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Enlightenment – Deducing What is Good – Scientific Awakenings

Aristotle

Aristotle (384 – 322 B.C.) was born in an area within Macedonia called Stagira, outside of Athens. His family was fairly affluent and intimately connected with Macedonian royalty as Aristotle’s father is said to have been the physician of Philip the Great’s father. The scientific knowledge and influence of his father would prove to resonate within all of Aristotle’s subsequent work as he would develop a thirst for the sciences. It was with this scientific mindset that Aristotle would travel to Athens as a young adult, at the age of ~18, and enter Plato’s prestigious Academy which emphasized a metaphysical approach through mathematics and Plato’s “World of Forms.”

Within Aristotle there seemed to be a constant struggle between various different binary forces. Being born outside of Athens, unlike both Socrates and Plato, he would be excluded from Athenian citizenship. Instead he would become a resident alien, otherwise known as a metic in ancient Greece, and be ineligible to receive the full benefits of being an Athenian citizen including being able to vote or work certain jobs within the Athenian government. Additionally, after Plato’s death in 347 B.C. it would’ve seemed logical for Aristotle to take his place as the head of The Academy. But instead, thought to be at least partially because of Aristotle’s non-Athenian citizenship, Aristotle was passed over and another student was selected as Plato’s successor. 

In lieu of this, Aristotle is said to have fled Athens for his own safety, as within Athens there apparently existed a relatively large number of anti-Macedonians. He would proceed to travel around the Aegean Sea and begin to apply the knowledge he’d gained, ~20 years of education at Plato’s Academy as well as his father’s scientific instruction during his youth, in the field. Most notably in the specific location of his famed lagoon, which is believed to have been on the Greek island of Lesvos. But, it seems he wouldn’t have been there more than ~2-3 years as he would soon be called upon by Philip the Great to tutor his son Alexander at the age of ~40 years old. 

Philosophic Decision Making – A Middle Path

In the midst of Philip the Great’s ferocious rise to power and ambition to unite Greece, he also decimated Aristotle’s hometown of Stagira and supposedly sold its people into slavery. This particular event most likely occurred while Aristotle was still studying at The Academy in ~348 B.C. After this, in ~344 B.C., Philip offered to rebuild Stagira, which may have also included the freedom of the Stagirite people that were sold into slavery, if Aristotle would tutor his son, Alexander the Great (who would’ve been ~12 years old at the time). 

This seems to represent one of the key decisions that a philosopher has had to make throughout the course of history. He would ultimately agree to tutor Alexander, but I wonder if Aristotle had thought about other ways of handling this offer. Perhaps he pondered the more active path of seeking to avenge his people in some way… trying to hold Philip accountable for his actions. Although, it seems that Aristotle was more of a “bookworm” (Plato’s apparent good-humored nickname for him at The Academy) than a soldier (whereas Socrates and Plato were both formerly soldiers), so this was probably not his first choice. He could’ve also refused, stayed more passive, and continued conducting his fieldwork in the natural sciences in Lesvos. 

Trust had to have also played a factor… to fully trust that a man, no matter his title, with such savage tendencies would honor his word… hmmm… but Philip must have also respected Aristotle’s capabilities… for Philip sought out Aristotle amongst all others. It is also said that Philip wanted a better life for his son, perhaps one that could provide Alexander with an ability to achieve an inner peace of mind given that external war seemed to be never ending during these times.

Yet, in all these cases, the motifs of fear and desire still permeate. My guess is that people probably didn’t reject Philip the Great very often, he apparently wore his battle wounds proudly including a patch over his eye (he lost an eye in battle). Perhaps there was also a vision that drove Aristotle (with both eyes, hahaha:)). A vision of desire to outshine that of the savage. To prove that the capabilities of the human mind are greater than that of the human body. Further, perhaps, to prove that his specific ideas and intellect would be more influential than the physical skill and brute force of Philip, when all the dust settled in the end. And what better way to go about doing that than by tutoring his son.

Riding the Golden Wave – All or Nothing

So, instead of going all-in and attempting to bring down Philip for his actions, or choosing to do nothing and go back to his scientific fieldwork… Aristotle accepts. He seems to choose the safest option, the middle ground. Who knows for certain though, perhaps in some way Aristotle may have played a small, indirect, strategic role in the assassination of Philip. Pure speculation. But, it does seem to at least be within the realm of possibility, especially given all the turbulence that circulated in the air during these times. 

Nevertheless, Alexander, as a result of Aristotle’s tutoring and mentoring, seemed to form a very loyal bond with Aristotle thereafter. So much so that after he succeeded Philip, his generosity with Aristotle extended into providing large amounts of funding as well as vital data from his conquests for Aristotle’s research. Alexander even helped fund, as well as provide a large number of the animals for, Aristotle’s zoo, which was one of if not the world’s first ever zoo. All of this would contribute immensely to the sheer depth and breadth of Aristotle’s philosophical works (of which only Plato’s works may truly rival). Aristotle was also given a brief window of time in which he would have both safety and the freedom to engage in all of his scientific research, at his own school, “The Lyceum.”

Together, Aristotle and Alexander would go all-in in their pursuits, making progress through both the physical and the mental, seeking to push, to find the limits of humans. And also to create the best world they could. Their combined talents were arguably more influential than that of any other duo at any other point in history.

Alexander, dominating every foe he encountered on the battlefield… undefeated. And Aristotle, dominating every adversary he encountered in terms of thought, still widely considered the greatest most influential philosopher to have ever lived. Both of them engaging in their own versions of pure creation. Alexander, creating pathways that would link Europe and Asia culturally for centuries as well as cities like Alexandria in Egypt (one of the most prosperous cities in the world over the next ~1,000 years). Aristotle, creating new schools of thought that would influence virtually every field of human study… he’s thought to be the very first scientist. Although he would’ve referred to himself as a natural philosopher. 

But, just as the highest peak of their stories mirrored one another, so did their lowest valley. Intensity, always in parallel [Always: wait for the beat to drop at ~2:35 and think of a split screen with one side showing Alexander dominating with vigor and skill in battle, and in the other screen Aristotle engaged in a fluid state of mental activity fluctuating between relentless study, the development of his philosophical ideas, and flawless coordination of a team of researchers around the world… this is how I envision their intensity… good times:)].

Immediately after Alexander’s death, native anti-Macedonian Athenians are said to have rejoiced. And in the process, subsequently kicked out all of the Macedonians living in Athens. Once again, Aristotle was left with a difficult decision. Stay and fight, or flee for his safety.  If he stayed, his battle would most likely have been similar to what Socrates had to endure via a trial by jury. Although he would’ve faced a much more extreme death if convicted as drinking hemlock was a right reserved for Athenian citizens only. 

He would also have to leave his school behind along with all of his work… crazy… with just the drop of a hat… literally going from having it all, to having virtually nothing. It’s amazing how in certain windows of time there can be such prosperity, and in one fell swoop, it vanishes. And, in this particular case, the prosperity occurred in spite of an environment filled to the brim with volatility and danger. Perhaps it was their combined greatness that enabled them to rise above these seemingly insurmountable odds.

Most historians seem to believe that the Golden Age of Greece ended before Philip the Great’s rise to power. Instead including the subsequent events that occurred under Philip, Alexander, and Aristotle within the beginning of the Greek empire’s decline. But I am of the mindset that some of the brightest, most creative and illustrious works of humans occur during the most extreme times of darkness and danger. Essentially, out of the lowest lows, can come the highest highs (yes, we will most assuredly make our way to Nietzsche:)). Riding the golden wave. Until you reach the shoreline… or at least until you crash and burn. 

A Deeper Good

The safest place to approach Aristotle, the middle road so to speak, seems to be via his scientific ideas as they appear to flow the most freely into all of his philosophical thoughts and ideas. Additionally, it helps us begin to identify what is fundamentally different about Aristotle in comparison with Socrates and Plato. Namely, that although Aristotle would like nothing more than for everyone to achieve eudaimonia… he believes there is something greater, something more important. The truth. He seeks it above all else. And it starts with him essentially creating the art form and methodology of logic. 

Logic is the efficient use of reason, which the majority of ancient Greeks believed to be universally good. It is clarity of thought. It is accurate thinking. It also feeds directly into science. For Aristotle, this is primarily achieved through the use of the syllogism. The methodology of Aristotle’s logic begins with defining terms, determining precisely what it is that we are trying to discuss, just as Socrates and Plato had done before him by continuously asking questions such as “What is justice? What is love? What is good?” It is also pertinent to note that a connection can be made between Aristotle’s system of logic, and the logic that lay within the “legal” counsel that the Sophists were providing, at a fee, for the Athenian people. 

Given this, Aristotle’s logical method begins as essentially one of refinement. Taking the rough methodologies of both Socrates and the Sophists and creating a much cleaner and efficient two step taxonomic process. One in which he began by trying to categorize an individual object or thing within a class of other similar things. Then, to further define that specific thing he would continue by asking what it is precisely that makes that specific individual thing unique in comparison with the other similar things of its class.

This seems so simple. Yet, it is a very powerful tool that Aristotle wields throughout all of his other works. An ability to surgically split like things apart so as to better understand them, and then to put them back together into a stronger individual whole. To classify similar things and then give a better definition of what a specific thing is, in terms of what makes it unique in comparison with the other things within its class.

Then, once an argument for a definition is attempted, it’s time to split the layers of the argument apart, whereby each part receives its very own, you guessed it, taxonomic classification. In other words, he’s going to break apart the argument that’s being made regarding the definition of something to try to reveal its level of truth… to see how valid, accurate, and sound it is. In order to do this we need to be able to make inferences. We need to be able to deduce an accurate conclusion based on certain premises. This then takes us to the point where Aristotle turns logic into a science, through the use of the syllogism.

Logical Syllogisms

A syllogism is a form of logic in which one can infer a result based on two statements, with the first statement being the major preposition and the second statement being the minor preposition. It picks up right where the first two steps of defining the term left off, Aristotle called his brand of logic “term logic,” and then proceeds in a similar fashion as a mathematical theorem using variables. Let’s briefly go over the basics of the rules.

Essentially there can be four types of statements, or so called categorical propositions: every x is y, no x is y, some x’s are y’s, and some x’s are not y’s. Wherein each categorical proposition contains a subject (x) and a predicate (y). If we look at an example we can see this more clearly. Take the categorical proposition: All animals drink water. Here, animals are the subject (x) and drinking water is the predicate (y). Together, the subject + predicate serve to define the terms within each categorical proposition or statement. Additionally, the statement, all animals drink water, fits into the first type of categorical proposition (every x is y). 

Aristotle then tries to combine related major categorical propositions with minor categorical proposition statements in a variety of different ways, with the aim of being able to infer or deduce a third conclusive categorical proposition, or a type of logical truth. This then gives us the essential form of a valid syllogistic argument. Major Cp1 + Minor Cp2 = Conclusive Cp3. Let’s look at an example of a valid syllogistic argument then.  Cp1 = All men are rational animals. Cp2 = Socrates is a man. Therefore, when you take Cp1 + Cp2 = Cp3 => Socrates is a rational animal. Another variation of a valid syllogism would be: No horse has feathers. Some mammals are horses. Therefore some mammals do not have feathers. 

Perhaps, on the surface at least, this may also seem fairly simple. But, the extreme that Aristotle takes this to… it’s actually quite remarkable, especially considering that there really wasn’t anything quite like it prior to his time. Aristotle continues laboriously working through the rules of his system until he arrives at a total of 256 possible valid logical syllogism statements, all of which contain the definitions of terms (subject and predicate) within his essential valid form: Major Cp1 + Minor Cp2 = Conclusive Cp3.  

On the topic of logic, Aristotle wrote a series of six books which were known throughout subsequent civilizations, especially medieval Europe, as the “Organon” (translates into “the instrument”). The fucking instrument…. Dang… that’s just pure mental influence. Given this, it goes without saying that these books have played a vital role in establishing logic as a very powerful means to understanding more complex issues and problems. He even believed that the very foundation of science laid within his term logic system and its rules, using the form of the syllogism and starting from true premises.

Today, we can see the fundamentals of logic, especially Aristotle’s brand of term logic, as continuing to influence the logic that is used today as it can be found within the very roots of computer coding and artificial intelligence. Amazing how a seemingly simple idea can evolve over time, as if it were a living, breathing organism in itself… we will undoubtedly explore more regarding this soon enough:)

Comparative Truths

It’s very interesting how mathematics played such a critical role in both Plato’s world of forms and Aristotle’s system of term logic with regards to helping them find, or reveal what they believed to be the truth, in each case serving as a type of bridge from ignorance to knowledge. But, in terms of using this knowledge to then obtain truth, there is a profound difference.

Recall that one was only able to see Plato’s divine world of forms through their soul, not through their human senses (sight, hearing, touch, etc.). And that the true beauty of the world of forms could only then be perceived through “Platonic Love.” Whereas with Aristotle, his truth is to be found on this earth, using the human senses, but most especially using that which makes humans unique in comparison with other animals… our ability to reason. Which, in its highest form, can be performed through the simple, yet potent power of logic.  

Thus, it seems that Plato’s truth is to be found beyond this world, within the heavens, via a type of spirituality. And that Aristotle’s truth lies in the here and now, rooted within the earth as a part of nature, via the human senses and science. And yet, it also seems that both of these are connected… as they are both concepts which seem to develop out of human culture, out of a mutual fear and desire to try to define reality. We have to start somewhere right…

Passive Matter and Active Forms

For Aristotle, everything within nature begins as passive matter, full of potentiality. And then through various processes, dependent upon the particular type of matter that is being examined, the matter is actualized by an active form which then causes the matter to come into being, into existence. We can even see a variation of this within his term logic. Defining passive terms (matter) has the potential to reveal a greater understanding of the world once it has been actualized by the active form of the syllogism. This process then causes the creation of a valid argument, or a valid idea, to come into existence. I envision Aristotle going for one of his infamous intellectual walks with his students on a sunny, breezy Athenian morning under the shaded porticoes around his school, The Lyceum, and sharing this sentiment to his students’ delight. [I know I would be:)].

“Alright students, let us discuss the matter of humans. How shall we begin? Yes, by first defining the terms of what humans are through a comparison with other living things. By answering the question of, how are humans similar as well as unique in comparison with all other living organisms? From here we need to take these passive terms and place them into the active form of the syllogism. In this way we then have the ability to gain the greatest possible understanding of both the passive matter and the active form of living things, wherein we are able to infer the most logically accurate conclusions, and in so doing, simultaneously achieve the highest, final form of an argumentative statement, validity.”

Soulful Connections 

So then, using Aristotle’s logic based scientific approach, how do we classify humans in comparison with all of the other living things on this earth, within nature?  In order to better understand Aristotle’s answer to this question we must start by thinking about all living things within nature as having an internal (natural) design rather than an external (divine) design, as was the case with Plato. Although this seems like it has a rather high probability of posing an irreconcilable discrepancy between Plato and Aristotle, there does seem to be a central connecting idea. The idea of the soul. 

For Aristotle, there exists an unseen force that binds the internal design of each individual living thing together. He calls this unseen force, the soul. And all living organisms have one. Without it, life would cease. With it, life is possible through the harmonious synchronization of all the internal parts of the organism in conjunction with the unseen force of the soul. And when the organism does die, the soul dies with it as it is an inseparable part of the organism.

Plato’s definition of the soul also contained a type of supernatural, seemingly unexplainable, element to it in that it almost functioned like a sixth sense, or sense beyond that of an earthly human, which enabled humans to be able to perceive the true world of forms. So even though there is a discrepancy on the surface, there seems to be a latent, but deep similarity between them regarding the idea of a soul and the profound role it plays within their perceived truths and interpretations of what reality is. 

The Great Chain of Natural Order

So the soul is the glue that links all living things together within Aristotle’s conception of the great chain of natural order. But, what then makes them unique? How do we arrange all of the living organisms within this great chain of natural order? For Aristotle, we can judge this within a hierarchy of how much soul a given living organism has according to several key defining characteristics including nutritive (the ability to self-nourish and grow), reproduction, locomotion, sense perception capabilities, and intellectual capabilities. There is then a direct relationship between the number of capabilities a living organism has and the amount of soul it has, with the most amount of capabilities being associated with the greatest amount of soul as well as the highest position within the great chain of natural order.

With this in mind, Aristotle begins by recognizing the existence of the lowest inanimate life forms (includes microorganisms such as algae). However, he understandably has difficulty establishing, with much certainty, whether they are alive or dead as well as how to exactly classify them (he was at a major technological disadvantage as the microscope wouldn’t be invented for another ~2,000 years). Moving up the great chain to the second level, he reaches plants which he believed only possesses the characteristic of self-nourishment (nutritive).

The third level is then split up by slightly different criteria as each member has the additional capabilities of reproduction, locomotion, and sense perception. Included in this level are insects, fish, birds, and lower forms of mammals (including horses, cows, pigs, etc.). In distinguishing these members we can begin by examining their physical structures. There are invertebrates which do not have blood (includes insects and crustacean fish), and vertebrates which have blood (includes higher forms of fish, birds, and mammals). Then there is also a distinction regarding the reproductive faculties. Specifically, the live-bearing reproductive faculty of mammals, and the egg-bearing reproductive faculty of birds and fish.

The next tier of levels within the great chain of natural order are then defined by mental capabilities as opposed to physical ones. Starting with the closest animal relative of humans, the primates (as well as other higher forms of animals), as Aristotle believes that they possess the additional capability of rationality. However, their intelligence is a simple, passive one. Given this, we finally see what makes humans unique in comparison with all other living organisms. An active rationality. Which has the specific capability of being able to generalize and create. Thus, humans have the greatest amount of soul within the animal kingdom portion of the great chain of natural order. Essentially we are the most complex internally designed living organisms on earth. But are we at the very top of the great chain of natural order? Not quite.

The Prime Mover, Deducing the First Cause

In order to understand why humans are not at the top of the great chain of natural order, we must consider the environment that makes it possible for all living things to exist. The Earth. Additionally we must, once again, also consider the unseen force that exists within all living things. The Soul. From here we can proceed to work our way backwards in terms of inferring the causes that helped turn all living organisms from passive matter into active final forms. 

There are four primary causes for Aristotle including material (the components), efficient (the agent), formal (the nature of the thing), and final (aim or goal) causes. With this in mind, we can try to understand the four causes of humans. This essentially boils down to reproduction starting with the material cause as the ovum within the female. The efficient cause is then the sperm of the male. The formal cause is the nature of the agents involved (man and woman together). And, ultimately the final cause, which is procreation. 

So then, if the final cause of humans is procreation or the active final form of life made possible through the unseen force of the soul, what is the first cause of the earth which carries with it all of the living organisms that we have ever known as humans, including ourselves? The answer. The first cause, or the prime mover. Not an external designer, but a beginning force or power that is pure active rationality, pure action, pure motion, pure creation, consisting of only the highest part of the soul. No wonder humans are not at the top of the great chain… the prime mover literally only consists of the highest part of the soul, pure active rationality.

Finally, Aristotle is believed to have been an eternalist. This essentially implies a belief that all of the living organisms on earth have always been here, ever since the very beginning of time. This is definitely an interesting perspective as most people in our current time are really only familiar with that of either a version of creationism or evolutionism. We tend to think that either things have evolved over time (through evolution), or that they were created by a type of divine creator or designer. 

And yet here is Aristotle, once again, finding a unique middle path that seems to find some balance between the supernatural of metaphysics and the nature of science. The prime mover is as close as it could get to being God, but yet it isn’t. The prime mover does not act, instead it engages in one singular function… the purity of its own active rationality in a manner of pure motion… to perfection. And then, we have all living organisms, as well as the prime mover, connected within a great chain of natural order by a seemingly supernatural conception of the soul. Fascinating:) 

Within Aristotle there is also a deep respect for the power of nature. The power to effect massive change. To wipe out entire civilizations with the shifting of the earth via an earthquake or with raging waters and floods via storms. Change is constant in this way for Aristotle… and it determines the outcome or final form of all life on earth. 

Flowing

Now that we’ve established the universal man’s place in the world for Aristotle, wherein immortality is possible (like Plato), but only through reproduction (unlike Plato). Let us begin to focus on the individual man. If active rationality is what distinguishes humans from other living organisms (and elevates him above all other living organisms), then how should man live? How best can humans thrive, how best can humans flourish?

As humans, it seems like the natural progression for us within the great chain of natural order would be to want to emulate the prime mover’s purity of energy and rationality. To just flow, effortlessly. This is the essence of how man’s actions should be like for Aristotle. They should just flow. But how do we know what the right actions are? 

Here is where Aristotle takes the teachings of his masters, Plato and Socrates, and begins to build upon them. He concurs with virtually all of their assessments regarding the topic of ethics. Happiness, eudaimonia, flourishing, virtue, practicality. But he also wants to elevate them into a system that can be used for right living… that can enable humans to flow, just as the prime mover. The system he establishes is perhaps his greatest contribution to all of philosophy. The doctrine of the golden mean. 

The Golden Mean

Within most likely the greatest ever teacher to student succession of philosophers, Socrates – Plato – Aristotle, and the realm of ethical thought, a monument of truly magnificent beauty and strength was created. With each subsequent brick further defining what was the highest good as well as the best action for man. One that began on the back of Socrates through the simultaneity of his impeccable character and belief in virtue. He would carry this up until his dying breath, influencing the shit out Plato (as well as many others), who then supplemented this with his idea of harmonious balance as well as that of the four primary virtues including, moderation, courage, justice, and their mutually agreed upon highest virtue… wisdom.

With these keys in hand Aristotle proceeds to define what he deems to be the golden mean of ethics as a fluid mid-point (capable of changing depending on the circumstances) located somewhere in between two binary extremes or vices, with one extreme representing excess (too much) and the other extreme representing deficiency (too little). The midpoint, a splitting of the binary relationship, would then represent one of the major virtues. Consistency of choosing some degree of the middle path through a scientifically driven form of logical deduction, riding that golden wave and letting our actions flow both in life and throughout his philosophical systems, seems to indeed be one of the major touchstones of Aristotle.

Given this, let us begin to analyze the four cardinal virtues, upon which all other virtues hinge upon, as they would’ve been understood during the times of the ancient Greeks as well as a hermeneutical understanding of what they mean to us today, and for the purposes of this blog moving forward.

Courage

There is no doubt that for Aristotle and the ancient Greeks, the virtue of courage was primarily intended to mean valor and bravery on the field of battle, for physical combat. Here Aristotle seems to have had a vested interest in wanting to keep Alexander alive, in not wanting him to be too hasty or foolhardy in a search for power and glory (perhaps representing his father, Philip the Great).

Yet he also wanted him to continue to be respected and followed as a leader, thus he didn’t want Alexander to be perceived as a coward either. Instead, Aristotle wanted him to follow a middle path, to find the golden mean, to find within himself a sense of confidence to overcome any potential fears (cowardice) or desires (a bloodthirstiness for power), and ultimately be courageous in his military endeavors. 

In today’s zeitgeist the element of courage on the battlefield still exists… but it is no longer the dominant strain. The fears of being forced into battle are nowhere near the same as what they used to be, and the desire for glory in battle has seemed to slowly diminish along with the advancement of technology, making warfare far more lethal and violent as well as less personal (drone strikes vs. hand to hand combat). Now, more than ever, it seems the virtue of courage is to be found internally, within the stability and confidence of the mind. 

For the purposes of this blog, we began with Immanuel Kant’s definition of what modern enlightenment looked like, ~ 2,000 years after Aristotle’s time. At its core, we then identified the necessity to have the courage to think for oneself and overcome our tendencies toward cowardice and laziness. Yet this really only captures the vice of deficiency with regards to the virtue of courage. 

We also need to take into account overcoming the vice of excess, which seems to most resemble reckless or hasty thinking and decision making… too much courage. And although this may address the immediate issue at hand, it tends to lack strategy and empathy. This then seems to result in a ripple effect of unforeseen consequences on ourselves as well as those around us. In this case, one is essentially taking action(s) without first engaging and utilizing our unique capability as humans within the great chain of natural order, active rational thinking or reason. What we need then is mental fortitude, courage within the mind, to be able to overcome both our inclinations toward cowardice and laziness, as well as recklessness. 

Justice

Courage also seems to find its meaning in the form of advocacy, in standing up for ourselves and for others regarding what is fair, what is right, and what is just.  Let us recall the Sophists, offering their timely “legal” counsel to Athenian citizens in need. Although their motive of charging for their services may have been in question ethically, the bottom line of helping equip people with an increased skill in rhetoric so that they could fight for their land, property, and rights was not. In this way at least, the Sophists were advocates of justice for the people. 

Additionally, there is courage to be found in fighting corruption within societal systems, to try to ensure that the laws and rules that are created and enforced by its leaders and rulers are transparently fair, right, and just. Within the virtue of justice, corruption seems to be most exemplified by the excess vice of favoritism and the deficient vice of discrimination. We can see a vision of how to overcome both via Plato’s utopian leadership training. Wherein only the very best would make it through, wherein anyone was eligible (eliminating discrimination), and wherein everyone had to go through the exact same process with the exact same amount of rigorous training to ultimately become a philosopher guardian of the city-state polis. Man, I really admire Plato’s vision…

Interestingly, in our time, justice is a virtue that has been upheld by our most cherished childhood heroes. Superman, Captain America, Spiderman, even Batman (and obviously many more). There is a sense within each of them to fight for what is right, to help those that need help within society. These were first comic books, then cartoons, then meh movies, and now they are the sure fire bet for box office winners, seemingly every time. Why? People want justice. People want courage. They want someone to fight for these virtues, they are deeply rooted. And, at the heart of it, people do care about one another. Even though it may not always seem like it on the surface.

Temperance

However, in terms of what people want or desire most, there is often an association with some form of physical bodily pleasure, specifically related to our sensory capabilities as humans. Unfortunately, our physical pleasures have the extremely high chance of slipping into a vice of excess via overindulgence. Most especially in eating, drinking, and sex. This was especially true for the ancient Greeks. Yet this also seems, perhaps more so than any other vice, to be a tie that binds all humans as these particular susceptibilities have also been the case for virtually every other civilization throughout every other period of time in history. 

Regarding the physical body and our senses then, if we think about what we desire least, or what we fear the most, we seem to arrive at some form of pain. For if the pain is severe enough, it could carry with it the capability to immobilize our ability to enjoy life as a human through a numbing of our senses. Quite devastating. But how exactly is this a vice of deficiency? Or, in other words, how is this the opposite of an excess in pleasure? It seems to me, that if we are paralyzed with a fear of pain, then we may fail to act. We may fail to really live our lives, not even to the supposed fullest extent, but to a level of moderation, a level that is within our own self-control. 

This brings us to the actual virtue of temperance. A mode of self-governance that is in tune with a level of moderation between excess (via physical pleasure) and deficiency (via a fear of physical pain). A level of self-control that enables us to enjoy just enough pleasure while simultaneously not having to endure too much pain. 

There are many more instances of temperance beyond that of simply the physical aspect. In our current time, one example is that of work. Some people choose to work to excess, 80+ hour work weeks. And why exactly? There is little doubt that they would, by almost default, become deficient in other areas of their life because they have devoted so much of their time to work. Most of these people don’t even have a chance to enjoy the fruits of their labor. What lies behind this motivation? Is it pure ambition for pleasure? Is it some type of a fear of pain? Both?

It seems that we sometimes seek pleasure as a means to try to reduce or even relieve our pain. Even though most of us are fully aware that even slightly too much pleasure can result in far more pain than that which we are most likely experiencing at any one particular time. Further, how the feeling of pleasure could bring us a temporary relief within that immediate moment… but at what cost in terms of the long term side effects? It’s fascinating how closely knit our desires and fears are, as well as our pleasures and pains. Given this, how are we supposed to tell if we are too close to the edge with our desires for pleasure, if we are letting fear prevent us from living a full sensory life, or if we are not being mindful enough of any potential long term side effects in our quest for a reduction in our pain?

Wisdom through Arete and Habituation

Given these questions, I can see why Socrates believed that all of the virtues ought to be collapsed into one chief virtue. And I can also see why that one virtue would then be wisdom. As wisdom seems to be a means through which one is able to make the best possible decisions in life. Hence, connecting these virtues for Socrates seemed logical, even natural. For if someone has the knowledge and wisdom, then they’ll also possess the courage as well as the self-control to make the right decision. 

Additionally, I can see how other people may be able to more clearly understand all of this when they see it in action, when they see someone leading by example. For the ancient Greeks this is exemplified through “arete” (translates into excellence of character), and personified by Socrates. Perhaps, given this, the explanation of why Socrates was so influential is in fact fairly self-explanatory. Tremendously so for Plato as he seemed to utilize the pain he felt in losing Socrates to transcend his philosophical works, ultimately seeking a harmonious balance in all things. 

With these thoughts in mind, Aristotle then goes on to add what is perhaps the most critical element of all, habituation. Practice. Only through practicing the virtues, much the same as if we were practicing a musical instrument, can we really learn as well as experience true growth and evolution. Thus returning to Aristotle’s scientific logic as if our character itself was a living organism, needing the proper nourishment in order to thrive, in order to flourish. Through wisdom and habituation then, we are able to gain insight into the truth of where the golden mean regarding a given virtue lies. We are able to learn to become virtuous and we achieve our human aim of eudaimonia. Yet, there is one more key connection to make…

Magnanimous Virtue

The connection of the soul, through what Aristotle calls “magnanimous” virtue whereby magnanimous translates into “great souledness.” This brings us back to the idea of flow. Of emulating the prime mover within the great chain of natural order. Of actualizing our highest good as humans in comparison with all other living organisms. That of reason, logic, and active rational thinking. If in practicing the virtues we gain knowledge, then we are also engaging in the highest form of what makes humans human.

For Aristotle, becoming magnanimous took mastering all of the other virtues first, and was essentially equivalent to humans becoming one with the prime mover. In this way our actions could just flow effortlessly, virtuously. This is then typified for humans by a level of independent thinking that Aristotle believed only philosophy could offer as it most closely resembles the purity of active rational thinking that the prime mover engages in, in perpetuity.  Ah, good old philosophy… yep, I fucking love you:)

Thank you for joining me on this philosophic journey!

Onward to Phase II – Making Connections

Next blog post: Enlightenment – Binary Collision Courses of Cultural and Natural Leadership

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