Socrates seeking Alcibiades in the house of Aspasia. Public Domain

How can we live a better life (says Country Philosopher)? According to Socrates (depicted above while trying to convince Alcibiades to leave charming Aspasia‘s house) everything is attainable through exercise – I am quoting CP freely – because exercise creates a habit, any habit.

[Looking habit up in the on-line Webster we read that it is “a behaviour pattern acquired by frequent repetition.”]

So it seems that all we need, in order to live a better life – CP argues – is just practising regularly what makes us live better, while at the same time gradually abandoning what makes us live worse. Very easy to say but very difficult to realize – CP continues. The reason is that very few people know what makes us live better, i.e. what are the things that make us live happily, which are of course the most convenient and advantageous to us.

According to our nature we all tend towards our well-being and best comfort, both spiritual and material – it cannot be denied, says CP. In other words we should all tend towards what is really convenient for us, the problem oddly enough being that at present we seem to have forgotten what is really convenient for us. Otherwise how can we explain that so many people are unhappy despite the fact that they possess what is necessary to live, and sometimes even more than that?

As we just said we can explain this with the fact that these people (all of us) know little or nothing of what is really convenient or advantageous, even in small trivia and in everyday practical choices. In short, there are so many people around who visibly make the wrong choices, which are disadvantageous choices. These people consequently live worse and worse, while they could live better and better.

(Dario Bernazza, Vivere alla massima espressione, Editrice Partenone – Luciano Bernazza & C – Roma 1989, from page 25 on)

lupaottimigut1.jpg

Could this be one of the fundamental problems of our so-called rich countries (I’m asking myself)? They should be full of happy people, all the requirements for happiness (or serenity) being present. But since so many people are evidently unhappy there must be necessarily a problem of ethical confusion: people do not know any more what is convenient or non convenient to do (ethics is a branch of philosophy which encompasses right conduct and good living – a definition taken from Wikipedia).

A Rational Sovereign Spirit

As far as we are concerned, it is very hard to answer to CP’s question (how we can live a better life). We will only consider that the Ancient Romans, who acquired philosophy from the Greeks but who were much more practical and solid than their philosophy mentors, faced life with great success thanks to their iron will, their rationality and self-control. The scions of the well-to-do Roman families flocked to Greece to study the Epicurean and Stoic doctrines, two very significant schools of thought for Rome, which Rome was able to adapt to her needs – like everything Rome learned from others – and which was propagated by Rome in every region of the Empire.

Today we still admire Julius Caesar’s sovereign spirit, calm, always mastering himself even when facing the most dreadful tragedies, his writings & actions being a vivid testimony of his character. Caesar was though but a fruit – one of the greatest, maybe – of a civilization based mainly on reason.

Is a conduct based on this method still valid today? This question arises when reading this Country Philosopher so stubbornly convinced – like the Ancients were – of the thaumathurgic power of human rationality. Is it possible today, while confronting with everyday problems, to draw any benefit from the philosophies of our Ancient World?

We do believe (and we do hope) it is possible.

Right Measure in Pleasure

As an example, we can try to apply Roman rational wisdom to the concept of vice, meaning by this term a moral fault that can harm us. Vices can in fact ruin our life. If we drink or smoke too much, if we become sex (or gambling) maniacs we gradually (or quickly) ruin our life. Actually vices are not those horrible things depicted by priests – CP argues – and at the base of many so-called vices are in reality those pleasant things which make life worth living. Why then don’t we benefit from them? Is it true that all that is pleasurable is harmful and – as some believers say – should be prohibited? What is a Roman-like solution to this problem, since in this blog we are talking about retrieving fragments of our Romans’ ancient wisdom?

Surely abstinence is not Roman-like, it is rather monk-like. The Romans loved terrestrial life much more than ultramundane life (a world of pale ghosts to them). They loved life before death, not after death, and were not inclined to reject its pleasures. The solution for a Roman therefore doesn’t reside in renouncing to life and its pleasures. On the contrary, it resides in the correct measure in which we enjoy life, which implies moderation and non addiction, since any addiction makes us slaves of passions (pleasures), makes us non free.

A beautiful and conclusive sentence by CP: “A right measure prevents the genesis of vice, which incidentally is nothing but a measure not correct – i.e. excessive – which has become a habit.”

lupaottimigut1.jpg

PS
Note. The Ancients’ reflection on human rationality is of great importance and modern philosophy and science are derived from it. Rationality should though be integrated with the modern concepts of will and imagination. There is some debate today on these topics, I will provide links as soon as I can. The Ancients practiced reason, will and imagination, of course, but didn’t theorize much and didn’t developed techniques that pertain to the last two elements.

Italian version

8 thoughts on “Ethical Confusion & Ancient Teachings

  1. ‘On the contrary, it resides in the correct measure in which we enjoy life, which implies moderation and non addiction, since any addiction makes us slaves of passions (pleasures), makes us non free men.’

    I agree that any addiction makes us slaves of something but it is not easy not to get addicted..How can we not get addicted and not become slave of something? ….since it seems the addiction has become part of our habit.

    To be happy, maybe there are tons of reasons. Some people would be happy if they’re rich, some would be happy if they’ve what they want….etc.. As ManofRoma said above, i also cannot see that rich people are happier though they have all requirements for happiness. On the contrary, i used to see the happiest, real and warm smiles from people who are not rich. 🙂

    Like

  2. @AutumnSnow
    >How can we not get addicted and not become a slave of something? … since it seems addiction has become part of our habit…..On the contrary, I used to see the happiest, real and warm smiles from people who are not rich.

    So true, dear AutumnSnow from China, tho such a complicated topic to discuss. We travel around the world and we see people who are poor tho smiling all the time, while people in rich countries who are often nervous, selfish and unhappy.
    Concentrating only on one aspect, contemporary rich world actually looks like getting more and more addicted to … anything, no matter what, plus more and more unhappy. Again, too complicated a topic to discuss it here. It is a spoiled-and-rich-countries problem and I would relate it to … decadence.

    People who are starving of course are out of scope here, and could not even understand these difficulties we rich countries have. Ancient Romans, my ancestors, felt this problem a lot, and they wrote it everywhere in their literature. In fact, when they were more … barbarous – to make it simple – they felt they had more moral virtues compared to when they became supreme masters of the known world, thence all riches and pleasures being at their disposal (I am talking mainly about the ruling class, of course, but not only).

    At that time they felt they had somewhat lost their old sound virtues, this whole thing seeming to me not totally dissimilar from what it is nowadays happening in many Western and non Western highly developed regions. I think we should enjoy life and its joys, no doubt, tho with some moderation, if we are of course lucky enough not to live in starving sad areas. Life is just one (in my view), although we should help those who are in need, or we’d just be selfish beings.

    As a simple (and stupid) example, let us take chocolate. It is so delicious, oh really so much, and not so expensive so that most people can afford it. Well, I saw persons getting addicted to it and ruining their health. No kidding. Moderation seems the key to all this. We should be moderated. Same with food and other pleasures. Addiction is dangerous, makes us unhappy, can ruin our health. Of course, as I said, people who are sadly starving cannot but laugh bitterly while listening to all this.
    Actually this post was dedicated to people who are rich enough.

    All the best and Happy New Year, sweet Autumn Snow!!

    Like

  3. @Man of Roma
    @Autmn Snow

    All said and done. Who is going to bell the cat?

    >>On the contrary, it resides in the correct measure in which we enjoy life, which implies moderation and non addiction, since any addiction makes us slaves of passions (pleasures), makes us non free men.

    A beautiful and conclusive sentence by CP: “A right measure prevents the genesis of vice, which incidentally is nothing but a measure not correct – i.e. excessive – which has become a habit.”

    who is going to decide what exactly is the “right measure”?
    And is this “right measure” a function of the environment?
    Is the “vice” a factor dependent on the age, health?

    For eg: I smoke… because it is convinient for me.( a vice – >>a moral (ethical) fault that can harm us. )

    Now let us for a moment forget the ill-effects of smoking.
    >> In other words we should all tend towards what is really convenient for us, the problem being, strangely enough, that at the present time we seem to have forgotten what is really convenient for us.

    Is it wrong to say: “smoking is really convinient.” going by that logic can it be rational to generalise that smoking is convinient?

    Now taking the ill-effect into accont If I smoke 16 cigarettes a day Am I addicted if X smokes 60 a day?

    If X lives in much more stressful condition than me then is no. of cigarettes the sole benchmark of addiction?

    Given X and I have Identical conditions and X quits altogether and I cut down to 6 am I an addict? If I cut down to say 1 per day will I still be addict?

    Can it be said that X was never an addict since he left it without any therapy and X smoked in a “correct measure”?

    Ps: this is not to defend smoking. I have better arguments for that. 😉

    If I am severely diabatic and I like sweets is taking a sweets once a month a “vice” if it can be fatal for me? what would be a “correct measure” of indulging in pleasure in this case?

    Is certain behaviour taken with raised brows as the age increases.. Is it really a “vice” with increase in age???
    (like flirtin or display of aggressive behaviour)

    Like

  4. @Falcon
    I will disappoint you, but answering fully would require a complete research I cannot carry out here. All I can say is that the concept of right measure (or golden mean, or aurea mediocritas, as Roman poet Horace put it) is so ingrained in our western classical civilization that many of us feel all this kind of intuitively. The Latin people (French, Italian, Spanish etc.) who sprouted from the classical world have a special taste – they say – and tend towards measure and harmony in things, disliking excess. Even our common people have absorbed some of it from our cities, our architecture, our literature, music, food etc. My blog is a work in progress, after all, Falcon, and I am no pro philosopher. What consoles me is that greater minds than mine have written dozen of books on these topics (taste, for example) and haven’t reached any final conclusion.

    Like

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 )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ 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 )

Connecting to %s