The Dangers of Anarchy and Loving Humanity

Pythagoras, fr. b (58D.4) 4.1.49 (Frag. 35 Wehrli)

“Generally, they believed that it was necessary to posit that there is no greater evil than anarchy, since a human being cannot naturally save themselves when no one is watching over them. This is what they used to say then about those who rule and those who are ruled.

They used to claim that those who rule must not only have knowledge but also a love of humanity and that those who are ruled must not only obey but they should love their rulers. And they also believed that people at every age should practice: children practice reading and writing and other kinds of knowledge; adolescents learn the customs and laws of the state; adults focus on the actions and politics of their communities.

They believed that the aged should spend their time exhorting people, framing rules and giving advice with all of the knowledge they have gained, not to act foolishly like babies, nor adolescents like children, nor adults like adolescents, nor should the elderly act like crazy people.”

καθόλου δὲ ᾤοντο δεῖν ὑπολαμβάνειν μηδὲν εἶναι μεῖζον κακὸν ἀναρχίας· οὐ γὰρ πεφυκέναι τὸν ἄνθρωπον διασῴζεσθαι μηδενὸς ἐπιστατοῦντος. περὶ δὲ ἀρχόντων καὶ ἀρχομένων οὕτως ἐφρόνουν, τοὺς μὲν γὰρ ἄρχοντας ἔφασκον οὐ μόνον ἐπιστήμονας ἀλλὰ καὶ φιλανθρώπους δεῖν εἶναι, καὶ τοὺς ἀρχομένους οὐ μόνον πειθηνίους ἀλλὰ καὶ φιλάρχοντας. ἐπιμελητέον δὲ πάσης ἡλικίας ἡγοῦντο, καὶ τοὺς μὲν παῖδας ἐν γράμμασι καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοις μαθήμασιν ἀσκεῖσθαι, τοὺς δὲ νεανίσκους τοῖς τῆς πόλεως ἔθεσί τε καὶ νόμοις γυμνάζεσθαι, τοὺς δὲ ἄνδρας ταῖς πράξεσί τε καὶ δημοσίαις λειτουργίαις προσέχειν. τοὺς δὲ πρεσβύτας ἐνθυμήσεσι καὶ κριτηρίοις καὶ συμβουλίαις δεῖν ἐναναστρέφεσθαι μετὰ πάσης ἐπιστήμης ὑπελάμβανον, ὅπως μήτε οἱ παῖδες νηπιάζοιεν, μήτε οἱ νεανίσκοι παιδαριεύοιντο, μήτε οἱ ἅνδρες νεανιεύοιντο, μήτε οἱ γέροντες παραφρονοῖεν.

Ashlar of Pythagoras in Ulm Minster by Jörg Syrlin the Elder

The Soul and the Light Upon Its Face

Epictetus, Discourses according to Arrian 3.18-22

“These are the cruel beliefs that need to be excised, what we need to focus on completely. What is weeping and groaning? A kind of judgment. What is bad luck? A belief? What is conflict, nitpicking, accusation, sacrilege, nonsense? These are all just beliefs and they are also beliefs that sit outside the selection of what is actually good and evil. Have someone change their focus to these real things and I promise they will stand fast no matter what things change around them.

The soul is a bit like a bowl of water and its experiences are like the ray of light that dances on the water’s face. When the water is rough, it seems like the light is disturbed too, even though it isn’t touched. Just so, whenever someone suffers a moment of darkness, their skills and virtues aren’t all mixed up, just the breath in which they subsist. When it finds peace again, so do they.”

ταῦτ᾿ οὖν ἐκκόπτειν δεῖ τὰ πονηρὰ δόγματα, περὶ τοῦτο συντετάσθαι. τί γάρ ἐστι τὸ κλαίειν καὶ οἰμώζειν; δόγμα. τί δυστυχία; δόγμα. τί στάσις, τί διχόνοια, τί μέμψις, τί κατηγορία, τί ἀσέβεια, τί φλυαρία; ταῦτα πάντα δόγματά ἐστι καὶ ἄλλο οὐδὲν καὶ δόγματα περὶ τῶν ἀπροαιρέτων ὡς ὄντων ἀγαθῶν καὶ κακῶν. ταῦτά τις ἐπὶ τὰ προαιρετικὰ μεταθέτω, κἀγὼ αὐτὸν ἐγγυῶμαι ὅτι εὐσταθήσει, ὡς ἂν ἔχῃ τὰ περὶ αὐτόν.

Οἷόν ἐστιν ἡ λεκάνη τοῦ ὕδατος, τοιοῦτον ἧ ψυχή, οἷον ἡ αὐγὴ ἡ προσπίπτουσα τῷ ὕδατι, τοιοῦτον αἱ φαντασίαι. ὅταν οὖν τὸ ὕδωρ κινηθῇ, δοκεῖ μὲν καὶ ἡ αὐγὴ κινεῖσθαι, οὐ μέντοι κινεῖται. καὶ ὅταν τοίνυν σκοτωθῇ τις, οὐχ αἱ τέχναι καὶ αἱ ἀρεταὶ συγχέονται, ἀλλὰ τὸ πνεῦμα, ἐφ᾿ οὗ εἰσίν· καταστάντος δὲ καθίσταται κἀκεῖνα.

Becoming Good By Doing Good. Or, Not.

Today has made me turn to Aristotle for comfort. 

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1103b

“We develop virtues after we have practiced them beforehand, the same way it works with the other arts. For, we learn as we do those very things we need to do once we have learned the art completely. So, for example, men become carpenters by building homes and lyre-players by practicing the lyre. In the same way, we become just by doing just things, prudent by practicing wisdom, and brave by committing brave deeds.”

τὰς δ’ ἀρετὰς λαμβάνομεν ἐνεργήσαντες πρότερον, ὥσπερ καὶ ἐπὶ τῶν ἄλλων τεχνῶν· ἃ γὰρ δεῖ μαθόντας ποιεῖν, ταῦτα ποιοῦντες μανθάνομεν, οἷον οἰκοδομοῦντες οἰκοδόμοι γίνονται καὶ κιθαρίζοντες κιθαρισταί· οὕτω δὴ καὶ τὰ μὲν δίκαια πράττοντες δίκαιοι γινόμεθα, τὰ δὲ σώφρονα σώφρονες, τὰ δ’ ἀνδρεῖα ἀνδρεῖοι.


“It is therefore well said that a person becomes just by doing just things and prudent from practicing wisdom. And, no one could ever approach being good without doing these things. But many who do not practice them flee to argument and believe that they are practicing philosophy and that they will become serious men in this way. They act the way sick people do who listen to their doctors seriously and then do nothing of what they were prescribed. Just as these patients will not end up healthy from treating their body in this way, so most people won’t change their soul with such philosophy.”

εὖ οὖν λέγεται ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ τὰ δίκαια πράττειν ὁ δίκαιος γίνεται καὶ ἐκ τοῦ τὰ σώφρονα ὁ σώφρων· ἐκ δὲ τοῦ μὴ πράττειν ταῦτα οὐδεὶς ἂν οὐδὲ μελλήσειε γίνεσθαι ἀγαθός. ἀλλ’ οἱ πολλοὶ ταῦτα μὲν οὐ πράττουσιν, ἐπὶ δὲ τὸν λόγον καταφεύγοντες οἴονται φιλοσοφεῖν καὶ οὕτως ἔσεσθαι σπουδαῖοι, ὅμοιόν τι ποιοῦντες τοῖς κάμνουσιν, οἳ τῶν ἰατρῶν ἀκούουσι μὲν ἐπιμελῶς, ποιοῦσι δ’ οὐδὲν τῶν προσταττομένων. ὥσπερ οὖν οὐδ’ ἐκεῖνοι εὖ ἕξουσι τὸ σῶμα οὕτω θεραπευόμενοι, οὐδ’ οὗτοι τὴν ψυχὴν οὕτω φιλοσοφοῦντες.

Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

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