Miscellanea: On Serious Man
“Friendliness (ta filika) towards fellow men, as well as defining characteristics of [various forms of] friendship, seem to stem from the mood man harbors towards himself. (…) For serious man (spoudaios) his [very] being (to einai) is good, and everybody wills good for oneself, and no one would choose to become someone else, even if one would thereby [by becoming someone else] gain everything, (…) but one would chose it only as oneself, whomever one could be. And it would seem that intellect (nous) is what individual man really is, or to the greatest extent.
Such a man wants to spend his time alone [with oneself], because it’s something he enjoys. (…)
And, bearing in mind that he harbors such moods towards himself, he treats his friend like himself too – for the friend is his ‘other I’ (esti gar ho filos allos autos) (…)” Aristotle, Nicomahean Ethics 1166 a – 1166a 35
While we read these passages from the Aristotle’s treatise on friendship, the richer part of our civilization has been steered by principles which Greek philosopher would find either unrecognizable or – keen minded as he was – he would need an extra moment or two to pin point them as vices he knew all too well, disguised under fancy names of social justice and equality.
However, we should be more precise here.
He would recognize them initially, true; but would probably find himself at pains to understand how the vice of false self love (autofilia), to which they really amount to, can be subsumed as the single unified principle imposed by law on the citizens of technocratic politeias of our time.
Well, Aristotle was a man of considerable insight, yet child of his own age and thereby well endowed to understand corruption, backwardness, envy, greed, power hunger and, above all, tyranny, but, quite understandably, terminally unable to recognize what we nowadays have a distinct term for – the concept of totalitarianism.
What he would be able to point out, if not fully understand, however, is that this peculiarly modern form of tyranny is based on inversion, i.e. on using one name to denote the opposite things.
Originally, self-love, as indicated in the above passage, is the origin (arche) of the mood of friendliness (filika) – the disposition or the state (hexis, lat. habitus) of human soul formed upon the principle of goodness of being in general, recognized in each being’s drive to preserve its existence. In Aristotle’s eyes good is a quality of Being disclosed on every level – from unchangeable principle(s) observed by the first philosophy or metaphysics to purposeful human actions; every human endeavor is directed towards some good, but whereas this good is real, or is it only understood as such by individual actor himself, makes all the difference between being good or evil.
In this sense self love is primarily good quality of a man if this man is a spoudaios – a serious man.
The term contains layers of meaning that can be easily lost in translation. The best approximation would be the man of substance, the man upon whom we can discern and evaluate the qualities of other men. It was widely applied in the Antiquity. For instance, in Aristotle’s theory of poetical production – preserved in his Poetics in the form of rules for proper composition of tragic play – the main character of dramatic mime is also spoudaios, i.e. the man who is “better than most” and has all or most of the qualities one should have, but rarely actually has: goodness of character, beauty, determination, intelligence, etc. yet all of it marred by a single terminal flaw (hamartia) in character laying him open to evil which he doesn’t chose but is compelled to commit, ending up being “guilty without guilt”; on the other hand, a few centuries later, in father of neoplatonism, Plotinus, spoudaios is the sage able to contemplate and attach himself to first principles by existentially revealing his own congeniality with them.
Obviously this does not seem like a kind of man you’ll make yourself equal to all that easily.
Yet only among such people as spoudaioi there is equality and justice in the proper sense of these words, where these two qualities of human acts are dissolved in the higher one.
This is what Aristotle understands under the term friendship. It is the love of the best in oneself that recognizes the same thing in another – the intellect (nous) steering one’s life towards what is good in itself.
Friendship is, as we today would see it, quite an elitist virtue.
To understand something, first you must understand its proper form (eidos) which is its proper good. Therefore, if we want to understand what the friendship is, we must first determine the proper and therefore best of its forms.
The friendship in the proper sense is a paradigm for other forms of friendship that range from relationship of husband and wife to collaboration of the gang of thieves. The value – goodness, as Aristotle would say – of these various patterns of human relations is determined based on the extent they approach the act of transferring one’s own natural self-love to the other: the friendship formed around pleasure doesn’t do this, because its purpose is the use of the other man to experience something pleasing, while friendship formed around gain is also strictly utilitarian, but focused on more calculated purpose of using the other for acquiring something.
The reason why we know these deformities of friendship are bad or, at least, not very praiseworthy is only because we know about the existence of spoudaios and best form of friendship. No evil, or anything containing evil, can be understood without knowing the good – a principle apparently abandoned in philosophy at the peak of modernity.
So, what about the equality and social justice of today? How they fare in this context?
When observed without explicit awareness of the hierarchical nature of all human goods, they cause the nauseating inner emptiness, because people interiorize them without thinking, taking for granted that the words reflect true concepts. Hence nausea because intellectual vacuity and contradictory nature of what is denoted by these words is something felt but not explicitly made aware.
So let’s make it explicit:
equality and social justice are terms of system regulation where ‘people’ are purely conceptual construct, having nothing to do with reality.
One example will suffice.
In the academic article aimed to morally justify infanticide, the author claims that “potentially existing person” – i.e. infant or fetus – has no right to live; however, being a politically correct node in academic system, she qualifies this by saying that not all “potential persons” are unworthy of life. There are future generations for which we have to “keep the planet” from some kind of, probably, apocalyptic harm. So how are those generations more real than the baby one is about to snuff? Well, they are real because they are pure formal notions generated when we think in terms of the progress as infinite perfectibility of man – we cannot conceive the notion of progress of human race in general if we don’t at the same time think that there are future humans to be born.
These conceptual future humans are what equality and social justice are there for. They are answer to what not to who, and their “whatness” is purely conceptual, serving to complete the system of control poised to bring this about; the only reality these notions have are those of striving unto absolute (detached) mental power over the reality.
And, as we can see that infanticide advocate has no problem in advocating for murder while quite adamantly defending the principles of equality and social justice, it is obvious we lose nothing when we lose them.
On the other hand, Aristotle’s notion of friendship, which transcends even the cardinal virtue of justice, because it is obsolete between friends, is the quite real paradigm of human relations, existing among people for, obviously, quite a long time.
Tyranny is an enemy of friendship, as he knew very well, but totalitarianism is its sure executor.
Yet it works both ways, naturally.
Spoudaious and his friends are the strictest negation of inversion burrowing in the formal notions of equality and social justice because any amount of real equality and justice is based upon them as exemplars – real human beings whose value lays in the equally distributed potential in others to live up to them.
So is this really elitism? Or is it rather that implicit abasement of humanity in totalitarianism – never mind it being a purely mental one – is such that even the basic principles of communal existence start to appear as peaks of aristocratic disdain towards masses?
We’ll leave this question open with a note:
Being spoudaios means being worthy of friendship, admiration and, ultimately, love.
It is indeed hardly a praiseworthy result of infinite perfectibility of man that this can be considered elitism. Could it be, however, that direction of progress is in actual fact pointing downwards, towards the point from which even the basic principles of humanity seem unattainable and therefore, not being enjoyable, inexistent?
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