Feminism, Human Nature, the Nature of the Divine, and Marriage

This section was partly inspired by a post I read in jezebel.com, but there is certainly a lot of stuff here that is not there. I am afraid I will break one of the rules I have in my “About Me” page here, I have to talk about Christian beliefs today.

That being said, the thing that ticked me off about the post as jezebel.com was not the central point being made in that post, though I am sure it is very central to the people/person over at Jezebel (very interesting choice for a name, by the way, I wonder if the connotation of the name is something they want us to take away from it, too). The post was about the recent outburst of racist comments about The Hunger Games. I do not have a twitter (thank God), but from the pictures of posts they have there, it seems like a lot of people have lost their mind (that’s surprising). If it were not in the book that Rue is, in fact, dark skinned, I could understand why some people would find the casting choice rather weird, because I was disappointed when The Lord of the Rings in movie version came with a skinny, twenty year-0ld Frodo, as opposed to a fat, forty year-old one. That being said, to say that one sees a person’s death as less tragic because of their skin tone. In the end, it shows how horribly we have severed ourselves from the understanding of souls, because the break of that bond, between soul and body, is a sad occasion no matter what or who it is.

Alright, time to talk about what actually ticked me off. In the very beginning of the post, when they are talking about the good news concerning The Hunger Games, there is a very post-modern feminist mood of only liking movies/book/things written by women, with female central characters. The author goes so far as to say that even though she (I’m going to take a wild guess here) likes J. K. Rowling, she basically did not do justice to the “cause” by making Harry the central character of her series. Of course, to say that the most-sold series in modern times, written by a woman, did not show that male chauvinism is simply silly is rather extreme in my mind, but I digress.

The point is, I find a rather extreme backlash against the chauvinistic epoch that me have just passed and whereas I would never be able to live in a society where any of my fellow humans were suppressed, neither can I accept that we change one stupidity for another, i.e. saying women are less than men is as wrong as saying men are worthless pigs. That being said, I find it rather ridiculous that the same people who ascribe themselves to this view are also supporters of the social contract theory. Basically, in order for the social contract theory to work (i.e. that society as a whole is contrived), one must accept that there is a point in time where there is no society and the most basic societal structure, we all know, is the family. So, to ascribe to that view is to say that there is a point in time where women gave birth to children and then left them out to the hands of fate, which is a very misogynistic thing to say, so to be a feminist and such a deep male chauvinist at the same time is rather confusing to me, but I digress. Of course, the older and much more feminist way to think of society is that it flowed from the family, but this very view was made up by [evil] dead white males, as if Hobbes, Locke and the others were not dead white males. Of course, you can always espouse the view that it was sent to them from the heavens by something or other that is female, but I don’t think their philosophy would quite fit that.

One other commonsensical point that I want to make is concerning religion. Post-modern feminism unleashes a very cruel attack on Christianity (and technically on Judaism, too) about the nature of the Divine, namely the fact that He is always referred to as “He.” One very common explanation for this peculiarity is that all ancient religions identify the sky with masculinity and the earth with femininity, which is true in a basic sense, but I don’t think much attention should be put to it. I study the classical world, so I am going to give examples based on that, but I am sure there is other religions where the same thing is true. In a basic sense, the Greek Theogony does say that the sky (Ouranos) is male and the earth (Gaia) female, but there are little kinks that make me disagree with making the above-mentioned statement. First off, it is Gaia who gives birth to Ouranos (without a male counterpart) and then marries him, so I don’t see a straight duality between sky/earth. In addition, not all goddesses are agricultural related. Of the children of the Titans, only Demeter relates to agriculture, whereas Hera and Hestia are not, Hera is the protector of marriage and Hestia the goddess of the family, which are not necessarily related to the earth or agriculture. In addition, there is a plethora of  goddesses which have nothing to do with agriculture or the earth, such as Venus (goddess of beauty), Athena (goddess of wisdom, and strategy), and Artemis (goddess of the hunt and the moon). In fact, as one starts to look at ancient Roman and pre-Roman culture, Saturn (Roman version of Cronos) is an agricultural god. In addition, Quirinus (later understood as the divine version of Romulus) and Mars (later changed into the god of war) are both agricultural deities, and they, together with Jupiter, make up the pre-classical triad central to Roman/Italian religion.

That being said, there is a very deep understanding behind calling the Divine “He.” The missing link to it is that humanity, as whole, should be referred to as “she.” What exactly does this mean? In both Christianity and Judaism, human nature is understood as in need of continuous impregnation from God, i.e. we lack something and God can provide it for us. That something is perfection and perfection can be attained by spiritual impregnation from God, so if there is any discrimination at all here, it is on the side of males, because it basically means that whereas the males are simply a metaphor for the divine, females are truly “it,” the female essence shows what we really are as a whole, the male essence is a pointing finger to what we need (what would you rather be, the Mona Lisa or the sign pointing to DaVinci’s house?). Calling God “He” and calling ourselves as a whole, for Christians the Church “she” is a contant pointer to what we must do, i.e. fall into God’s arms and allow Him to fulfill us.

That aside, I find the fact that post-modern feminists refuse to worship a male God simply on account of His being male rather confusing. As I said, I study classics and in those two civilizations there is countless examples of devoutness among males to female deities. First and foremost, the Galli, the priests of Cybele in Rome, castrate themselves. In Phrygia (mod. day Turkey) the cult of Cybele was very prominent and people basically fought to become her priests (i.e. to castrate themselves), even before it was brought to Rome in the third century BCE. In some mysteries of Demeter in Greece, the central ritual is the killing of the male high priest by the female priests and there were males who deeply desired to give their lives for their goddess, Isis eventually becomes a henotheistic deity in the Roman world and countless males worship her (look at the Golden Ass if you want an example), and so on and so forth. The fact that we have clear evidence of males going above and beyond the call of duty for female deities in the past, but the current belief that a male deity is not even worth worshiping in the present seems a little non-natural.

Last, I want to briefly touch on the dynamics of sex and marriage within a Christian society (or at least a Christian-dominated society). You’d be living under a rock if you had not heard someone call people like St. Paul or Christianity as a whole misogynist on account (most commonly) of 1 Corinthians 11:3, where St. Paul says that the head of the woman (more correctly the wife) is the husband, as the head of all men (humans/anthropoi) is Christ. Well, what exactly does it mean that the husband is the head of the wife, is it a master-slave relationship? I don’t think so, mainly because the Law of Non-Contradiction disallows it. To understand in what sense the husband is the head of the woman, one needs to explore in what sense Christ is the head of the Church. Is Christ the tyrant of the Church? No. Christ is He who dies for the Church and for all humanity, so that she may live. One proof of why Christians believe Christ is God is because He is full of power, power in its totality resides in Him, His purpose to come here on earth is to spread His power to all, i.e. the purpose of his power is not to enslave, but to empower, not to bind, but to lose the bonds. Therefore, the husband’s “headship” of the wife is of the same nature. The duty befalls on him to not enslave his wife, but empower her, not to increase her hardships, but to take her hardships upon himself, not to allow her to die, but to give his life so that she may live. Once you truly understand what that means, you would be an utter idiot to think that it is misogynistic. C. S. Lewis in The Four Loves calls this headship “the crown of thorns” placed in every man’s head.

There are, of course, those who say that this dynamic is condescending, but I have nothing to say to them, if the deep love that St. Paul is asking for in the husband does not touch your soul, then you might have lost it somewhere.

So, I am pretty sure this is my most controversial post to date, so feel free to leave a comment if you disagree. I love disagreements, because as long as they don’t come in “I think you’re wrong and you’re a chauvinist pig,” form, both me and whoever comments can learn something from each other.

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Writing

I was looking at my posts the other day and I just have to say something about the irony of being “modern Platonist” and actually writing.

What I am referring to is an episode in the Phaedrus, where Socrates uses a myth about two Egyptian gods to illustrate a point about writing and its shortcomings. The basing point is that the gods Thamus (Ra, supreme god) and Thoth (god of invention) are having a conversations. Thoth points out that his most ingenious invention yet is writing, because it offers a cure to human forgetfulness and mortality (i.e. what you have to say will be preserved after your death in writing). Thamus, however, is not quite as ecstatic. He says that quite differently from curing human forgetfulness, it would plunge humans into even greater darkness. His point is that by using writing, people will not actually learn anything, they will simply write everything down and just scan whatever they need at the time and move on.

After telling the myth, Socrates goes on to explain (in writing) about how writing is a very dangerous thing to use, because it cannot defend itself. Especially something like dialectic, where you have two different, opposite, sides arguing against each other. The idea is that even though Socrates may have defeated whoever in reasoned argument, you may be more persuaded by the other argument and, in trying to learn wisdom, you learn wickedness. Of course, you can see that there must be a catch. If one of the great masters of logic writes about how writing is dangerous and you can see it, then either there is something wrong with his whole philosophy, or you are missing something. I wrote a paper about this issue only a little bit ago and would have pulled from it, but I cannot find where I saved it. Oh well, memory will have to do.

In most ancient languages, there is two words for looking, looking at something and looking along something. Usually, for paintings (and I know this is not always the case) you look at them. The most famous painting in the world, the Mona Lisa, does not contain much reading between the lines, it is magnificent, but there is no meaning underneath what you see (that’s not to say that it is bad in the slightest, one thing that annoys me about modern art is that there is a supposed “hidden” meaning to everything). In reading Plato, however, if you read any dialogue once and believe you understand it, you know that you don’t. Once you see what Plato is doing in the Phaedrus, you find that his cautioning words about people not understanding the text is very well put.

One dialogue useful for decoding what Socrates is saying in the Phaedrus might be the Apology. At some point, Socrates says that he is not the first who has been condemned not because he had broken the law, but because he has broken the convention of the people and that he will not be the last. Now, how does Socrates break convention? By words. So, then, his words break convention? The answer is yes. Now, who could hear Socrates’ words when he was living? Everyone, he spoke in the market and his teachings were available to all who had ears. And, were his teachings misinterpreted? One would have to think so, because part of Socrates’ indictment is corrupting the youth, because of a wave of young men who thought they were following Socrates’ teachings by harassing anyone they came into without a point. One more point, were there “onlookers” at dialogues? Yes, there were and, usually, they were the only ones who gained wisdom, since whoever argued against Socrates would either get mad or fake agreement in order to get away.

The point is, then, that Plato speaks to two audiences. One of them will misunderstand him, the other will understand. Socrates says that writing cannot defend itself, however, need can spoken word, in most cases. Even though Socrates does get to have a defense before the Boule, his defense only works for those who already buy into his philosophy. Clearly, Socrates himself does not believe his defense will do miracles and even says that he is surprised about how close the vote was. One would have to think, then, that his defense was not meant to be before the Boule, but for his friends who were present (at some point in the Apology Socrates mentions that a lot of the people who followed him  were either there or their family members were there). In addition, in the Crito, Socrates says that Crito’s opinions should not be geared toward the many (hoi polloi), but toward those who understood what Socrates stood for.

When we come back to the issue of writing, it provides no defense for itself. It is, however, not for those who look at it, but who look along it. It is not meant to be read as a historical account, but as a roadmap. When one reads the dialogues properly, they are in conversation with Socrates, they are offering counterexamples and are being answered by him. If you engage yourself in such a way, then not only is it really hard to not understand what Plato is trying to communicate to you, but you are also personally guided into the Forms.

I guess that’s, in a much dumbed-down version, what I am trying to do. Most of the points I make in most of my papers are not original to me, neither is this the first time anyone has ever mentioned them, whether I have read them or not, but what I can do is be the middle-man between you and Plato and help you to see him a little more clearly.

Happiness

Another point about the inadequacy of the English language when understanding what people like Plato and Aristotle are saying.

Aristotle says that the telos (lit. end) of human existence is “happiness.” If you get a good translator when reading Aristotle, you may notice that they never translate the word “eudaimonia.” The reason for it is the etymologies of “happiness” and “eudaimonia.” The “hap” in “happiness” is the same as the “hap” in “perhaps,” literally meaning chance or good luck. In other words, “happiness” roughly translates to “good luck” if you think of the meaning behind its components, “happiness” then is to have lots of good luck in the English sense. Eudaimonia is quite different. “Eu” means good in Greek, whereas “daimon” translates to something like the children of the gods, divine spirits that are somewhere between the gods and humans. Aristotle uses “daimon” to show a good soul, i.e. a soul that has achieved balance and, in that way, is closer to the divine. Eudaimonia, therefore, means a good state of the balanced soul. That is to say, it has nothing to do with luck. In fact, too much good luck makes eudaimonia impossible.

This, perhaps, is the biggest problem with the modern English mind trying to understand someone like Aristotle, because it makes his end not a state of the soul, but a feeling. In fact, the understanding that the end of human life is happiness (in the sense explained above, not Aristotle’s) is easily reachable even when someone does not misunderstand and has never read Aristotle, because of the push of pop-culture. One of the most destructive and sadly one of the most popular thinkers that push for this idea is John Steward Mill. In On Liberty and Utilitarianism, Mill argues that the end of all human life is to draw close to pleasure and move away from pain. Though Aristotle would agree that going through a life with constant pain makes eudaimonia very difficult to attain in most cases, the overwhelming counter-example there being Socrates, some pain is desirable.

The reason for it is that pain teaches wisdom. If a person lives in a perpetual state of self-gratification, if they have never gone through a situation where they have had to say no to something, then they are utterly stupid. In addition, they have never had a chance to develop virtue. If I am afflicted by a short attention span (I am not talking about conditions should as ADD here, but there are some people that naturally have a short attention span) and I have never forced myself to actually pay attention, then how can I ever do anything but have a short attention span? One very common case to see this phenomenon is among the children of the very rich. Very often, the children of actors or other really famous and rich people are rebellious toward them and often end up in different sorts of rehab clinics. In fact, suicide rates increase with wealth, though one would think that it is more logical that they should decrease with it. One cannot help but wonder, why?

The reason for it, at least according to Aristotle, is that too much of a good thing is always a bad thing. Too much courage leads one to become foolhardy, too much desire for physical exercise makes one into a beast (this point is also treated in Book IV of the Republic) and so on and so forth. Well, to much deprivation from pain, is, in itself, a pain, however, whereas the other ones teach you wisdom, this one, by itself, often leads people to dispair.

That being said, I think there is one more thing to be made clear concerning happiness and eudaimonia. That is, the problem that, if we are to believe Aristotle that only a balanced soul can attain happiness, there is countless evidence of really evil people being happy. This is one point that students struggle with a lot when Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics are introduced to them. Once again, we come into a clash concerning the difference between happiness in the English sense and eudaimonia. Aristotle would say that even though many people who do evil deeds can feel happiness (i.e. happiness as a feeling), they are not in the state of the soul called eudaimonia, because though their reason and will has become so maimed that they can take pleasure in harming others, which, in turns, harms their own soul, the soul in itself is still maimed and hurt.

This brings us to a point that very few people understand. In fact, when Socrates in Plato’s Apology (that is, with the same meaning as apologetics, i.e. defense, namely Socrates’ defense before the Boule of Athens) says, “by killing me, you would harm yourselves more than me,” people are utterly perplexed. For a much deeper discussion on what that means, you can look into the Republic. The basic point is that whenever one harms someone else, they harm their own soul with them. The best way I can think of explaining this point is in terms of Harry Potter and Horcruxes. If you have read the series, I hope this will be easy to understand, if you haven’t, well, read the series. In order to form a Horcrux, one must kill. By killing, they fragment their soul and then, simply say some magic words, and you can put the part of your soul that you broke off into some random object. The old rules of black magic say that a wizard should only ever make one Horcrux, but Voldemort is Voldemort, so he makes five, and by the end his soul is so unstable that he inadvertently makes Harry into a Horcrux when he kills his mother.

Now, back to the real world, where there is no Horcruxes and no magic words to put some of your soul in the bank. When a very prominent philosopher was asked, “What does the human soul look like?” he, rather puzzled, responded, “Like a human.” One very problematic issue with modern civilization is that it has espoused a very abstract view on the soul (for more on that theme, look at my second post). In any case, souls don’t fragment. However, they can be harmed. Imagine that whenever you do evil to anyone else, your will and reason break (quite in the literal sense) the spiritual sinews are cut. Though perhaps you have gained something through that evil, you have lost something in your soul, your soul is not wounded. There is a technical term for an action that harms your soul; it is “sin.” There is also a way to fix back a soul; it’s called “redemption.” The principal difference between most ancient civilizations and our own is that they had a very clear understanding of “sin,” which is principally why Christianity thrived throughout them, because it offered a way to put back souls plagued by sin, whereas our own, due to no minor help from pop-psychology, has forgotten the concept of sin itself.

In any case, the reason why an evil person can never achieve eudaimonia is because they would first need to put their soul back together and then seek balance.

P.S. Some of you may wonder why I have named myself “modern Platonist” if I write about Aristotle nearly just as much as I write about Plato. Well, first and foremost, Aristotle was one of Plato’s students and he is very Platonic, though he deviates from Plato’s teachings in a few cases. However, the fact that we only have dialogues and no lecture notes from Plato and lecture notes and no dialogues from Aristotle makes relying only on Plato a little difficult (you can say in two pages in an essay what you may need twenty pages to say in a dialogue). Most philosophers would agree, I hope, that unless there is a definite contradiction between something Aristotle says and something Plato says, that it would be pretty same to assume that that part is common teaching.

The Heart and Love

Well, I said I would explain more about some things, so here goes (I realize I have something to say about love, too).

First off, the heart. This is probably the most widely abused word in modern times. There is hearts everywhere, there is hearts in pretty much every song that has to do with “love” (“… listen to your heart, when it’s calling for you / listen to your heart, there’s nothing else you can do…”), everyone is talking about what their heart is telling them and other such crap. “Heart” in modern English has come to mean, not the deepest and most precious part of the human soul, but the place where all desires come from. Especially if your reason can identify that they are wrong. If a husband decides to leave his wife and two children to run off with his latest fling, then it is most probable that he would claim he “listened to his heart” and that his mind told him to fulfill his familial duty, but he had to go with his heart. 

Plato, or Socrates for that matter, did not talk much about the heart, but they did talk about duty. What do you think the guy who accepted the death penalty despite knowing that he was wrongly convicted and had every means to escape would say to that man? In another strange book, in fact it is so strange I can’t even remember its name, this weird Godly-seeming dude says, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. If your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. It is better for you to lose your hand or your eye than your self.” In any case, Pascal, who has shaped most of my thoughts concerning the heart, says, “the heart has its reasons, which reason cannot understand.” Now, in seeming, Pascal agrees with the scenario above. However, to say that would mean to ignore part of what Pascal is arguing, i.e. that the heart has its reasons. This word has long lost its meaning in the modern world. Reasons imply logic, logic implies mind. Indeed, super-logic and super-mind. As I said in the soul entry, the heart is that part of our soul which is able to tap into the Divine logic, which gives us access to Divine reasoning. It would be simply ridiculous to argue that it was “Divine reasoning” that made this man leave his wife and children, but shift the meaning for heart from the seat of the soul to the seat of desires and when that mean goes to his nearest pop-psychologist, he will feel much better about himself once he/she gives him an approving look as he mouths “I had to go with my heart.”

Of course, pop-psychology is only concerned with making the pain go away, with fixing your self-esteem, not the problem. You can imagine how quickly a doctor in a trauma center would be sued and slapped in prison if he gave all his patients enough morphine that they would not feel pain, but did nothing to heal their wounds. If, however, someone does the same thing to the soul, it is perfectly fine. Why, because you can’t see that your soul is wounded? If someone goes in the ER with a deep cut and the wound is sewn up, then that doctor has done his/her duty and is rightly praised for it. If someone comes into a psychologist’s office with a spiritual wound, it would be a mortal sin to mention the word “sin.” In any case, I digress.

Finally, to love. Because of the inadequacy of English, a lot of people brought up in the US and other English-speaking countries and the West in general, think of love as one thing in itself. In C. S. Lewis’ Four Loves the differences between different kinds of love are explain in detail. I would highly recommend the book, even though I don’t agree with some of the stuff in it.

In a nutshell, however, C. S. Lewis explains that there are:

  • Need-loves (i.e. the love of water, it comes on only when someone is thirsting and stops after the thirst is quenched)
  • Gift-loves (i.e. the kind of love that makes you give to others)
  • Appreciative-loves (i.e. the kind of love that you feel when you see a beautiful sunrise, or smell an aroma coming off of a garden, etc. Basically, loving something for what it is, regardless of whether you possess it)
  • Affection (storge) (i.e. love that comes from prolonged contact with something or someone)
  • Friendship (filia) (i.e. love between two friends)
  • Erotic love (eros) (i.e. love between two lovers)
  • Charity (agape) (i.e. Christian love or the nature of God)

Summarizing the book would take a little too much time and this is already a long blog post, but the big point is that other than the need-loves, gift-loves, and appreciative-loves, which are not evidenced only in humans, there are four types of loves, namely storgefiliaeros, and agape. If you know even a little big about Greek, you can see that the names of the loves are Greek. In fact, most ancient civilizations had a much more systematic and well thought-out understanding of love than ours. The only later addition to the list is agape and that comes on after the advent of Christianity. In any case, the big point is that most of the problems in the West (at least within the family and society relative to the person) boil down to misunderstandings about love.

C. S. Lewis rightly says the quickest disappearing form of love in our civilization is filia or friendship. We have all heard versions of, “if you want a real friend, get a dog.” Of course, this chiefly comes out of the huge misunderstanding that you can go into any environment wanting to make friends and then make them. I can’t say that I have never behaved in such a silly way, but some of the closest friends I have I have met while doing other things and realized that there are other people who love doing the same things as me in the same way. Whereas the objective of the person who wants “to make friends” is to make friends and once he/she has these new friends their objective is complete, the person who does what he/she deeply enjoys and meets others who deeply enjoy the same things just as deeply, will have those friends for as long as their personality does not suffer an extreme shift (frontal lobotomy style).

Another very important point in the book is about eros. Here is where I personally disagree with C. S. Lewis on account of Plato’s Symposium, because I believe Lewis misses the distinction between pandemia (common) Aphrodite and ourania (heavenly) Aphrodite, but nonetheless, he does have a very important quote in that chapter, which is “man must do eros’ works while eros is missing. One of his points is that eros is not forever (which I disagree with), but I do agree that eros inspired by common Aphrodite (physical attraction) does not last forever. When that is so, the lovers must do eros’  works while eros is not present. That is to say, common Aphrodite is a feeling, however, the duties of love are to be completed even when that feeling is absent. In other words, if you are so ugly that you make me vomit, I can’t help that, but I can help how I behave toward you. After a marriage counselor gave a lecture once, a man came to talking to him. He explained to the marriage counselor that he had stopped loving his wife. The counselor replied, “Well, then, you should love your wife.” I don’t think the married man understood.

Democracy and Freedom

To Democracy, the greatest political system in the world!

Right. Well, if you know anything about Plato, you know that he would not agree with that statement. In Book VIII of the Republic, or, as its proper name is, the Kaliopolis, Plato paints a very dim picture of democracy. If all the regimes have a corresponding image of the soul (refer to previous post for components), then democracy corresponds to the soul where desires rule the will and the will in turn controls reason. As Plato puts it, a concrete image of that kind of soul is a many-headed dragon (desires have become monstrous since they are not checked by reason) ruling the lion (will), who has imprisoned the man (reason). If you have trouble with this image, then think back to a beast we have all seen, namely a man or a woman who has become the slave of his/her desires, whose reason tells them to stop what they are doing because it is harming them, but they respond with the simple, “Oh yea, well I don’t care.” In fact, Plato ranks democracy below timocracy (will takes over reason, the state is based on honor, mostly from military action) and oligarchy (rule of the few, usually market-based, the desires are in control of the soul, but that control is not total, because some principles are still needed to be successful in business), it is followed only by tyranny, which Plato argues is the natural result of democracy.

Plato’s specific critique concerning democracy is the fact that there is an inherent excess of freedom within a democracy. The whole extent of the Kaliopolis is needed to understand what he is talking about, of course, but the short version is that in Plato’s ideal city, everyone is placed to the profession/vocation that is his or her natural priority. The whole schooling process centers around finding out each individual’s capabilities and natural talents and cultivating them in order to make each person most adept and comfortable in a job where they would fit most naturally. In a democracy, however, every person can decide for himself or herself what they want to do in life. In theory, there is nothing wrong with that, since every person is most happy wherever they are most naturally fit in society and every person wants to be happy (the definition of happiness in the Greek mind is a little different than the modern one, attach this and the heart to a list that shall be treated in later post), so everyone should make their way to what Plato’s system would have picked for them. Well, the one big problem with the actual world is that common sense is not that common. That in itself is perhaps a little too harsh, since there are other extenuating circumstances, at least in the modern American system.

Personal story time. At the beginning of my senior year in high school, I was beyond sure that I was going to study chemistry in college. Well, if you realize that this blog is not about chemistry, then you can understand that the plans changed pretty soon. I am very lucky to have attended a private high school (before you go crazy and call me a WASP, and only the “W” is true for me, I got a pretty huge scholarship to go there, I could not otherwise afford it, though it is very mid-range as private high school tuition rates go) where there was a whole structure set out to help students figure out what they truly want to do in life. On top of that, I was part of a program at Harvard University, which offered me an additional perspective on possibilities for college. By the end of senior year in high school, I figured out that I wanted to pursue a career in law and leave behind chemistry. Pretty early into college I figured out I was also interested in Philosophy. I had picked out Classics as my undergraduate major and I am now a Classics and Philosophy double major.

The point is, how many people have those opportunities? An appropriate example would be the fact that coming in Freshman year about 60% of the new students are pre-med and by senior year about 10 are pre-med. That’s not to mention all those poor souls who start out being History majors and end up being Communications majors or the like. Plato’s point in the Kaliopolis is that in democracy everyone is too free regarding their professions, i.e. you decide to be an athlete and you work toward that for two weeks, then you decide musician is more your thing and you work toward that for a few weeks, and then you decide economist is more down your alley in any case, so you become an economist. What you end up with is a jack-of-all-trades, but a master of none, which is the exact opposite of what Plato wants (if everyone can do a little bit of building, a little bit of singing, and a little bit of fighting, then there are really not that many people around who reach new heights in each).

In the modern world, this problem with too much freedom is very apparent in places like Greece, Spain, etc., the rather distasteful acronym “PIGS.” The reason why I write this entry is because I attended a panel about a week ago talking about the situation in Greece and the possible lessons to be learned from it in America. Dr. Prodromou, one of the panelists, along with a Political Science professor from my school, a delegate of the Greek Ambassador in the US, and the head of a Hellenic fraternal organization (not to be confused with fraternities) accepted that the root of the problems within Greece is a fundamental lack of responsibility and an “I could care less” attitude about national duty. Well, the delegate from the Ambassador had a pseudo-philosophical speech about democracy and tragedy and the head of the fraternal organization used his time to promote his organization, so I’ll just ignore what they had to say for the time being.

I asked the two people who actually were concerned with the topic at hand the same question that I ask in this entry and they both came to the same answer, i.e. that democracy cannot work unless people practice self-restraint (a.k.a. self-control, a.k.a. virtue). That is, of course, Aristotle’s argument, that a democracy, an oligarchy, and a monarchy could be a great forms of government as long as people are selfless. It seems to me that that answer is too readily available in people’s tongues, however, because this is the same guy who says that ethics is to the person what politics is to the state, so clearly, within modern politics, he is a crazy old fool.

In its most basic sense, freedom is power. People understand very well that too much freedom is dangerous, because it can easily corrupt, however, they do not connect the dots between freedom and power. Personally, I believe in Aristotle’s point that democracy can work provided that virtue is present, but that either our schooling or our government needs to realign itself to have virtue as its end goal. In other words, schools (the easier of the two to do this) should be about learning to be someone rather than learning how to do something.

I am a Soul and so Can You

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At some point, when I began studying philosophy, I was silly and young enough to tell my philosophy professor that Aristotle didn’t have an immortal conception of the human soul, because the concept of the soul was too abstract for him. He gave me the death stare and, in a most Dutch manner, said, “No, souls are not abstract. No.”

In any case, one of the most problematic issues in Western culture is the fact that people do not understand the idea of “soul.” So, let’s look into it a little bit.

In the most basic sense, to have a soul means to be alive. The soul can, in this sense, be defined as that which makes matter alive. In this sense, all that lives has souls, bacteria, plants, everything. This is the usual starting point for pantheism (i.e. all living things have soul, soul=Divine). Most philosophies, however, Plato among them, argue that these most primitive souls are not eternal or even self-conscious.

In a more developed sense of the word, a soul is that which, in addition to giving a thing life, contains its desires, instincts, and affections. This is the type of soul most attributed to animals. It contains desires and instincts, as well as will. One obvious distinction between animals and plants is that they can will to do things, that is to say, they are not purely instinct and process. For example, a dog that is hungry will not bite its master, though a wild beast may, perhaps, bite a man in the forest for food, but not its own young.

Finally, to human souls. The distinction between human and animal souls comes in the form of reason, which is a whole new part of the soul. That’s why you can say “I,” dumbo. Human have self-consciousness, the ability to communicate among themselves, and the ability to form ideas. That’s why you don’t bring a dog to court if it barks at you, but if Westboro Baptist does… well, that’s not a very good example, they’re a lot like animals. A lot of people, when they are mentioned the alternate name for this part of the soul, i.e. mind, think people mean brain. Ancient cultures had a much bigger grasp of this word. The common noun assigned to someone who has done something stupid in Latin is amens, i.e. mindless (that does not mean brainless, we’re not talking about zombies here). In addition, a common insult in Latin is “Empty in the upstairs” (I’ll spare you the Latin this time), which, again, has nothing to do with zombies.

One common misconception, aided by modern science, is the idea that thoughts are after-farts of chemicals being produced in the brain. Well, the real question is, what is what’s after-fart? As G. K. Chesterton very well put it (I am paraphrasing here) this problem can be illustrated by trees in the wind. The adult man (human, bite me) understands that there is such a thing as wind, which is invisible to the naked eyes, which is making the tree branches move. A child, on the other hand, feels air in his face and sees tree braches moving, so it very logically concludes that the tree branches, moving of their own accord, are causing the wind. Just because you can’t see something, it does not mean it is not there. Of course, there is the whole materialist point of view, that no such thing as souls, or logic, exist, but, if you buy into that school of thought, then I would ask you why you to explain why you feel some sort of a desire to comment on how stupid I am, if logic, or desire for that matter, does not exist.

Finally, one brief point about the heart. That is to say, not <3… The ancients often considered the heart the locus of the soul. No, I am not talking about the only muscle that even couch potatoes have fully developed. The idea that the heart is the house of the soul is similar to the idea that The Good is where the Forms are housed (more about that on a different post). The heart is one thing that the humans share with the Divine. Reason is shared too, but whether Platonist or monotheist, one believes that divine reason is superior and distinct from human reason. As Pascal beautifully puts it, “the heart has its reasons which reason does not understand.” That does not mean “listen to your heart, [when it’s calling for you]” but that sometimes thoughts come to us which are entirely unreasonable, such as to give up your own life so that someone you love may live, or to work a second job so that you can provide more for your kids. In a strictly logical sense, those actions are ridiculous. The pain you cause that loved one by making them live the rest of their lives knowing that your death was necessary for them to live (often known as survivor syndrome) and the distance from your kids in the second example should be calculated. However, no one ever sacrificed themselves for someone else in syllogism form (Everyone has the right to live proportionately to how much they do in this world. X has done more in their life than me. Therefore, I must die so X may live). In other words, thoughts that originate from the heart are wildly illogical to human logic, because they, in fact, do not appeal to human logic, but rather to Divine logic. I think I should stop there before I write another five pages about the heart.

Well, I have given it a stab, comment, show me how upset you are at my stupidity, praise me about my non-existent conciseness, I can take it all.

Hello world!

One would not be wrong to ask, “Why would a college student with five classes hanging over his head, 15 hours of work a week, three e-board positions in extracurriculars and a pile, that is to say, piles, of homework bother writing a blog?” One possible answer is that he has no friends, which I might expect would be well-though, especially in the near future, when I start posting more of my thoughts. As C. S. Lewis says, however, it is exhilarating to find out that there is some people out there that are very much like you. So, in short, that’s not why I am here, I am not interested in cyber-friends. If that’s what you were looking for, well, I have very little time to sleep, never mind make new friends across the globe.

Now, let me rephrase that. I do not mean that I have taken the time to make this blog just so I can spew out my thoughts and have only my friends see it, if I did, I would have made it private. What I mean when I say that I am not here to make friends is that I don’t want to add you on Facebook, I don’t want you to follow me on twitter (even though I don’t have an account), or anything like that. I hope that my thoughts can stimulate you, I hope that they will kick you into thinking mode, and I hope that at some point I will offend you. I have been studying philosophy under a world-famous scholar, who has published over sixty books and has been translated into several different languages. If you looked at his corrections on my papers, you’d think that I was failing his classes and that he thoroughly hated me and then you would spot the grade. If you ever think that I am being insufferable and that I need to be responded, then comment, let us talk about it, let us see if we can learn something from each other. Now, who would you rather have as a friend, the weird guy or girl who likes your posts on Facebook or the one who may help you cultivate your soul.

So, subscribe to me or don’t, like me or don’t, hopefully you will get to learn something about yourself and something about Plato by reading the upcoming posts.