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Nicomachean Ethics - Book II

Chapters 1 & 2 - enter the virtues

We are what we do. This is one of Aristotle's great insights in this work. Who we are is directly equivalent to the behaviours we manifest, the actions we choose, the habits with which we fill our day-to-day. Here, we consider a quote from the Marx brothers: „My brother acts like an idiot and talks like an idiot but don't let that fool you. He truly is an idiot.“ It is exactly in the actions of a person that we can locate who they are.

This knowledge, however, Aristotle provides to us not so we can pronounce judgements on others from our lofty internet thrones but in order for us to engage in deep introspection. Through gaining greater awareness of how we act and are in the world, we can learn where and how to position ourselves to our best possible advantage. In other words, the philosopher guides us to learn to desire and strive for the behaviours, actions and habits which will yield the best outcomes for ourselves and our community. These behaviours, actions and habits he calls the virtues.

Now, Aristotle distinguishes between two types of virture. On one hand, we have the (i) intellectual virtues. These are different kinds of reasoning and knowledge that we can develop. To illustrate, it is one thing to know how to ride a bike, another to know how to build one from scratch and yet another to know the physics behind the way bicycles work. On the other hand, we have (ii) the virtues of character. These are habits, behaviours, actions which Aristotle discerns as the backbone of a prosperous and flourishing community. The intellectual virtues go hand-in-hand with the virtues of character. We practice the former to cultivate the mind and the latter to attune the body with the mind.

In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle deals extensively with virtues and sets forth how they lead to prosperity. In light of what in our contemporary day-to-day experience, however, should we understand Aristotle's thought? In his book „to Have or to Be“, the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm observes that if we took the sum of all product advertisements and put them together, we would effectively form an educational corpus of material which trains us to think of prosperity and happiness in terms of possession and ownership. Through continuous exposure to media advertising, we learn to (1) mistake complex socioeconomic problems for our personal individual problems and (2) think that we can solve each of these problems by purchasing particular products and services. Fromm calls this worldview the „having mode of existence“. He contrasts it with the „being mode of existence“ which he finds articulated in religions and thinkers across human history. This is where we locate Aristotle. In the being mode of existence, we invest our life energy and find prosperity and success not in collecting things but in developing our self and becoming more active, competent and competitive in our community and the world.

How do you orient yourself in the world? Where do you think you will find prosperity and happiness? What is the best possible way in which you can be? We offer the Nicomachean Ethics reading group not so you can just accept the answers Aristotle gives but in order for Aristotle to give you the language which will enable you to contemplate and discuss these questions in the first place.

Chapter 3 - on childhood

New leaves grow and old leaves drop. One flower wilts away while another prepares to bloom. Time is a river and as we float with its current the world unfurls upon us in the form of sights, smells and sounds, tastes and touches. It is through our senses that we receive information about the environment in which we find ourselves and it is this input we use to integrate ourselves in our environment.

Childhood stands as that one part in our lives in which we are the most curious. As children we seek out to capture the world with our senses. In running across mud and grass we find joy. Stepping on a jugged stone brings pain so we learn to avoid them. As we sit around a fire and watch it burn, we find warmth and wonder. We know to keep a safe distance though, if we felt the sting of its flaming tongues.

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Posted by3 months ago
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Posted by8 months ago

The absence of god creates god

So that humans may feel superior to other humans.

Because how else would one human feel superiority over his equals if not through divine approval.

Material goods can be compared but don't necessarily prove superiority because of how quickly wealth fluctuates. Even if you are the richest man in the world (in properties, animals or family) nothing is greater than divine approval. If you claim/believe that the divine favors you over your fellow human beings, no one has the power to refute your claims.

The more powerful your god is the more superior you can feel. The more believable his story, the less likely people are to argue with you. It goes even further the scarier your god's punishment can be and the better his paradise is supposed to be, the harder it is for the human mind to justify arguing against him. This means that the firmer your belief in the divine, the less influence your peers can have on you and the more you allow yourself to look down on lowly human behaviors. Even though it is that lowly human behavior that made you turn to the divine in the first place.

It is a battle between comparing yourself to others and comparing yourself to the divine entity. Humans look to follow the most powerful entity they come across or can come up with. That explains why there are barely any new religions developing because what is more powerful than an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good god. It is humanly impossible to come up with a greater entity which is why human civilization has reached a stagnant state where most of the world's population still follows religions invented millennia before.

This reminds me of a parable in the Quran (18:32 – 18:45) that goes like this:

There is this one guy who has it all (Two lush gardens with a river flowing between them and a big family). He's having a conversation with his friend who is poorer and has a smaller family. The rich guy starts boasting about his wealth and when he enters his own gardens, he starts exclaiming that he doesn’t think his wealth will ever perish. This shows that he is arrogant because of the wealth he has. He also states that he doesn't think there will ever be a judgment day and that if in fact there is, he will only be wealthier there than he already is on earth.

So, his less privileged and more religious friend starts invalidating the rich guy's beliefs by asking him “How come you disbelieve in the god who created you from dust and made you a man”. Then he gives him some religious advice about how he should give thanks to God every time he enters his garden and acknowledge that only god has the power to grant anyone this wealth.

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Posted by8 months ago

The style of the article is a bit provocative but in essence it's about meta-ethical conclusions that can be derived from Universal Darwinism taken to extremes.

LINK

Abstract

This article sums up meta-ethical conclusions that can be derived from Universal Darwinism taken to extremes. In particular it 1) applies Universal Darwinism to evaluation of Terminal values, 2) separates objective meaning of life from subjective meaning of life using notion of Quasi-immortality. That means both moral nauralism and moral non-cognitivism are right but in different areas, 3) justifies the free will as a consequence of the Universal Darwinism, 4) comes to the conclusion of Buddhism-like illusion of the “Self” as a consequence of the Quasi-immortality, 5) as a bonus gives Universal Darwinism a hypothetical and vivid Cosmogonic myth from Darwinian natural selection.

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