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Category Archives: Philosophy

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What is Time?

by December 28, 2018

By Wu Mingren, Contributing Writer, Ancient Origins
Time is a concept that exists in most, if not all cultures, and exerts a strong influence on how a culture sees itself and the world around it. Time has been, and still is a major topic in various fields of studies, including philosophy, religion, linguistics and science. Thus, there are many aspects of time that one could consider, and, despite the millennia of investigation into this subject, many issues regarding time have yet to be resolved. One aspect of time that has been studied is the way this concept is perceived by different cultures, and how this affects them.
Linear Perception
Broadly speaking, perceptions of time may be divided between ‘linear’ and ‘cyclical’. The former is often associated with the West, whist the latter with the East. In general, the linear perception of time may be illustrated by an arrow. On one end is the past, and on the other is the future. The present lies somewhere in between. According to this view, time is a one-way street on which one can only move forward and never back. As for the cyclical perception of time, time may be said to be regarded as a repetition of events. Examples to illustrate this concept include the rising and setting of the sun each day and the changing of the seasons.
Stonehenge and time

The sun rising over Stonehenge on the June solstice.

Whilst the conception of time may be divided into these two main groups, further differences within each group may be observed. For example, one type of linear perception of time is called ‘linear-active’. According to this view, time is precious, and once it is lost, it can never be regained. One feature that is born out of this perception of time is punctuality. As time is of the essence, schedules have to be kept, and everything ought to be done within a given time. This perception of time is said to be subscribed by, amongst others, the Germans, Swiss, British and Americans.
Multi-active Time
The opposite of ‘linear-active’ is a view dubbed as ‘multi-active’. Unlike cultures that follow the ‘linear-active’ perception of time, this group places less value on time itself. Instead, what is done in that period of time, and the relationship between people is considered as more significant. Additionally, schedules and punctuality are not viewed as particularly important, and hence not always observed. Thus, the time of a meeting becomes irrelevant when one takes into consideration the importance of the business that is to be done, and the relationship between the two parties. Amongst others, this perception of time is adhered to by the Spanish, Italians and Arabs.
Sundial in Spain

A 20th-century sundial in Seville, Andalusia, Spain.

Cyclical Perception
The cyclical perception of time in the East is much different from the Western linear perception of time. As an example, whilst the latter places an emphasis on action, the former values reflection, especially of things that have happened in the past. This is due to the belief that since time repeats itself, it is imperative that lessons of the past be taken into consideration when one makes decisions in the present. Whilst this is generally applies to all Asian cultures, it may be said that variations of this perception of time also exist amongst them.
Clocks in Asia

Candle clocks were used in ancient Chinese and Japanese cultures, Kerzenuhr.

In Japanese culture, for instance, it has been observed that everything has its right place and time. Thus, time is segmented, carefully regulated, and beginnings and endings are marked with certain gestures. This way of organizing of time can be seen, for example, in Japanese social functions, such as company picnics, retirement parties and weddings. In Chinese culture, as another example, time may be seen as precious, though their approach towards it is different from those ‘linear-active’ cultures. As the Chinese have a cyclical view of time, more time has to be spent on deliberation and the nurturing of relationships before a deal can be made.
The different ways in which each culture perceives time has an effect on their view of the world, and their interactions with others. Aspects that are influenced by a culture’s perception of time include the pace of life, the way business is done, and the most effective way when it comes to using one’s allotted time.

The Spirituality Of Seneca

by December 22, 2018

Seneca Before we go any further, you really ought to click here and read the thing so you have a grasp on what we are talking about.
Go ahead, I’ll wait.

You back? Good! That wasn’t so bad. So, where to start?
Perhaps it is important to note that Stoicism as a philosophy taught, above all else, that we ought to live according to nature. It is this sentiment more than anything else that is the goal of any Stoic follower. And it is this notion that has been repeated again and again, from Zeno to Seneca to Marcus Aurelius. 
But what do we mean by “nature?” We see that Seneca makes reference to altars built upon the sources of great rivers. He recounts how men have worshipped hot geysers and describes with great admiration the power of nature in creating mountain caverns. Seneca tells us that if we were to truly examine nature in all its glory, we would be stirred by religious awe.

And so we see that Seneca is likening the idea of nature to an imposing sort of spirituality. This is perhaps unsurprising because as far as the Stoics were concerned, nature was not only related to God, it was synonymous. 

Seneca the younger
We also must understand that the Stoic tenant “live according to nature” not only refers to the divine nature within the universe, but it suggests that we ought to live according to our true human nature, which Seneca believed to be a potentiality for absolute reason.

A Stoic soul would be one that views the hardships and superficial trivialities of modern society with an aloof detachment. Gazing upon the world and all its desires and fear with absolute indifference. And in this way we see that the Stoic’s soul can be elevated above those who would reject wisdom.
“If you see a man undaunted in danger, untouched by passion, happy in adversity, calm in the raging storm, viewing mankind from a higher level and the gods from their own, will you not be moved by veneration?” -Seneca (God Within Man)
Additionally, Seneca tells us that too often we concern ourselves with what we own rather than what we are. It is foolish, stupid even, to praise a man for what he owns. His house, his money, his possessions are merely things around him. They are not within him, they are around him. And so they are not him in any meaningful way. It matters not whether you are a king or a peasant, for it is your inner self, not your possessions, that represents who you really are.
And so, this radiantly perfect being would remain unfettered by danger, unconcerned with passion, and supremely content when faced with adversity. It is from this idea of resigned detachment that we get our modern understanding of the word “stoic.”
Seneca tells us that if we were ever to encounter such an imposing soul, we would be moved to awe and wonder just as we are when we gaze upon a vast ocean or pristine forrest. How can it be that such a grand and lofty spirt be contained within something as fragile as a human body?
Just as the radiance of the sun warms the earth, but originates from a heavenly source, so to does a Stoic soul exist among us, but is prompted by a divine force.
“A soul which is of superior stature and well governed, which deflates the imposing by passing it by and laughs at all our fears and prayers, is impelled by a celestial force. So great a thing cannot stand without a buttress of divinity.” -Seneca (God Within Man)

To further his case, Seneca compares lions submitted to lionthe arena. The first lion is one that has been trained and worn down so as to submit to grooming and pampering.
It enters the arena tame and unimpressive. Then there is another lion who enters the arena whose spirit is unbroken, his mane untrimmed, and his ferocity unfettered.

How very impressive would the second lion be when compared to the quiet and worn down animal? His ferocity would be both terrifying and awe inspiring. As Seneca puts it, “The terror he inspires is the essence of his attraction.”
Seneca means to tell us that it is a far more impressive thing to remain true to your nature, rather than to be beaten down and made tame by superficial desires or trivial fears.
However, it is important that we remember that the nature of a lion and the nature of a human being are very different. A lion is no more a lion than when he is wild and fierce, but a man must remain true to his nature, which is a potentiality for reason.
And so to conclude Seneca’s argument, the perfection of nature is synonymous with God. The potentiality for reason within mankind is also a part of nature and therefore is, at least partially, a part of God. And so we see that God exists within all of mankind.
Seneca concludes his letter by noting that while it would seem obvious that we ought to attain wisdom for the sake of self-betterment, the realities of society often make it difficult.
“General derangement makes this difficult; we shove one another into vice. and how can people be recalled to safety when there is a crowd pushing them and nobody to hold them back?” -Seneca (God Within Man)

Marcus Aurelius
This final sentiment was most likely mentioned as a way of reflecting on the difficulties that the Stoics encountered when attempting to implement their philosophy within society.

Unlike other, earlier philosophies like Cyrenaic Hedonisor Epicureanism  that focused on ethical fulfillment for the individual, Stoicism endeavored to achieve nothing short of a societal revolution.
It would become quite clear, starting within the age of Hellenistic Greece and into the early days of the Roman Empire, that such a revolution would never occur. The Stoics would settle for attempting to teach influential figures their philosophy in hopes that philosophical perfection within an emperor would permeate, even slightly, to the citizens of a society.
Such an endeavor was undertaken with varying success. Marcus Aurelius being the obvious example of a truly Stoic leader while Nero, who was educated by Seneca himself, is often pointed to as a man with whom Stoicism simply didn’t take. 
All this aside, Seneca’s God Within Man remains one of the best illustrations of the cosmology and ethics that was so dearly cherished by the Stoic philosophers. Concise and unambiguous, God Within Man is Seneca at his philosophical best. And it would be in your best interest to really consider what is said.

Aristotle’s Virtue For Some

by December 1, 2018

We learn equally from those who were right as from those who were wrong. We cherry pick ancient ideas, forcing us to choose what we believe is morally and ethically correct. Other concepts, however, are cast aside with appropriate disgust.
Aristotle's virtueThis is true for Aristotle, who enormously contributed to human knowledge and western thought, and more importantly laid the foundations for a way of thinking and approaching a problem. However our current society, it might be argued, only truly advanced once we started to question the man Dante called “the master of those who know.”
This is particularly evident when the modern reader picks up Politics- Book I and bitterly digests it, spoiled by the centuries of personal liberation and autonomy. It is a treatise which states who should naturally rule and who with unfortunate circumstance is doomed to be ruled. It goes further to say this subjugation is both just and beneficial.
But we can forgive a man who postulated such beliefs over 2000 years ago, in arguably less enlightened times. We pardon Aristotle for viewing himself as sufficiently more knowledgeable than others and therefore just in reigning over them.
We can not condone, however, today’s rulers who continue such abhorrent beliefs.
His political posits start innocently enough. Man, Aristotle argues, is a political animal, as are the social swarms of bees and ants. It is only the human, however, who has the capacity of rational speech. Nature makes nothing pointlessly, so this unique attribute is for the political ends of man.
Aristotle continues that the city-state is the highest goal of community, because it has reached its perfected end and that it is a natural, though crafted, occurrence.
We start out as couples with the need to procreate. This in turn becomes a household, ruled by the eldest as king. Eventually, individual houses collect, choosing to co-exist for the benefits of trade. The village becomes a city-state, but only once it has achieved total self-sufficiency. This all proceeds naturally, and those who can survive beyond the town’s limits without anyone else is either “a beast or a god”. (1253b 30)
Within the society, says our late philosopher, you have the rulers and the ruled. Just as the soul and reason control the body, so too do those in charge of the community have the right to domineer over the rest. Only those with practical wisdom and virtue have the necessary characteristics to exercise control. This, according to Aristotle, is true at every level of human interaction, both intimate and national.
In begins in the household. Within this ‘whole’ micro-kingdom reside the following ‘parts’: the husband and the wife, the father and the child, and the master and the slave. In each situation there is, naturally, according to Aristotle, the one with control and the other who must obey.
Aristotle submits, “For ruling and being ruled are not only necessary, they are also beneficial, and some things are distinguished right from birth, some suited to rule and others to being ruled”. 1254a 21-22.
slavery in Ancient Greece

slavery in Ancient Greece

The reason why slaves are naturally meant to be ruled is because they are missing the deliberative part of the soul. This is evidenced, says Aristotle, by the fact that they are ruled. Women are fortunate enough to possess this crucial virtue, but lack the authority to use it. Children also have it, but it is not completely developed. Non-Greeks essentially fall into the ‘slave’ category. Consequently, everyone must be ruled by Free, Greek Citizen Men.
This domination, according to the philosopher who knows it all, is good for the slaves, women and children because it keeps them safe, just as a domesticated animal is more secure than its wild counterpart.
Many modern readers will balk at Aristotle’s claim of the right of men to rule over their wives and slaves. What then are we to make of the exponentially scaled up version of this idea? Aristotle provides an example here of how a slight mismeasurement of first principles can lead to dramatic, reductio ad absurdum consequences.
These guidelines as argued by Aristotle, also hold true at the level of city-state. In this larger arena, the rule is administered by Free men over other citizens. The most intelligent and capable reserve the honor of telling the others what to do. In cases where they are equal, they take turns.
The premise then is that some men have the inherent right to rule over others because they know what is “best for them”. It separates those who know what is good and bad from others who are supposedly deficient in this knowledge. Rather than allowing each individual the right to choose for themselves what course of action they will take, other – according to Aristotle – better people will tell them what they should do.
Something, unfortunately, we still hear politicians say today.
In every major social debate, there are some who believe that they know best and therefore have the right to tell others what to do. This presupposes that the rest are deficient in virtue, just as slaves, women and children were in Aristotle’s day. Maybe, in the end, the autonomy and liberation Aristotle claimed for some should be extended to all.
 
—-
 
Aristotle’s Virtue For Some” was written by Anya Leonard

Happiness Is…

by November 22, 2018

By Van Bryan, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
While the works of Aristotle are numerous, detailed, and profound in their own ways, it is arguable that the philosopher’s most notable contributions are in the realm of Ethics. It was once believed that all you really needed to know about Western philosophy could be found within the pages of Plato’s The Republic and Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.
While we may be hesitant to dismiss the numerous other philosophical contributions so quickly, this notion does accurately display the profound influence Aristotelian ethics has had on the world of philosophy and beyond. More of a guide to self improvement rather than a series of abstract musings, Nicomachean Ethics aims at making us better people, or as Aristotle puts it, “excellent people.” It is for this reason that these ideas are of such importance. No longer are we trapped in the realm of theoretical consideration. We are on a mission to find “The Good” and shape ourselves accordingly.
Bust of Aristotle

Bust of Aristotle

Aristotle makes the claim that all things have a final end or purpose for which they aim. This is known as “the final cause” and it is the culmination of a things potential. For a seed, the final cause would be an adult tree. For a sailboat, the final cause would be the act of sailing. However, for a human being, the final cause is… what exactly?
You may be tempted to say that there is not final cause, no ultimate end at which we aim. That would beg the question, ‘why do anything at all?’ Aristotle argues that there must be a final end to our actions. All of our suffering and our struggles must be an attempt to arrive at some final good that is intrinsically desirable. Otherwise, we would find ourselves stuck in an infinite regression where we continuously seek out extrinsic goods but never arrive at some final destination.
An illustration of this is quite simple. If you were to ask me why I write philosophy newsletters, I would undoubtedly give you an answer. I might tell you that I get paid to do this, or that I have an obligation that I wish to fulfill. Receiving money or living up to obligations is good, but they are only good insofar as they can get you other things such as a cozy apartment or the respect of your employers. Therefore, these things are not good in themselves, but only good in that they allow us to receive other things.
Money in the sand

Money brings happiness?

If I were to find myself lost in the desert, with millions of dollars in my briefcase, I would sooner burn the money to attract the attention of a passing jet liner rather than carry around so much worthless paper. With nothing to spend it on, money is of no use. It’s value only extends as far as it’s ability to obtain other things. In this way, money and material wealth are extrinsic goods. From this we understand that wealth can not be our final cause, for it is not intrinsically desirable.
If we were to continue on this line of questioning about why I write, you could ask why I want a cozy apartment or the respect of my employers. With every answer I give, you could then ask me once more, ‘why?’ After some time of this, I guarantee that eventually I will tell you “… because I want to be happy.” If you were to ask me again why I want to be happy, I would immediately stop talking to you and walk away.
Why do you want to be happy? The answer, it would seem, is that we just do. Unlike money, happiness needs no alternate goods to be of use. Happiness is of value; it is perhaps the most valuable asset we can ever achieve. You cannot store it in a bank or invest it in emerging markets. It cannot gain compounding interest, nor can it be converted to gold. Yet there it is, happiness: it is desirable in itself. Happiness is complete, fulfilling, and intrinsically desirable and it can be argued that once you have happiness, you need nothing else.
Painting of Aristotle

Aristotle and the bust of Homer by Rembrant

Before we go on (and we undoubtedly will), we must address some common misunderstandings. While it is often said that money cannot buy happiness, we can certainly agree that a deficiency of money can certainly bring miseries. Aristotle is something of a pragmatic thinker and so he admits that while wealth will never bring you true happiness, one still has to eat. Therefore, it might not be a bad idea to acquire some wealth so that you can afford things like groceries or a studio apartment. An old professor of mine once described this notion in the following way:
“Being rich won’t make you happy. Still, if you are going to sob, it will be much more comfortable while sitting in a Mercedes Benz rather than on a public bus.”
Money will not bring you happiness. That still leaves the rather obvious question, “what is happiness?” Modern readers often get bogged down when considering this idea. For Aristotle, acquiring happiness is the same thing as “living the good life.” Okay then, fine, whatever…Now you may be asking yourself, “what is the good life,” wringing your hands in unbridled anticipation.
Aristotle statue

Statue of Aristotle

Surprisingly, Aristotle takes a page from Protagoras of all people. Protagoras, a sophist of ancient Greece, is best known for his assertion that all virtues are determined by the opinions of man which is explained by the quote, “Man is the measure of all things.” Aristotle changes this just enough so that it serves our purposes. Rather than judging a good life by the opinions of any man, Aristotle examines the beliefs of “the excellent man.”
“If this is correct, as it seems to be, and virtue, i.e., the good person insofar as he is good, is the measure of each thing, then what appears as pleasures to him will also BE pleasures. Whatever things are truly pleasant, they will be enjoyed by him.” -Aristotle (Nicomachean Ethics)
The excellent person is something of a hypothetical, for it is very unlikely we could ever find one single, perfect, person. Whatever pleasures are enjoyed by this most excellent person will be the truest and most excellent of all pleasures. There may certainly be others who would disagree with the excellent person. Aristotle dismisses this rather easily.
If you are to disagree with the excellent person, then you are just wrong. This is unsurprising since many are corrupted by evils and selfish desires. They make take pleasure in harming others, for instance. We need not consider these people, for they misunderstand true happiness and are flawed for this reason.
Finally Aristotle tells us that the pleasures enjoyed by the excellent person are expressions of virtue. Expressing virtue is the most excellent of activities and so it would be loved most of all by this excellent person. Of all virtues that we could possibly choose to constitute our happy lives, Aristotle tells us there is one above all others that prevails.
Aristotle Fresco

Painting of Aristotle

Remember that happiness is intrinsically good. Happiness is desirable in itself and requires no external goods in order to be appreciated. Certain virtues, however, do require these external objects. A just person, although very admirable, still needs other people to receive his just actions. A generous person, similarly, needs an abundance or resources so that he might give them to others in need. So there remains only one virtue that is desirable in itself, complete and eternally fulfilling.
Happiness is a life in pursuit of wisdom. Finally, after so much consideration, we receive our answer, friends. This idea corresponds very well to earlier Aristotelian essays where the philosopher describes a human being as being a rational animal. While other virtues require others to receive the bounty, wisdom is desirable in itself. The activity of study aims at no thing beyond itself and is pleasurable by its very nature.
Aristotle considers wisdom to be, in some ways, divine, for it is believed that the gods are happiest of all. Of all the virtues the gods may possess, eternal and complete wisdom is the most fundamental and powerful. By pursuing wisdom and a life of study, we become closer to the gods, divine in our own small way.
“…what is proper to each things nature is supremely best and pleasantest for it; and hence for a human being the life expressing understanding will be supremely best and pleasantest, if understanding above all is the human being. This life, then, will also be happiest.” -Aristotle (Nicomachean Ethics)
This idea that a life of study will bring us happiness falls very closely to the ideas of Socrates. The father of Western philosophy once prompted us to live an examined life; to explore and endeavor to discover the true depths of our wisdom and to never falter in our pursuit of understanding and truth.
If a pursuit of wisdom is truly the happiest of lives, then it is perhaps unsurprising that after accumulating great wealth, and raising a beautiful family, so many people find themselves returning to study, the activity that is supremely pleasant. Our ability to learn and our penchant for wisdom make us divine in our own rights; and it is only though the expression of our supreme element that we may truly be happy.

Socrates and Euthyphro: The Nature Of Piety

by October 24, 2018

By Van Bryan, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
As a general disclaimer, it is important to remember that “Euthyphro” was written by the philosopher Plato. While Socrates is used as a character in this dialogue, it is unknown if Socrates himself would have held such ideas. Although it is very possible that many of these thoughts were Socrates’ it is also possible that the philosophy originated from Plato. However, because this is an early Platonic dialogue, it is largely considered to be an accurate reflection of the philosophy of Socrates.
Statue of Socrates

Statue of Socrates

At the opening of “Euthyphro” we find Socrates meeting with the young Euthyphro on the porch of the King Archon in Athens, several weeks before the events of “Apology“. Socrates has been required to visit with the King Archon before he is put on trial for impiety. Euthyphro appears to hold much respect for the elderly philosopher, and is shocked that any man would find reason to prosecute him. Socrates explains that he is being hounded by Meletus, a man “…with a beak, and long straight hair, and a beard that is ill grown”.
Not being one to enjoy talking about himself, Socrates asks what has brought Euthyphro to the court of Athens. Euthyphro explains that he is there to put his own father on trial for murder. Socrates is shocked to hear this news and inquires about the nature of the man’s crime. Euthyphro explains that his father held a farm laborer in chains after the worker killed a slave in a drunken fight. Euthyphro’s father, unsure about what to do with the man in chains, had sent a messenger to Athens to consult with the various religious officials.
However before the messenger could return, the shackled man dies from exposure and dehydration. Euthyphro now views his father as a murderer, albeit an accidental one, and will pursue punishment for his father’s crimes.
Rather than believing that his actions are a betrayal, Euthyphro claims he is perfectly justified. The boy seems to believe that he has uncovered the true nature of piety, and that by prosecuting his father he is honoring the will of the gods. It is at this point that Socrates begins his philosophical inquest and slowly begins to explain why Euthyphro is actually a bumbling idiot.
Vase of Zeus

Zeus depicted on a Vase

Socrates, in a manner which I can’t help but think is sarcastic, congratulates Euthypro on his wisdom and intellect. For if he truly understands piety and can interpret the will of the gods so easily, then he must be among the wisest of men in all of Greece. Socrates then asks Euthyphro, very plainly, “what is piety, and what is impiety?” Euthyphro welcomes these questions and explains that piety is doing as he is doing, prosecuting murderers regardless of their relations.
Socrates points out that while that action might be considered pious, it is merely an example of piety not a general definition of piety itself. Socrates again asks: “What is piety?” Euthyphro then gives the definition that that which is dear to the gods is pious, and that which the gods despise is impious.
Again, Socrates has a relevant counter argument. The gods of ancient Greece would often disagree. They regularly fought amongst each other and would engage in bickering and senseless quarrels. This is all to point out, obviously, that the gods do not always love the same things. Which would lead us to several conflicting definitions of piety.
Euthyphro concedes this point, although it is now clear he is beginning to be annoyed with Socrates. The two men continue their discussion, and after some twists and turns, they conclude that that which is pious is loved by all the gods and that which is impious is hated by all the gods. This seems like it would be a worthy definition, however Socrates has a nasty habit of systematically destroying every knowledge claim he comes in contact with. And so he proposes this fundamental question, that has been repeated for centuries to come.
“The point that I should first wish to understand is whether the pious or holy is beloved by the gods because it is holy, or holy because it is beloved by the gods.” – Plato, from “Euthyphro”
And it is this question that philosophers ever since have been wrestling with. It is perhaps one of the first profound examples of western theological philosophy. In the context of the dialogue, Euthyphro seems rather taken aback by the question.
After some gentle prodding, the young man seems to conclude that that which is pious is loved by the gods because it is pious. And while this seems like a good answer, Socrates of course disagrees. Socrates points out a rather fatal contradiction in this line of thinking. It goes something like this…
Socrates Illustration

Drawing of Socrates

“But, friend Euthyphro, if that which is holy is the same with that which is dear to God, and is loved because it is holy, then that which is dear to God would have been loved as being dear to God; but if that which dear to God is dear to him because loved by him, then that which is holy would have been holy because loved by him. But now you see that the reverse is the case, and that they are quite different from one another.” -Plato, from “Euthyphro”
This can be a rather perilous examination, so let’s take baby steps. Something would be dear to the gods because it is pious in nature, rather than being pious in nature because it is loved by the gods. Euthyphro concedes this point. However, Socrates points out that that which is pious is dear to the gods because it is loved by the gods.
This is similar to the example that something is being carried because somebody carries it, and we would NOT say that somebody carries something because it is being carried. The state of being carried (being dear to the gods) is a direct result of somebody carrying it (the god’s action of loving something).
This would suggest that the adjective (god loved) is contingent upon the gods loving whatever it is. And we would not say that the thing is loved by the gods because it is god loved. We would say that that which is god loved (pious action) is only so because the gods love it. So, in essence, Euthyphro has conceded that that which is pious is pious because the gods love it AND that the gods love that which is pious because it is pious… Did any of that make sense?
To be fair, it is a remarkable feat of intellectual acrobatics. And if it is all just too confusing, then I would again suggest you allow the funny robots to elucidate you.
Painting of Socrates

Aspasia and Socrates

And if that does not help, and you feel so compelled to throw up your hands and storm out of the room, then rest assured you are not the only one. Not long after Socrates makes this baffling claim, he offhandedly insults Euthyphro and essentially informs him that his argument is entirely useless.
Socrates then circles back and asks again (because apparently he won’t be satisfied until the young man is driven completely mad) ‘what is piety?’ It is at this time that Euthyphro tells Socrates he really must go and makes a hasty retreat, presumably while scratching his head and thinking to himself ‘jeez, no wonder they want to kill that guy’.
As you may or may not have realized, there are some very serious implications to these questions proposed over two thousand years ago, questions that might reduce even the most dedicated theologian to a whimpering, cowering wreck. For instance, if morality and goodness is only so because God commands it to be then we are faced with a potential problem. What if God were to, hypothetically, command us to torture and kill each other. It would then stand to reason that those actions would be pious or moral.
If we examine the other side of that coin, we become equally confounded. If God commands us to do that which is moral because it is moral or pious in the first place, then God is no more than a messenger boy. His role as divine creator has been dramatically undercut. If morality exists out there in the universe, independent of God, then we no longer need divine inspiration to seek a moral, virtuous life. We can cut out the middle man, so to speak.

How should you lead your life? A look at ethical Philosophy that you can ACTUALLY Use…

by July 19, 2018

It is human nature to wonder how best to live our lives. No doubt you have lost sleep over this notion, perhaps staring at the ceiling contemplating the very nature of your existence and what is the proper way to live. How do we know what constitutes a good or bad life? Most people would assume that they have a pretty good handle on what is good and bad, they learned it in preschool or it was told to them by their mother as children.
And that might be good enough to live by. However philosophers have a nasty habit of complicating things, kicking up dust and then complaining they can’t see. And if that isn’t your cup of tea then I would encourage you to disregard this letter and perhaps go read a book about literature or history, or any other subject that doesn’t require you to ask the fundamental question: what is the essence of “good”.
Still here?
Wonderful, then let us begin by keeping in mind this very fundamental question: How should we be living? Keep your chin up and your mind open to new possibilities. We are going to explore two philosophers who posed two very different answers to that very quandary. And when it is all said and done, it will be up to you to make up your mind.
Epicurus: enjoying the little things
Epicurus was a philosopher that began flexing his intellectual muscles only a few decades after the death of Aristotle. Born on the island of Samos, Epicurus would spend his life traveling across much of Greece before winding up in the philosophy headquarters of the world, Athens.
Epicurus Bust
Epicurus is often wrongly accused of being a hedonist. Hedonism, as you may know, is a type of ethical philosophy that tells us that any action that is pleasurable is good. A strict hedonist would live his or her life in search of the next pleasurable thing with no regard for attaining any higher purpose for his or her life. This may seem well and good, perhaps lounging on a couch eating grapes from a silver bowl would be a fun way to spend your weekend. However strict hedonists often find that their way of life is unattainable and unrealistic. And you always run the risk of running out of grapes.
Epicureanism, the philosophy developed by Epicurus, is actually quite the opposite. It tells us that we should not continuously look for sensual pleasures, but that we should look for ways to avoid unpleasurable things such as pain and fear. Epicurus believed that by limiting anguish in our lives we could better appreciate the smaller pleasures like friendship and family. By avoiding pain and striving for tranquility, we can be fulfilled in our lives.
Epicurus believed that the main obstacle standing in our way of enjoying life, was the fear of death. The people of ancient Greece lived in constant fear of death. After all, they believed if they lived without honoring the gods, they would be cast down into the pits of Hades and tortured for all eternity. Sounds pretty bad, right?
Epicurus took the view that the entire universe is composed only of atoms and empty space, similar to the scientific thinking of today. He concluded that the human soul must therefore be made of atoms, and would logically disintegrate at the time of death along with the rest of your body.
Epicurus quote death
Remember, Epicurus believed that something was bad if it brought pain or anguish. He concluded that at the time of our death we are incapable of feeling any form of pain, physically or mentally. Death is not a painful, frightening thing, it simply is the end of our mortal sensations. Therefore we should not fear death. Most importantly we should not let it distract us from finding happiness in this life.
This is a nice way of looking at things. Don’t worry about death, because it won’t cause pain or fear. Just find your happiness and enjoy your life with friends and family.
Despite this nice sentiment, Epicurus was rather unpopular during his time. His teachings made most believe that he was an atheist. He was more or less disregarded by much of Athens for his non traditional beliefs. However he did retain a close group of devout followers who practiced this philosophy and did the honor of preserving his work for future generations.
Zeno of Citium: virtue of Stoicism
Zeno of Citium, like Epicurus, was also an ethical philosopher. Like Epicurus, he would eventually find himself in Athens, studying alongside cynics like Diogenes of Sinope. Zeno would become known as the father of Stoicism, a philosophy that would find great favor in late Hellenistic Greece as well as the Roman Empire.
Epicurus believed that happiness, through subtle pleasures, was the point of life. Zeno came to a different conclusion. Zeno and the other stoics believed that the universe was crafted by a supreme lawgiver, rationally and with balance. Therefore the universe around us was beyond our control. The only thing we were capable of controlling was our own thoughts and desires.
That is where Stoicism really kicks in. It is not in our power to control the universe or even control what happens to us. Instead we should focus on how we react to the universe. Our sadness and anguish is our own design. And it is usually brought about by possessing unrealistic desires and inevitably being disappointed.
Stoics would teach you not to pursue your every desire, but rather to eliminate those desires in the first place. This they considered was the highest form of logic. Stoics believed that it was most rational to deny ourselves unrealistic desires and pleasures in exchange for a more tranquil existence that flows in tune with nature.
You could go drinking tonight, it would be fun for a brief period. However in the long run you would be unhealthier, poorer, and undoubtedly hungover. The stoics believed this to be the highest form of wisdom. Denying ourselves these superficial pleasures was a form of virtue. And pursuing virtue was the best way to live our lives.
Marcus Aurelius

Bust of Marcus Aurelius

One very notable follower of stoicism is the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, who would write extensively about the philosophy in his essay The Meditations. It is rather remarkable that Marcus Aurelius would find contentment by following the modest lessons of stoicism. After all, he was a man who could have had any of his earthly desires fulfilled, and yet he resigned himself to a life of virtue and ethical stability.
Stoicism is often compared to Buddhism, perhaps rightfully so. Both philosophies tell us to become one with nature, accepting the universe and living peacefully within it. The similarities give currency to the belief that ethics is a universal concept. Everybody is looking for a way to live contently.