and Lying, Neocons, Politics, Quotes, Religion, Values, Violence, War

Aristotle and Plato on Tyranny

“A tyrant must put on the appearance of uncommon devotion to religion. Subjects are less apprehensive of illegal treatment from a ruler whom they consider god-fearing and pious. On the other hand, they do less easily move against him, believing that he has the gods on his side.”

Aristotle

“When the tyrant has disposed of foreign enemies by conquest or treaty, and there is nothing to fear from them, then he is always stirring up some war or other, in order that the people may require a leader.”

Plato

“Both oligarch and tyrant mistrust the people, and therefore deprive them of their arms.”

Aristotle

“This and no other is the root from which a tyrant springs; when he first appears he is a protector”

– Plato

Aristotle, Happiness, Idealism, Meaning, Professionals, Purpose, Society, Values, Work

A Social Ideal

Early in the morning, a young friend wrote to me about the difficulty she’s having discovering what she wants to do with her life.  She’s out of school now, unemployed, uncertain, and unmotivated — for she has found no work that appeals to her.

It occurs to me she’s facing a problem that, if all goes well with the world, will become increasingly common in every society.  That is, the problem of what to do with one’s life.  For, when you think about it, that’s a rather new problem for many people to have.

It’s a safe bet that through-out history, the masses of people had few options in life.  Perhaps only in the last 250 years or so have increasing numbers of people actually had to decide among many choices what to do with their lives.  And so a problem that used to be pretty much limited to the privileged few is now spreading far and wide.

I recall studies that have found we are more decisive when we have only a few choices rather than when we have many.  Around the start of the Industrial Revolution, a respectable woman in Britain more or less had only three choices of what to do with her life.  She could become a wife, a governess, or an old maid.  Today, my young friend has dozens of choices.  If she had only three, she probably would have chosen what to do by now.

It’s an interesting problem, isn’t it?  What to do with ones life.  Aristotle was one of the rare people to face the same problem some 2300 years ago.  I recall he concluded the secret to a happy life was to find where ones talents and skills matched up with the needs of the world.  That still seems like good advice even today.

In an ideal world — such as never has and never will exist — every person would face the same problem as my young friend.  Every person would need to decide, from a wide range of options, what to do with his or her life.  And every person would wisely choose to do that which most closely matched their talents and skills to the needs of the world.  But why would that be ideal?

I think, among other things, it would promote human excellence.  To one extent or another, everyone of today’s societies wastes human potential.  The most common cause seems to be economics.  People take on occupations not because that is where their talents and skills will flourish the most, but because that is where they can make a living.  If a bright, intelligent African villager is so lucky as to inherit a good parcel of land, he had best become a farmer, even though he might be much better suited to engineering.

Society looses when talents and skills do not find their best match with the needs of the world.  Although it is only an unrealizable ideal, we should perhaps work towards creating societies in which people flourish because their talents and skills are well matched to the needs of the world.  That seems to me a much better social ideal than the current de facto ideal of us all becoming good, mindless consumers.

Aristotle, Artist, Authenticity, Culture, Ethics, Giving, Happiness, Intellectual, Intelligentsia, Obligations to Society, Professionals, Science, Scientist, Society, Talents and Skills, Values

How an Elite Person is a Good Person

Let me ask two simple questions. Do artistic, scientific, and intellectual elites have an obligation to society, and if so, what is the nature of that obligation?

I think the answer to the first question is obvious. Humans are social animals, and perhaps only some hermits fail to have any obligation to society. Merely consider how our species and its several precursor species evolved over millions of years. At the very time we were loosing our natural defenses — fangs and massive muscles and the like — we were increasing the size of the groups we lived in.

Through several species and millions of years, we evolved from living in small bands of perhaps 15 or so individuals to living in large bands of 150 or more individuals. A tenfold increase in the size of our social groups — not counting today’s monstrous societies. Humans are not bears. Bears are evolved to live alone. But a human living alone in the wild soon becomes impoverished even by the standards of a hunting/gathering group. Our species is evolved to live socially, and in so many more ways than I can list in a short essay, we depend on each other for our well being.

Our mutual dependency, along with other aspects of our nature, is — or at least ought to be — a basis for our rights and obligations. To attempt to impose a right or obligation on people that goes against the grain of human nature is almost always foolish — although a number of priests and tyrants have tried it.

One often repressed human right is the right to be true to oneself.

One very general human obligation is the obligation to in some way give back to one’s community something good in return for the benefits one has received from it.

Both of those things have deep roots in human nature. We humans are denatured — we become, in a sense, perverted — when we are denied authentic self expression and self fulfillment. The priests and kings have their own reasons for repressing the human need to be true to oneself. And they have many clever ploys to convince people they have no real need for authentic self expression and fulfillment. But priests and kings are fools and liars. No man or woman in all of history who ever realized their full human potential listened to the priests and kings. I wish everyone of the earth’s kids could hear that truth before they set themselves to becoming “a good and loyal subject”. So much of humanity’s potential is crushed by the folly of priests and kings. And, by “kings”, I mean even would be kings — such as George Bush. But I digress.

Besides the often repressed right to be true to oneself, is the general obligation to give back to one’s community. Those two things are brilliantly reconciled in Aristotle’s ancient dictum, which can be translated as, “Where your talents cross with the needs of the world, there lies your calling, life’s work, and bliss.” It is precisely where your right to be true to yourself is reconciled with your obligation to give back to your community that your passion in life will be found.

To echo in part what I said above, one of the most important ways in which humans are a social animal is manifested in how we find our bliss at the juncture where our individual self-realization benefits others. A human who sets out to benefit others at the expense of their own self-realization is just as likely to find themselves as sad, doubting, and disappointed as Mother Theresa was at the end of her life. On the other hand, a human who sets out to realize themselves to no one’s benefit but their own is likely to turn into a dilettante, chasing after the fads and postures of meaning and fulfillment — or worse, become a priest or king.

Artistic, scientific and intellectual elites have the same rights and obligations as anyone else. Specifically, they have the right to be true to themselves, and the obligation to give back to their community. If that is the case, then certain things follow from it. But I have space to mention only one.

The artist, scientist, or intellectual who sets out to merely exploit society for their own gain is acting immorally. This is the problem with so many elites who pass for our intelligentsia these days. They are sell outs. They have not pursued the juncture where one’s talents are reconciled with one’s obligation to the community — they have pursued the juncture where one’s talents are reconciled with the largest paycheck.

For example: Bill O’Reilly, while nothing in the way of a genuine intellectual, passes for one these days. The spin he puts on the day’s events is analogous to the painstaking analysis a real intellectual would do to achieve some insight into the day’s events. O’Reilly has used his talents and skills for entertainment to usurp the role of an intellectual. All for the purpose of becoming a rich man. Were O’Reilly a moral man, he would find where his talents and skills for entertainment can benefit society — rather than harm it. In the most meaningful sense, he has not only sold his followers and his society down the river, he has sold himself down the river too.

Artists, scientists, and intellectuals are currently among the most disrespected members of society. I think part of the reason for that is they are all too often seen as selfishly or callously opposed to society. Now, I don’t for a moment believe that is generally true. But if it were true, it would be a mistake committed against both good morals and human nature. As social animals, our greatest self flourishing and well being comes not from destroying our community, but from using our talents and skills to give back to it some of the good we have received from it.

See also:

Introducing the Carnival of Elitist Bastards