30 Day Paganism Meme: Day 23 ~ Philosophy and Ethics

I admit, without pride, that I have dreaded this post simply because the way some people will cling to Socratic/Platonic or Aristotelian, usually the former, ethics as some end-all-be-all defining point of Hellenismos gives me mixed emotions: Usually a mix of annoyance and irritation.

Knowledge is virtue and virtue is happiness in Socratic ethics. This model of ethics is very compatible with modern science, and explicitly so, since the word “science” is from the Latin scientia, “knowledge”. Fair enough. This school definitely has its uses and benefits, but when you get to the heart of his philosophy (later adopted and adapted by his student, Plato), it’s very clear that personal development surpasses material wealth, and it’s easily interpreted that his own philosophies had an edge of cynicism, and it’s debatable whether or not Socrates himself believed that humans could ever become truly wise. I can definitely see why this is attractive to Græco-Buddhists, or non-syncretic Hellenes simply coming from a Buddhist background, but most of the people I see espousing “virtue” as the ONLY Hellenic ethic seem to completely miss the entire point of Socratic ethics: Either they are on a crusade of One-True-Wayism (if man cannot truly become wise, then why should one man tell another that the other’s ethics are flawed?), or for all intents and purposes, they seem only really interested in Hellenismos for their own financial and otherwise personal gain — the very antithesis of Socrato-Platonic “virtue”. And I’m not even touching the basic contradictions of logic I’ve gotten out of some people (though, to be fair, still far from all) after introducing the Socratic Paradoxes such as “No-one desires evil”, but then in the next breath, so-and-so is accusing others of doing so; when the Socratic answer is “only those who lack knowledge may desire evil things” and so on, assuming that if somebody just had enough knowledge of an evil thing, then he wouldn’t desire it — which simply invites more questions about the true nature of such things and the true nature of knowledge, which invites more questions, and more, and it’s back-and-forth like this until the sun explodes. Kudos to Socrates for finally admitting his own inherent ignorance, at least within the rules of his own logic, but shame on everybody else who has dared to assume that they know better than Socrates.

Aristotelian ethics place self-realisation and happiness above knowledge as the only true virtues, but it’s related and clearly not completely divorced from the Platonic school, meaning it will ultimately run into many of the same paradoxes. One’s civic life and material gain are simply a means to the hoped-for end of self-realisation, so I can see how this might be a hit with people who read a lot of Nietzsche in high school, but it’s not going to too well with those too-aware of humanity’s inherent faults and how this can simply offer a “get out free” card to those who simply want to take such routes to self-realisation rather than any amount of heavy introspection. And while Aristotle has been highly influential in the sciences, keep in mind, Ayn Rand was a fan of Aristotle, and that woman has written some of the most truly wicked books in human history. Is any school of ethics that open for such blatant misunderstanding truly a good one? By Socratic logic, probably not, but then it’s not really for me to say, is it? With Aristotle, I tend to put his teachings through a fine sieve, cos there’s a lot of wheat, but also a lot of chaff that needs to be expelled or refined for the greater good.

Other philosophical schools had ethical systems that placed happiness and the acquirement of human pleasures as its greatest virtue, though the route to this happiness varied by school, and one of the most basic misunderstandings of the Hedonistic schools is that they had varying degrees of expected social responsibility as they espoused the quest for happiness. Where Kyrenaics, named for Artstippus of Kyrene, advocated the philosophy of “eat, drink, and be merry — for tomorrow, we may die!”, expecting students of that school to take even the most fleeting of indulgences for the moment may become lost forever. Conversely, the Epicureans stressed that true pleasure came from acting for the greater good, and that any potential indulgence must be weighted against any potential for negative consequences, not only to oneself, but to one’s friends, family, and society.

Then there are the Cynics, named for a caustic nickname for Diogenes of Sinope, κυνικός (kynikos): “dog-like”, and born of the teachings of Antisthenes, one from the Socratic school and who had previously studied rhetoric under Gorgias; Diogenes was Antisthenes’ only real student, and was most famous for taking the teachings to their logical extremes. He made a virtue of extreme poverty, and made his “home” during his time in Athens out of a discarded washtub outside the temple of Kybele. His goal in life was to challenge established Hellenic customs and values, for if any custom and value unable to hold up to scrutiny, then is it really true? If the Internet existed at the time of Diogenes, I’ve no doubt that he’d have a free blog updated at the library and would be regarded as a troll for regularly challenging, even if not explicitly disagreeing with or insulting others’ points of view, especially when that point-of-view has gained mainstream acceptance. Interestingly, by ratio, well-known Cynic women are greater than well-known Platonic women because the logical challenge to the Hellenic norm would be to regard women as absolute equals, and this continued into early Stoicism. Clearly, the challenges to social conventions made by Classical Cynicism can be a good thing, but this simply can’t be seen by those who slavishly adhere to tradition on appeal to tradition alone.

Personally, I see the least flaws with the Hedonistic schools and with Cynicism. In Platonism and Aristotelian philosophies, I see a lot of intellectual chest-puffing and theoretical talk, virtual masturbation of the intellect, and not a lot that offers a real lifestyle. It’s a philosophy for thinking, not really for living. There are bits to pick out here and there for life, but the dominant function of Platonism is spiritual braggadocio, and the majority of people it seems to appeal to are those who desire that rather than its actual lessons and this is apparent in the fact that Platonism requires more thinking than living. Platonic and Aristotelian ethics are therefore rather shallow in the grand scheme of things, as evidenced by the rather few who align themselves with those philosophical and ethical school and actually make good of themselves as a result. I’ve so-far only met one self-described Neoplatonist who didn’t need a swift punch in the mouth, and it wouldn’t surprise me if this was actually in spite of Plato rather than because of Plato; after all, some LaVeyan Satanists are absolutely lovely people and this is clearly in spite of their philosophy and associated ethics, because they’ve rules-lawyered the book and seen the loopholes that allow for social responsibilities and empathy within the philosophy rather than slavish adherence to only the most obvious results of such a school of thought. So yes, of course there are Aristotelian Hellenes who have never touched themselves while reading Nietzsche and of course there are Platonic Hellenes who aren’t just looking for “something like Christianity, only not”. It seems the most logical conclusion is that these folks are so in spite of the real worlds of those philosophies, not because of them.

That’s not to say that Hedonism, especially Kyrenaic, and Cynicism are not without faults, but the weight of their merits tend to be greater than the weight of their faults by many times.

As a devotional polytheist, and especially one with a strong relationship to his gods, my ethics are guided first by the Theoi: Any human school of philosophy is simply another way to tie my practises to the ancient Hellenes, and a way to address and challenge my own beliefs about mortal life and the nature of the Theoi. If I were to put my ethics in bondage to a human school of philosophy, then why not just regard the Theoi as “thought-forms” or “archetypes” rather than literal entities? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking those who do, cos if they get value and good from doing so, then it is a good thing. But personally, I’d be uncomfortable with such an arrangement. I find greatest happiness and pleasure from British Dandy philosophies, related to Hedonistic schools, relaying that the greatest pleasures start with a base of a well-crafted personal appearance. True dandies don’t just make careful use of clothing to create an appearance of gentility, but will adapt their clothing, hair, etc, to situations to achieve a desired reaction from desired people. Life is altered to further establish this harmonious appearance and, if successful, happiness and pleasures will be had by all graced by a dandy’s presence. It’s a focused extension of Hedonistic schools given to the fact that our own lives are given limited control to the greater good, but maintaining the optimism that every little bit helps to bring beauty and harmony to the world, even in bleak surroundings.

I’d say I had dandy leanings prior to moving to Lansing, but what established my belief that I truly am was when my house-mate and I saw this tiny little somewhat dilapidated house, in this somewhat squallid portion of Lansing’s eastern Square One neighbourhood — a neighbourhood of poverty and many of the inner-city trappings associated, and I could see this tiny house and its yard and see the potential for a beautiful garden and decor. That’s when I knew I didn’t have mere leanings, but was truly following in the leads of some of the greats who had come before.

My most sacred ethics are happiness to all around me through art and beauty. The wisest and most beloved Theoi are those Who give to Man art and beauty and pleasure. The wisest men to this great tradition are Beau Brummel and Oscar Wilde. Our most famous contemporaries are artists McDermott & McGough and the indispensable Lord Whimsey. Our philosophies are espoused by subcultures such as the Mods and the New Romantics, though like hell will most of them get on well with each-other, and this doesn’t exactly oppose the Cynical and Stoic subcultures as punks and hippies, but the best dandies will see the beauty and harmony of those people, and adopt and adapt.

List behind cut:

0. Intro to meme
1. Beliefs – Why Hellenismos?
2. Beliefs – Cosmology
3. Beliefs – Deities
4. Beliefs – Birth, death and rebirth
5. Beliefs – Sacred sexuality
6. Beliefs – Divination, mysticism and various woo shit
7. Beliefs – The power of prayer/reciprocity
8. Beliefs – Festivals
9. Environmentalism
10. Patrons – Eros
11. Patrons – Apollon
12. Pantheon – Moisai
13. Pantheon – Adonis & the Flower Boys
14. Pantheon – Nyx & Kybele/Gaia
15. Pantheon – Every-One Else
16. NNymphai, Khthonoi, & The Dead
17. My ways of worship
18. Community
19. Hellenismos and my family/friends
20. Hellenismos and my love life
21. Other paths I’ve explored
22. Hellenismos and major life events
23. Philosophy and Ethics
24. Personal aesthetics and Hellenismos
25. Favoured ritual tools, and why
26. Any “secular” pastimes with religious significance, and why
27. How Hellenismos has helped me in difficult times
28. One misconception about Hellenismos you’d like to clear up
29. The future of Hellenismos
30. Advice for seekers


2 thoughts on “30 Day Paganism Meme: Day 23 ~ Philosophy and Ethics

  1. Pingback: Weekly roundup of interesting links « The House of Vines

  2. Pingback: New Year’s Resolutions | Of Thespiae

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