collection of hauma hamiddha's scattered posts

In a departure from the usual posts, the following is an excerpt from Evangeliou’s book “Hellenic Philosophy: Origin and Character” which seeks to understand Hellenic Philosophy from a heathen perspective:

 

Perfecting the Aristotelian Political Animal

 

The raison d’etre of the Hellenic polis, as Aristotle conceived of it, was the

securing for all of its citizens the conditions not simply of life, but of “the good

life,” according to their respective merit. In this way, the optimal actualization of

human natural and educational potential would be fully accomplished.70 The

citizens, who may entertain hopes of reaching such politically desirable peaks,

would have to have extraordinary natural endowments, as well as an excellent or

good paideia (education).71

 

An ideal citizen would have to be all of the following, in a complete course of

life from childhood to maturity and to old age. First of all, he would have to be

naturally well endowed with the necessary powers of the body, the soul and,

especially, the mind. He would have to be educationally well trained, in music and

gymnastics, acquiring a good physique, good habits, and the excellences of

character and intellect. He would have to be personally well ordered, so that the

soul would rule over the body wisely, and the rational part of the soul over the

irrational part gently. The noetic part would enlighten the rational part of the soul,

by providing the appropriate principles of thinking and acting virtuously. He would

also have to be domestically well equipped with wife, children, servants, parents,

and moderate property. Finally, he would have to be politically well organized with

other friends and well disciplined, so that he can learn how to rule and be ruled

with justice by his equals in turns.

 

At the end of his life, if all went well, he would have: (a) survived the just wars

in defense of the polis; (b) seen his sons take his place in the hoplite ranks; (c) 

freed some of his domestic servants, if they could take care of themselves;72 (d)

dedicated himself (and perhaps his graciously aging wife) to the service of the

many gods and goddesses of the city-state; and (e) occupied himself with

philosophic theoria of the Supreme Nous, the magnificent cosmos, and the divine

nous within the human soul.73

 

In this connection we may recall that, according to Aristotle, the nature of the

ideal polis in the Hellenic sense of a city, which was also the center of a measurable

state, is not artificial, conventional or simply man-made, as European political

theorists have maintained following the “social contract” theory.74 It is as natural as

the union of male and female, the growth of the family tree, and the formation of a

small village which, with the passage of time, may branch out and give birth to

other small villages. When these villages of common ancestry would unite

politically for better protection, exchange of goods, self-sufficiency, and the good

life of virtue, a Hellenic polis would come “naturally,” according to Aristotle, into

being and so political life would begin.75

 

In his view, the defense, protection, and well-being of the naturally constituted

political community necessitates the division of labor among males, in an

analogous way as the survival and preservation of the human species has naturally

necessitated the different roles of male and female, and those of father and

mother.76 Domestically, the wife was to play the role of “the queen” of the house.

The man’s main duty qua citizen was the politically assigned task of “protecting the

family” as a whole and its property by the art of war, in times of war, and by the art

of politics in times of peace.

 

These activities were to be undertaken in friendly co-operation with other

citizens of equal political status as heads of families.77 Since the art of war and the

art of politics at that time were rather demanding, in terms of physical and mental

powers, the males who could not measure up to prevailing standards were assigned

the “servile role” of assisting in domestic production.78

 

The master/servant relation (as understood by Aristotle, and strange as it may

sound to post-modern ears) was for the good of both parties involved. In this

respect, it differed from the husband/wife and parent/child relations, which served

exclusively the interests of the protected parties. Enslavement by force is to be

condemned, in Aristotle’s view, and so is “equality” among unequals. Equality

among equals, that is, the citizens of a polis, and what he considered as “natural

servitude,” was approved.79

 

But it should be obvious that such thorny issues as natural slavery and political

equality and inequality demand extensive treatment, which cannot be provided

here. I shall attempt to offer only a few additional comments on some possible and

reasonable contemporary objections regarding Aristotle’s views on these sensitive

issues.80

 

Possible Post-modern Objections to Aristotle

 

First Possible Objection. Aristotle’s views on natural servitude and “slaves by

nature” are bound to be offensive to sensitive contemporary ears as they were to

some people in his time. They had declared that by nature all men are born free and

that slavery, without exception or excuse, is by convention and against nature.

Others at that time had tried to justify slavery as an outcome of war, in which case

the vanquished lost unfortunately everything including their precious freedom.81

 

To take either side of this dichotomy and to stay with it without raising

questions or asking for qualifications would have been uncharacteristic of

Aristotle’s mind. So, by following his standard method of dialectic and by applying

it to the question of slavery, he searched for a possible “mean” between the two

stated extreme positions. Aristotle was able to reject the universal, at that time,

custom of enslavement of the prisoners of war, and the custom of hunting and

selling for profit men, who were born free and capable of taking care of

themselves.82

 

However, given the natural growth of the polis out of the villages and the

families; and the necessity of the division of labor in any community working

together towards common goals, Aristotle concluded that some defective men

would have to depend on other men for their survival. For the survival of a free

community was dependent on the ability of its citizens to defend its freedom, but

the natural endowment of some were not up to the demands of martial and political

arts. These men, then, as naturally incompetent, would be better off if they were to

serve the domestic needs of the warrior-citizens who would, thus, have more

needed leisurely time to fully dedicate themselves to the service of the common

good of the city-state as a whole.83

 

Furthermore, in a serious sense, according to the Aristotelian understanding of

human nature and political life, no man is totally free, independent and selfsufficient,

unless he turns into a god or a wild beast.84 Within the family, naturally,

children are dependent on the parents, who serve their needs with dedication. The

servants may obey the orders of their master or mistress but, in turn, they may also

control other servants for more efficient production. The citizen-warrior who, as

head of his family, may play the role of ruling over his servants despotically, over

his wife gentlemanly, and over his children royally, must learn to obey too. The

officer in the battlefield, the magistrates in the assembly of the people, and

practical reason and the laws of a polis had to be obeyed by all citizens. In this

sense, master and servant become relative terms within the political community,

whose common good was to be served well by a just organization of all of its

component parts.85

 

Second Possible Objection. Aristotle’s preference for hierarchical social/political

structures, which are apparently dominated by males in the roles of fathers,

warriors, and civil-office holders, is again bound to be objectionable today when

the women’s movement and other equal rights movements are in fashion. These

movements and their respective political claims are the inevitable outcome,

Aristotle would say, of the modern tendency to make the individual, as opposed to

the family, the fundamental unit of the state and the consequent political

organization of contemporary states.86

 

On the contrary, Aristotle’s organic conception of the polis, allowed each of its

citizen to represent not just himself and his interests as an individual citizen in the

assembly of the citizens, who were equal qua citizens in democratic states and had

equal political rights. Rather he represented the common interest of the extended

family, whose legal head he was and was recognized as such. The family unit, we

may recall, ordinarily would include wife, children, elderly parents, servants, and

other relatives, whose natural incapacity had reduced them to the status of

“servitude.”87

 

Aristotle, of course, was well aware of the ambiguities and the controversies

surrounding the demand for political equality. Now, equality among equals in

certain respects is one thing, but equality among naturally and educationally

unequal men is quite a different matter. Aristotle dialectically found fault with both

of the following claims: the Democratic claim that citizens must be equal in every

respect, since they are equal in terms of political freedom as citizens; and the

Oligarchic claim that their share in political power should be unequal because their

property holdings are not equal.88 Aristotle thought, correctly it would seem, that

neither wealth nor high birth, but Hellenic arete (that is, ethical and intellectual

excellence and capability of contributing to the common good more than the other

citizens) should be the only criterion for fair distribution of political offices and

honors to meritorious, but otherwise equal, citizens.

 

The ability to serve the commonwealth well, for Aristotle, should count more

than other considerations. For even if all citizens are born equal as human beings,

the fact remains that their capacity for virtuous activity is differentiated not only

culturally, but also naturally, as is their physical capacity to run the marathon and

their intellectual competence to solve mathematical equations. In other words,

Aristotle was in favor of the rule of the best, in terms of natural endowment, as well

as educational and cultural achievement among the politically equal citizens of a

democratic polis. This is the true etymological meaning of that meaningful and

beautiful Hellenic word aristokratia.89

 

Third Possible Objection. Aristotle’s division of men into Hellenes and

Barbarians is also bound to be objectionable these days when the “barbarians,” as

the Hellenic and philosophic poet Cavafy has said, are hard to come by, or even to

be found in the horizon, much to the despair of the “decadent” European man.90

Several things should be clarified in this connection. To begin with, every

group of men, which managed to acquire historically recorded civilized life, like

the Egyptians, the Chinese, the Hebrews, the Indians, and many other nations,

thought of themselves, and still think of themselves, as somehow superior to other

outsiders. The Ancient Hellenes were no exception to this “politically incorrect,”

but general and ancient rule.

 

According to Herodotus’ report, the Hellenes probably learned this distinction,

as so many other things, from the Egyptians.91 At any rate, in Aristotle’s time,

because of the political struggle of the Hellenes against the Persians, the latter were

invariably identified as “barbarians” in comparison with the Egyptians, whom they

had enslaved, while the Hellenes encouraged them in their resistance to the Persian

Despotism. Also, to Hellenic eyes the Persian people, which had put up with

such Despotism for so long and the Asiatic peoples who did not resist the Persian

tyranny as vigorously as the Egyptians and the Hellenes, looked like human beings,

who were born to be slaves.92

 

Consequently, Aristotle thought that these people would be better off if they

were to serve the well educated citizens of an ideally organized Hellenic city-state,

where the hope for freedom was always present to slaves, especially the domestic

servants, of any nationality who had proved that they were slaves by misfortune

rather than by nature. To Aristotle, as a philosopher, the world as a whole would

probably be a better place to live, if it were to be ruled by gentle, intelligent, and

sensitive Hellenic lovers of wisdom rather than by some boorish and wild

barbarians. By reason of possession of the above noble qualities, it seemed

reasonable to Aristotle that such civilized rulers would be guided by proper paideia

to adopt sooner or later the Hellenic ethical ideal of moderation, moving away from

the double vice of excess.93

 

Fourth Possible Objection. The fact that in Aristotle’s polis, even under ideal

conditions, few persons will be able to reach the highest point of virtuous activity

and intellectual development, will also be found objectionable these days. For

contemporary politics seems to be more attuned to the feelings and the flattery of

the masses than it was at that time, the Golden Age of Hellas. How, then, are the

many to be saved? Is there any “immortality” for them? There are no simple

answers to such difficult questions. Like the wise Platonic Socrates, in all

probability Aristotle would say that immortality in some sense is open to all human

beings, as well as other living beings, by the natural process of reproduction.

In some other loftier sense immortality is a privilege of the gods, who enjoy

eternally a pure noetic life, and of very few mortals who have succeeded in making

themselves god-like. This they may have achieved at the end of a life spent in

virtuous activity and service to their political community and in search for the

unclouded truth. Their good deeds and their honors will survive their death; and, if

the gods would welcome any mortals to their blessed company, the perfected

philosophers would have a better chance than any other mortal beings.94 This

would seem fair enough.

 

But the concern with the “after life” may be beside the point. For Aristotle was

politically interested in this life, not in the next, for the simple reason that in “the

next life,” the meaning of “life” would change radically and, among other things,

there will not be any need for politics.95 Even so, for Aristotle the life of virtue,

here and now, is worth living for the sake of that which is best in us and divine, that

is, nous. As the body is more valuable than the cloak, so is the soul more valuable 

than the body; and as the thinking and ruling part of the soul is more valuable than

the irrational and obedient part, so is the noetic and theoretic life more valuable

than the political life.96

 

Hence, as far as it is possible, as many people as possible should strive for this

kind of life because it is the best for the citizens. For Aristotle, the citizen of the

Hellenic polis is potentially a divine being. He is really the noetic mind or nous. If

anything, this is the divine presence in every human being harboring a precious

human psyche.97 I do not think that there can be many people who would honestly

object to such a humanistic and noble ideal as this one, to which Aristotle’s

dialectic method has given the clearest possible Hellenic articulation. Let this then

suffice.

 

Fifth Possible Objection. Aristotle’s identification of the human telos with the

activity of ethically and noetically perfected citizens, and his attempt to

ontologically connect the supreme good for civilized human beings with the noetic

activity of the Divine, is also bound to sound “ridiculous” to the sophisticated ears

of post-modern thinkers. It would make no difference whether these “thinkers” are

Marxist atheists, Nietzschean nihilists, desperate existentialists, neo-pragmatic

relativists, or sophistical deconstructionists. Even empathetic theists of the type

that, at our time, tends to be seriously devout and fundamentally fanatical (whether

they call themselves Christian, Jewish, or Muslim peoples of the Book) will find

Aristotle’s conception of God, and his tolerant and playful polytheism,

unprofitable. To them, his theoretic approach to ethical problems would be too

intellectual, too offensive to monotheistic sensibilities, and too insufficient in

emotional power to arouse the masses to fight fanatical holy wars and “crusades.”

What can one possibly say in defense of Aristotle’s philosophic humanism against

such powerful objections coming from these two extreme camps, the atheists and

the theocrats?

 

First of all, we should perhaps keep in mind that Aristotle was an Ancient

Hellenic Philosopher, which means that he was able to philosophize freely and to

follow, like the Platonic Socrates, only the self-limiting authority of human logos

wherever it might lead. Now, it is true that, for the representatives of the above

mentioned movements and schools of thought, the characterization “ancient

Hellenic philosopher” would be, in all probability, a liability rather than an asset, as

it is for the unbiased students of the history of Hellenic philosophy. For the above

mentioned “thinkers” tend to believe that we (post-Hellenic modernists) are better

off materially and, therefore, spiritually too, than peoples of any previous epoch,

because of our “revealed religion” or our “technological progress” or, most likely,

because of both of these great blessings.

 

To continue this litany, since Aristotle lacked the “light of revelation” and the

tools of modern technology, he could not possibly have been correct (so “the

argument” would run) in his assertions on such serious matters as the nature of

God, the nature of reality, and the nature of man. Especially he was in ignorance of

“the original sin” and the ultimate salvation “by grace.” But, on the other hand, the 

“sophisticated thinkers” of our times may suspect the bitter truth that either “God is

dead” or, if he is still alive and well somewhere, he couldn’t care less about human

beings and their destiny. Alternatively, theists may insist that God exists and is

definitely only “One God,” and as despotic and arbitrary as only a Medieval

Bishop or an Oriental Monarch could be.

 

In our sophistication we “post-modernists” have also learned that “reality” and

“truth” are really man-made; that man has no nature; and that a fortiori there cannot

be an ethical telos appropriate for human beings other than the momentary

preference for this or that variety of bodily pleasure and political expediency.

Alternatively again, for those who have no stomach for such tough to digest postmodern

“truths,” there is always available the consolation of God’s revelation. For

God in his mercy has made clear the one and only “true way” of salvation by grace

through faith in a Savior or some sort of divine testament or revelation.

Historically, there has been a trinity of such for the Europeans in the last two

millennia: the Jewish Old Testament of the Holy Scriptures was in time replaced by

the Christian New Testament of the Holy Bible, to be superseded by the Islamic

(Newer) Testament of the most Holy Koran.

 

Now, if one were to wonder whether Aristotle would have been more impressed

with the mania of atheistic nihilism of the proletarian type, or with the moria (folly)

of apocalyptic theism of the religious type, the latter would seem to have a better

chance. As an ancient Hellenic philosopher, Aristotle was aware of all the atheistic,

agnostic, relativistic, and sophistic tricks and fallacies, to the refutation of which he

had devoted the last treatise of his Organon. Since, however, Aristotle (384-322

BC) lived about four centuries before the advent of Christianity, and a whole

millennium before the Hegira (622 AD), he was completely unaware of the human

vulnerability to the peculiar monotheistic monomania.

 

In the hands of a few shrewd (semi-Hellenized) Jews of the diaspora, with help

from some decadent (semi-barbarized Hellenes) of the Graeco-Roman times, this

monomania turned the pious Jewish superstition regarding a tribal god and the

myth of his “chosen people” into a fanatical force of major proportions. In time, it

proved to be capable of controlling the hearts and the minds of millions of Muslim

and Christian women and men for thousands of years in every continent, including

Europe and even Hellas, the land of Olympian gods and Hellenic philosophers.

Hence derives the great “passion” of Hellenic philosophy in the Christianized and

de-Hellenized Europe.

 

At any rate, as Hellenic philosopher, Aristotle would be neither afraid nor

ashamed to follow logos (discursive reason) and nous (intuitive intellect) in his

dialectic search for truth about the essential beings of the cosmos, which included

human and mortal beings, as well as divine and immortal ones. Having found many

faults in the theories of his predecessors, Aristotle had learned the lesson of

humility and did not claim infallibility. His open-mindedness and acuity led him to

choose, like Platonic Socrates, what he judged to be philosophically the more

satisfying of the two basic options. At that time they were the Democritian option 

with its materialistic ontology and mechanistic etiology, and the Pythagorean or

Anaxagorean option, which provided ample room for a noetic ontology (or, rather,

the Aristotelian ousiology) and teleology.

 

Although he respected the former for its consistency, Aristotle chose the latter

as the better theory to account for all the facts of reality and for the whole spectrum

of human experience leading from aisthesis (sense-perception) to noesis (intuitive

grasp, intellection), through logos (discursive reasoning) and following the via

dialectica.

 

In so doing, Aristotle was not simply following the steps of the Platonic

Socrates and Plato, his beloved teacher of philosophy, but also his own inner

personal conviction, I would suggest. This was probably based on his experience as

a mature dialectical philosopher, a man who had realized the value of both human

logos and nous as a separate, that is, non-material and immortal entity, potentially

present in the human soul (or, rather, the Aristotelian psyche). That is the core of

my thesis.

 

Conclusion

 

In the light shed by our synoptic analysis of the Aristotelian road to enlightenment,

we may now see clearly the nobility of this Hellenic conception of the human telos

and his ability to assign to human beings a privileged place in the cosmos,

mediating between gods and beasts. Above all, his readiness to acknowledge man’s

affinity and potential friendship with the philosophically conceived God (the

Divine Intellect that erotically attracts and noetically governs the cosmos) is

apparent here. Evidently, he made a heroic philosophic effort to conceptually grasp

the entire cosmos, in all its multiplicity of accidental and substantial beings,

including the complex human being and the divine ousia. In his attempt to provide

a reasoned account of all human experiences (aesthetic, logical, noetic, ethical and

political), Aristotle succeeded in developing a comprehensive system of rational

thought. This system naturally reached beyond the Western “rationality” of

discursive reason (logos), moving towards the noetically intuitive nous, and even

towards the intelligible and divine realm of Nous.

 

Because of this solid basis, there is no doubt that Aristotle’s system is one of

the most complete and influential philosophical systems, which the Hellenic minds

produced. For our synoptic discussion has shown that the reasoned account of the

Aristotelian road to enlightenment (via dialectica) is based on sense experience

(empeiria) and discursive reasoning (logos). But it, significantly, includes the

intuitive and self-validating activity of the mind, that is, the respectively (eternally

and temporally) energized intellects of God (Nous) and of man (nous). Thus, the

conventional gap separating the human and the divine realms of intelligent activity,

as well as the gulf allegedly dividing the East and the West culturally, has been

here dialectically and satisfactorily bridged.

 

In this important sense, then, Aristotle would seem to have been something

more than a mere “rationalist,” simple, cold, and dry. If this be so, I would like to

think that I have done my “peripatetic duty” of defending Aristotle against the

unfair charges of those who like to dump on him the accumulated intellectual and

other waste of the Western world in the last two millennia. Neither Aristotle, nor

any other Platonic and genuinely Hellenic philosopher, would have approved of

what the Modern European man, in his greedy desire for profit and his demonic

will to power, has made out of Hellenic philosophia, forced to serve theocracy and

technocracy, sometimes together.

 

For, in the eyes of the Ancient Hellenes, genuine philosophers (as opposed to

Sophists) were supposed to contemplate the cosmic beauty, not to deform it by

changing it. They were supposed to comprehend the cosmic order and to live in

harmony with it, not to pollute it by exploiting it. Above all, they were expected to

provide prudent suggestions for the appropriate organization of human affairs so

that the free spirit of inquiry and the flourishing of the human life of excellence

would become possible for the human being as citizen. This being was conceived

as living, sensitive, reasonable, communal, political, noetic and, (potentially, but

essentially), a god-like being.98

 

Hence the urgent need felt by the few philosophically minded persons in Europe

and the West today to return to their primordial philosophic roots, which were pre-

Christian and pre-Islamic. The Platonic Aristotle, like the Socratic Plato, and the

Hellenic philosophy in general, perhaps can guide their steps towards this noble

goal.99

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: