perjantai 29. syyskuuta 2017

Does Christianity mix with philosophy?

We will probably never have a chance to find out what Jesus was truly attempting to do – at least not before the fabled Second Coming. What we do know is that he most likely was a charismatic speaker who gathered a group of followers – and who was then promptly executed for some reason.

This might have been the end of story, if it weren't for a fact that people were having visions of Jesus, which spurred the idea of him somehow surviving his death. This series of visions led to an organisation of a religious movement, which would later be called Christianity. The first task of this fledgling new religion was to determine what they actually believed in. A significant figure at this stage was apostle Paul, who first persecuted Christians, but later turned into one of them because of his own visions.

The main idea instigated by Paul was that the death of Jesus was somehow an atonement for the state of mankind – an execution of a perfectly innocent victim could blot out all sins and would eventually lead to cancellation of death, which had been a punishment imposed on the human beings. What humans had to do now was to follow the example of Jesus and spend their lives in serving one another and throwing away their selfish desires. This new command to love one another was in Paul's eyes much more important than the old Jewish law with its strict ritualistic regulations. Thus, he concluded, even people who did not follow Jewish practices could be salvaged.

Like all religions before it, Christianity was open to reinterpretation, and imposition of new layers of tradition begun instantly. Paul had seen a vision of Jesus, but then a story arose that he had been seen in flesh and blood by his earlier followers. Paul had suggested that Jesus had been born of a family line leading directly to ancient Jewish royalty, and then genealogies were drafted and stories of his birth began to circulate. Stories of miracles by Jesus, supposed speeches of him – layers upon layers of new material, which provided building blocks for the evangelists.

A most interesting part of this reinterpretation concerned the status of Jesus himself. Quite early on, Jesus was designated as the Son of God. This was an epithet that could be given to holy men, but it suggested also that there was something more than human in Jesus. Then, the final evangelist, whom we only know by name “John”, made the daring leap and identified Jesus with Logos, the Stoic concept for the guiding spirit of the world. Jesus was not just a human being, John appeared to say, but a force that had helped God create and rule the world and that had somehow taken a mortal form. Christians were still receiving visions, and since God himself was a too distant figure, who had not directly spoken to anyone since the time of legends, and Logos was rumored to come back only at final end of the world, a somewhat nebulous third entity, Paraclete or Prophetic Spirit, was added to the Christian pantheon, as the source of prophetic and charismatic experiences.

The first task of Christian writers was to justify the new faith, on the one hand, by showing its connection to Jewish tradition, and on the other hand, by making it more credible in the eyes of learned scholars. The first task began at the very beginning of the new faith. The Jewish tradition existed in the form of sacred writings, which just waited for another layer of interpretation. Individual sentences were taken out of their original context and regarded as signs and symbols of Jesus and his fate. The task of Christians was not as hopeless as it may sound, since some Jewish writers – the so-called twelve prophets – had already anticipated some important tenets of the new faith, such as the emphasis on good deeds instead of strict abidance of Mosaic laws.

A more difficult question was how to justify the introduction of a seemingly new divinity in the strictly monotheistic Jewish religion. The first suggestion of the new Christians was, firstly, that although Christ/Logos was an entity separate from the Creator, his powers were all derived from the Creator, just like a spark has no power of its own, distinct from the fire that spurned it. Furthermore, Christians also argued that Christ had already appeared in the Jewish writings – surely Creator of the whole world could not appear within the confines of that world or be bothered to speak to single individuals, which would mean that every time Torah spoke of God conversing with someone, it had to be some other God than Creator.

If convincing Jewish with these newfangled readings of old texts was difficult, this line of defense was even less effective with scholars who were not Jewish. The Christians did suggest that as the ultimate truth, their faith required no explanation, but they also felt the need to somehow argue for this truth. Of course, Christians could try to point out the prestige of Jewish religious texts, brought by their old age.

Yet, it was especially the novelties Christians introduced to Jewish texts, such as the virgin birth of Jesus, which were hard to swallow. A dedicated pagan scholar could remark that many of these new elements resembled old Greek myths and were probably just borrowed from these sources. Justin Martyr, the so-called first Christian philosopher, had an answer: these myths were just lies spread by evil beings willing to confuse the followers of Christ. In addition, he could point out, like many philosophers before him, that these myths were morally unacceptable, when they showed supposed divinities acting in a manner that would be reprehensible in human beings.

Another philosophical problem that early Christians had to account for was the question of evil: why did God had to devise such a complex scheme for saving humans, when he could have just destroyed the source of evil or Lucifer, before humans had been corrupted? Answer was what it would still be after couple of millennia: this complex scheme resulted in a better ending than a simpler plan. Furthermore, Justin Martyr also emphasised that this complex plan did not take responsibility of killing Christ from the killers – God has just foreseen people committing crime, but he hadn't actually made them criminals.

The main line of offence with these first Christian philosophers was reminiscent of Philo: Greek philosophers had found their wisdom in the Old Testament. A particularly fruitful source here was Plato's Timaios, which was interpreted as originally as the Jewish writings. In this dialogue, one could find an idea of God designing the world – and also of God assigning another divine being to take care of the world. Logos, Christian thinkers were quick to add.

Yet, Christian philosophers were also happy to point out places where Plato had made errors. For instance, Plato's idea of souls reincarnating into different forms according to their past lives was ridiculed by Justin Martyr – souls in bodies of beasts couldn't know anything of their past lives, so the punishment would be completely pointless. A bit later, St. Iraenaeus pointed out that transmigration of souls was disproved by the lack of any memories of past lives – and this lack could not be just forgetfulness brought out by the combination of soul with matter, because then matter would interfere even with memorising the events in the material world.

The adherents of the new faith were especially keen to show that their notion of bodily resurrection was believable. They pointed out that all philosophers accepted that something remains identical throughout all material changes – thus, God just had to bring these very same bodily elements together in the same or improved form to raise up a body from death. Christians were also eager to point out that resurrection was not unworthy for the future existence of humans – surely nothing created by God could be truly corrupted? Some of them did accept that some bodily functions, such as those involving sexuality, would probably vanish in the resurrection, but still, material bodies as such would still be required even in the perfect state of humanity.

The defense of the body was an answer to various gnostic sects, which often thought that the bodily world was a creation of a lower, imperfect or even insane divinity. Above this creator god, gnostics suggested a whole hierarchy of pairs of divinities, with such high sounding names like Wisdom, Truth and Unity and forming an intricate numerological scheme. Reminiscent of the later cult of Spaghetti Monster, St. Irenaeus suggested ironically that gnostics might well have named their divinities Gourd, Cucumber and Pumpkin. In a somewhat more serious tone, Irenaeus suggested that gnostics had merely borrowed these supernatural principles from philosophers and especially from Pythagorean mystics.

Irenaeus was also quick to point out all the beauty and regularity in the world as a proof that the creation cannot be completely wicked or work of insanity. In fact, he ridiculed the gnostic idea of a highest divinity, which had nothing to do with the material world – surely such an entity that could have nothing to do with matter would not be the most powerful being.

In addition to metaphysical arguments, Irenaeus also relied on common morality. Some gnostic sects thought that people who had a spark from the immaterial realms could not do anything wrong. Indeed, they apparently even encouraged people to do all sorts of assumed depravities, so that the material world would burn itself quicker – or this was the light in which Irenaeus wanted to paint his gnostic opponents.

Iraenaeus, on the other hand, took seriously the idea that a divine entity had taken a fleshly form and suffered all the same hardships as an ordinary mortal – in this manner the material world had been made holier than it normally was and even mortal humans could then become immortal through God's power. This was part of God's plan to develop humans, which as created beings would always be somewhat imperfect, to a more perfect level of existence – humans were then free either to follow God into this state of perfection or then to turn away from God and thus be destined to a life of misery.

The basic fault that Iranaeus found in gnostic ideas concerning the supernatural world was their attempt to hold their own notions above the tradition derived from the earlier Christians – gnostics think that they know and can read Bible better than ordinary Christians. Iranaeus, on the other hand, emphasised the limitedness of human faculties – no one could really know by one's own devices such mysterious truths as gnostics state.

Christian stance on the philosophical traditions was then ambivalent and could be developed either positively or negatively. Clement of Alexandria emphasised the positive relationship. Although he condemned all forms of materialism and polytheism, he did point out that some philosophers and poets had had an inkling of truths expressed in Christianity. Jewish tradition was still far more older in eyes of Clement, and he believed that Greeks had merely stolen scraps of truth from Oriental traditions.

Still, philosophical teaching at its best was for Clement like a fainter image of the instruction given to human beings by divine Logos. Even this fainter image was in a sense a gift of God. Astronomy shows the greatness of God's creation, while mathematics – or Pythagorean numerology – could be used for seeing deeper truths in the Bible. Logos Clement saw as the only source for knowing the otherwise ineffable God – God is something that human mind can grasp only negatively, by describing what it is not. This divine instruction of divinity or faith gives to human beings, Clement said, an image of things that one will clearly understand in a state beyond death. Faith was thus connected with the hope of an afterlife.

No matter what the source, this instruction and divine wisdom was meant for all humans, no matter what their position in life or gender, and people should listen to it like children ready to be filled with knowledge. Indeed, without a trust of such divinely given wisdom, nothing could be known, Clement assumed, since the principles of all knowledge must be accepted without demonstration. The divine instruction revealed the future of humankind, but it sometimes also used symbolic images to reveal deeper truths, both in Bible and in Greek philosophy, just like the commandment to respect one's parents also implies that one should respect the creator of the universe.

Clement thought that divine instruction consisted not just of learning, but also of a more concrete guidance toward good life, in form of rewards and punishments. Thus, he also gave direct guidance on how a good Christian should live. Clement's basic idea was that anything that hindered connection with Logos was detrimental to humans. He based his instructions on a roughly Platonic idea of human beings, in which bodies were mere outer garments for the soul or the inner core of human beings. The end of all action should be, Clement said, being assimilated to God in the sense of imitating his perfection as much as one could.

Like many ancient philosophers, Clement disparaged pleasure seeking and all sort of luxury as a distraction from the proper way of life, and again like many philosophers, he emphasised that humans should try to live as naturally as possible. For instance, Clement thought that sexuality was by nature just a means for procreation and therefore all sexuality that could not lead to conception, such as sex in time of pregnancy, was to be avoided. Furthermore, such practices like shaving beard and using make-up were also condemned due to unnaturality. Then again, a complete ignorance of body was equally unnatural in Clement's eyes, and for instance, a complete celibacy would break God's command of filling Earth with human beings.

A perfect person, which is just an ideal for mere mortals, Clement suggested, would be completely free of the influence of body, but would still use body as a tool. This perfect person might as well be a woman or a man, free person or slave. Such distinctions would be indifferent for her soul or true essence, although as a woman, she would follow what Clement thinks is the natural order, accepting her husband as a leader. She would be, like a Stoic sage, unaffected by either pleasure or pain, but in a much more perfect sense – while a mere philosopher can merely endure lack, a perfect Christian would be happy because of her contact with God. She wouldn't specifically go on looking for martyrdom, but she wouldn't be scared of that fate either because death would be for her only a release to God's presence. Nor would she do good deeds just because of a hope for a reward. Instead, she would be motivated by a love, which is no carnal desire, but a rational choice to do good to others.

A more negative attitude towards Greek culture we can see in the works of Tertullian. Like many philosophers before him, Tertullian ridiculed the poetic divinities of Rome, because they acted like humans. Furthermore, he was shocked to find that certain cities had just chosen their own divinities and thus made them arbitrarily. Philosophers themselves were not perfect in these questions either, Tertullian continued, because they could not agree on what divinities were and even raised such imperfect and fleeting things as elements in place of God. Indeed, Tertullian saw philosophical tradition as a source of heresies, which tried to usurp the true Christian tradition, handed over by apostles to their disciples. In Tertullian's eyes, philosophy was just a watered-down version of Christianity, and while philosophers had just endeavoured to find rules of proper behaviour, Christians were already acting according to them.

Tertullian thought even that pagans couldn't repent properly, because they often regretted doing good deeds, if no reward followed. Tertullian, on the other hand, was of the opinion that the only proper reason for repentance was doing or willing to do something against God's commands. It was an emotion proper for a person who was becoming a Christian, but a proper Christian shouldn't feel the need to repent, because he should follow God's decrees perfectly. Tertullian did allow for a one chance of further repentance even for Christians, but this was the maximum which the mercy of God couldn't exceed.

Tertullian was also highly critical of Jewish tradition, and like so many Christians of his time, he thought that it had been replaced by Christianity. Tertullian argued that the annunciation of law to Moses was not a momentous occasion Jews thought it was. The core of Jewish law, or Ten Commandments, were already implicit in God's judgement of Adam and Eve. For instance, they had disobeyed their parent or God, coveted his divine position, stolen from him and in a sense killed themselves by doing a deed leading to an abolition of their immortality – and then they had given a false testimony of the proceedings. Such examples showed that Ten Commandments formed a sort of natural law, which did not have to be revealed. Still, Tertullian did not want to go as far as to throw away all the Jewish tradition, because he endorsed the idea that this tradition contained important information about Christianity itself.

Instead of Greek and Jewish culture, Tertullian was dedicated to the cause of a third race of humans, that is, the Christian culture. Like his predecessors, he was keen to purge Christianity from all dogmas he considered forgeries. For instance, he denied that God would have required any independent matter in creation of the world – that would have been against the supposed infinite might of divinity. Instead, all things helping God in creations, especially the Logos, had already been produced by God. This did not mean that God would have been immaterial. Influenced by Stoics, Tertullian was convinced that even God was material, although his matter was not of the ordinary, earthly sort, but something that we humans could never see.

Tertullian was also certain that there could be no god higher than the creator of the world. Firstly, Tertullian insisted, the concept of god already implied that there could be only god. Furthermore, if such a higher god existed, it wouldn't have shown its existence, unlike creator, who had done something worthy of divinity, that is, the world itself. Instead of a passive perfection, Tertullian thought God must be active and do things.

Even more suspect in Tertullian's eyes was the suggestion that creator and world he had made were evil, because he punished human beings, while the supposed higher god would have been completely good and thus purely merciful – true goodness, Tertullian said, could not exist without the capacity to judge and condemn evil persons. Indeed, Tertullian endorsed the notion that God would have emotions, such as anger, although in a much more perfect manner than humans. By having such human sounding emotions God raised the worth of humanity to the level of divine.

Because of this need to raise up humanity, Tertullian thought it was important that Logos who took the form of a human being had truly had a material form and not just an appearance of a body, as some sects were saying – Logos had went through a seemingly shameful birth just to sanctify such bodily processes. It was also important to him that Logos was in a sense something closely attached to creator and not a completely independent entity. Logos was literally the reason of God, with which God had a sort of internal dialogue, just like human beings could be said to speak with themselves when they consulted their reason. Thus, one could say that God himself had become human and so divinised humanity.

Yet, Tertullian was also not willing to completely identify Logos and creator. Creator had, as it were, released its reason and separated it from himself. Because even God was material in Tertullian's eyes, he could easily say that this separated reason still had the same substance as God, just like a beam of light still was made of the substance of the sun, even if Logos now was a distinct personage. Thus, while Logos had brought something of divinity to Earth, creator could still remain outside the world.

Just like Tertullian thought that God had matter, he also didn't want to admit the immateriality of human soul. Instead, soul was for Tertullian a special sort of material object, existing within certain body and taking on its shape. In fact, he insisted, soul had not existed before the generation of human body, but was born at the same time as the human body was produced by combination of a male seed with matter from a female. Death, or separation of soul and its body, was then also unnatural, unlike sleeping, which meant just cessation of some of the activities of soul. After death human souls waited in the recesses of Earth for the eventual return to their bodies. After this resurrection God would make human flesh incorruptible, so that it would never again be separated from the soul.

Just like Tertullian attacked the notion of soul's immateriality, he was also critical of the idea that a human being would have a part distinct from the soul, which would connect it with a realm beyond the world. All the higher faculties of a human being were just more developed faculties of human soul, Tertullian said. Indeed, he was certain that all these higher faculties depended essentially on senses. Because senses are the basis of all human knowledge, Tertullian was convinced that senses must be on the whole reliable and give us a direct contact with the world around us. In cases where they seem to deceive us, it is according to Tertullian always a question of some external influence interrupting this direct contact.

Tertullian insisted that certain central tenets of Christianity were ingrained in the soul of every human being. Thus, everyone could feel the existence of a beneficent creator and also the existence of an evil entity rebelling against the creator. Similarly, Tertullian continued, all humans were afraid of death, because they instinctively knew that they would be judged according to their deeds in the afterlife. Still, Tertullian continued, this natural connection to God was shadowed in birth by the original sin inherited from the first human being. Further disruption was caused by evil spirits, which gave human souls all sort of unnatural desires concerning their bodies. In fact, Tertullian said, the only natural bodily desire was that of sustaining it with food and drink. Even that desire could control person too much and regular fasting was to be commended, because one should make spirit and not flesh strong. Finally, Tertullian acknowledged also the existence of cultural disturbances, since pagan rituals practically invited demons to torment the soul.

The aim of human life was then to cleanse the soul from these disturbances and find anew the original connection with divinity. The task of Logos was to help in renewing this connection. Furthermore, Tertullian became enamoured of the idea that just like creator had separated Logos from itself, a third entity, Paraclete, had been distinguished in a similar manner from Logos and was even now spreading new visions about divinity to us. This idea – main tenet of the Montanist sect – was not liked by the official church, because it appeared to suggest that established truths of Christian faith might still be changed.

One of Tertullian's tasks was to argue for the rationality of Christian ceremonies. He went through Lord's prayer line by line, suggesting that it is actually a concise rendering of certain key tenets in Christianity. Furthermore, he insisted that baptism is more than just a ceremony. Water, said Tertullian, may assume the powers of divine spirit, just like human flesh is following the desires of soul. Thus, a sprinkle of water has the power to cleanse a human soul, if the person washed with the water truly wanted to establish a connection with God.

In Tertullian's eyes, the life of a Christian should always be oriented towards her true source of happiness, that is, divinity. In comparison with the promised afterlife in connection with God, Tertullian thought the earthly life is a jail, in which we just wait for the final judgement. Tertullian encouraged every Christian to patiently endure all the sufferings inflicted on them and not to avoid even death of a martyr. Thus, they would follow the example of God, who waited for millenia before punishing the wicked, and of Christ, who gladly went through all kinds of torments, although he could have just willed to avoid them. Indeed, Tertullian said, such hardships were just God's way of testing our resilience and faith.

The prime source of information on good behaviour was for Tertullian, of course, the Bible. For instance, because worshiping other gods was forbidden in the Bible, a true Christian should avoid taking any part in such customs and even shun festivities held for the sake of some divinity, Tertullian said. This didn't mean that he wouldn't endorse any rules of good behaviour, which couldn't be literally found in the scriptures. Instead, he admitted that rules of conduct should be accepted, if they were clear consequences of rules in the Bible. For instance, Tertullian was of the opinion that gladiator fights and theatrical performances should be avoided, because they had their origin in the worship of the supposed pagan gods and because they encouraged brutal and frivolous way of life. Even such a seemingly innocent thing as wearing a garland as a decoration was frowned upon by Tertullian, because it was a pagan ritual, which used plants and flowers for unnecessary frivolities.

All earthly desires leading one away from the heavenly goal were in Tertullian's eyes at least partially mere obstacles. One should avoid luxury and clothe oneself modestly, like a true philosopher was supposed to do. Gold, silver and jewelry were in Tertullian's eyes in no way special compared with other stones and valued only for their rarity. In general, all attempts to make something more beautiful than they were by nature was, according to Tertullian, an attempt to improve God's own work and thus mere folly. And although Tertullian thought it was folly for anyone, in quite a gendered fashion he said it was even more of a folly for a male, who was supposed to have more dignity according to Tertullian's worldview. In an equally gendered fashion, Tertullian was of the opinion that all females who had reached puberty were by their very nature defined by their relationship to their potential husband and should thus follow the dress code that Bible had declared for married women. It is better if females see, but are not seen, Tertullian stated – a statement quite extraordinary even among ancient Christians.

Even marriage, although partially sanctioned by the divine commandment to fill the world with humans, was in Tertullian's eyes not as perfect mode of life as an unmarried life dedicated to the worship of God. Becoming a widow can then be regarded, Tertullian said, a great boon allowing a person to concentrate on the one truly important relation, that is, relation to God. Especially to be avoided in Tertullian's opinion was a marriage with a non-Christian person, who would constantly tempt the spouse from a proper way of life. With advancing age, Tertullian's views on marriage became more and more extreme. He became convinced that world had already been filled with human beings and that further population would just increase the misery of everyone. Thus, even the last reason for accepting marriages was rooted out and especially marriage after the death of one's original spouse was to be completely eradicated, according to Tertullian. If a supposed Christian could not follow the rule of not marrying twice – or heaven forbid, committed even worse fornication – such a person should be excommunicated from the Church, Tertullian said, because forgiveness of such great sins was given only to pagans converting to Christianity, and a second digression could be forgiven only by God after the death of the person.

Although Tertullian wanted Christians to turn their gaze toward heaven, he did not suggest that they should completely remove themselves from mundane concerns. In fact, he even congratulated Christians as being of major assistance to the Roman Empire, because of their honesty and diligence. Christians even cared for the welfare of the Empire, which Tertullian thought as the last line of defense against the end of the world. The Roman emperor had been chosen by God, and Christians were thus bound by duty to pray for his good health. Much more critical, especially in his later life, Tertullian was of the official church. No wonder then that many of Tertullian's ideas were not sanctioned and that the future development of church dogma followed a completely different route.

maanantai 12. kesäkuuta 2017

Back to Plato

It has happened often during the history of philosophy that some philosopher is read from a one-sided or even completely distorted perspective – some feature of his writings is emphasised over others. At some point, then, a supposed return to a more faithful reading follows. Usually this new reading is then distorted in another manner and might even forget features that were taken as central in the first reading.

Something like this happened with the reception of Plato's teachings. Over time, the Platonic academy had developed into a sort of skepticism, which emphasised especially the Socratic of dialogical aspect of Plato's books – different views were weighted and all found wanting. Already during Cicero's time an insistence on a more faithful reading of Plato was apparent – certainly Plato had not thought that knowledge was completely impossible. Problem in this attempt to rejuvenate the Platonism was to decide then what would be a properly Platonic doctrine of philosophy.

One of the people trying to find the essence of Platonism was Plutarch, better known as a biographer of eminent historical persons. Even in his more philosophical works, you can see the historian, who is eager to collect all kinds of sayings and aphorisms, which he will insert to text at appropriate time. Naturally, Plutarch borrows heavily from Plato. One can see influences of Plato even in quite small details, such as Plutarch's opinion that poetry by itself is based on deception and is often detrimental to education.

Yet, Plutarch isn't just a blind follower of Plato, and for instance, does not want to banish poets altogether from a good community. Indeed, Plutarch is willing to use poetry as a means of education, as long as the reader is taught what to accept from poetic works. Thus, although one can find characters in poem expressing all sorts of immoralities, a teacher can point out that these immoralities are clearly condemned by other characters, who express the true opinion of the matter. Then again, Plutarch is highly critical of poems or plays expressing crudities just for the shake of cheap laughter, as he assumes to happen in Aristophanes's comedies. But even worse than such crude poems, in eyes of Plutarch, are supposed histories which are actually just collections of malicious gossips, such as he thinks Herodotus to have written.

In general, Plutarch is interested of matters of education. Indeed, in addition to his take on the usefulness of poetry, Plutarch also gave instructions how one should get most benefits out of a lecture and how one should respect the lecturer. But it is not just to school education that Plutarch's writings are restricted, but he is also interested of educating people to in general live well. Plutarch's general idea of good life was one shared by many ancient philosophers: spending too much time in seeking pleasure makes one sleep badly every night and is bad for health.

Plutarch wanted to especially distance his position from Epicureans. When it came to the method of acquiring knowledge, Epicureans were in Plutarch eyes a bit naive when they insisted that all sensations were true – surely this would lead to contradictions, because things seem different from different distances.

Especially critical Plutarch was of Epicurean notion of good life. Plutarch thought that Epicurean identification of all pleasures as bodily was faulty. For instance, in good parties people received pleasure from conversation, and this pleasure, Plutarch stated, was not bodily, but pertained to soul alone. Indeed, Plutarch insisted, mental pleasures were far more stable than fleeting pleasures of body. Furthermore, Plutarch didn't like the Epicurean idea that good life should be lived unknown. Instead, Plutarch stated, a good person should be happy to inspire others for good life.

Plutarch also criticized Epicurean idea of indifferent divinities and denial of afterlife, both of which were supposed to free humans from unfounded fears. Instead, Plutarch stated, people find hope in the idea of provident and well-meaning gods, and the idea of a total end to life causes nothing but anxiety.

Like many earlier philosophers, Plutarch was intrigued by the behaviour of Spartan people, which downplayed the worth of sensual pleasure in favour of military valour and fortitude. Indeed, Plutarch put on some occasions more value on military efforts than cultural achievements. Thus, he thought that people of Athens were to be more appreciated because of their conquests than their artistic endeavours and he regarded Alexander's conquest of Persia as a great practical application of philosophy, by which the whole Middle-East had been civilized. Then again, Plutarch was also keen to advice how to make anger subside.

Despite his dismissal of pleasure and anger, Plutarch was not ready to speak for a complete Stoic indifference. Plutarch even suggested that Stoics themselves did not really believe in this indifference, because they at some places suggested that things that would be indifferent according to their theories were still to be preferred or avoided. Plutarch even jested about the Stoic advice that a wise person would commit a suicide, if pain would become intolerable – a Stoic sage should be the happiest person alive and still end her life because of such a matter that Stoics considered indifferent.

Plutarch also criticized Stoics, because of their suggestion that a cleft between people living well and people living not well or philosopher and non-philosopher was infinitely wide and that one could only leap from one position to another. Plutarch noted how absurd Stoic idea seemed from the viewpoint of common life, in which we think of goodness and badness of life more as end points in a continuous scale of more or less good or bad life. Thus, he noted that we had various criteria, by which to determine whether a person had progressed in her life skills – for instance, if a person began with a certitude of knowing what is right and true and later on realised how little she actually knew, we could say she had become a better person. Plutarch also jested about the Stoic insistence that a perfectly living person would be the most beautiful sight in the world, but no ordinary person would actually appreciate this beauty and would even consider her to be the most distasteful sight – why would anyone even want to gain such a goal?

While Stoics emphasised a good faculty of choice as the only goal of human life, Plutarch noted that this was only a medium for the true goal. Thus, while Stoics stated that all supposed goals outside the human choice were irrelevant and not to be cared about, like Plato and Aristotle before him, Plutarch sought for a proper medium between indifference and sensuous affects: for instance, although grieving too much for your dead beloveds does no good, a period of mourning is seemly and proper. It is intelligence, which can tell what is proper behaviour in each circumstance and which thus secures human being from chance events. Unlike Stoics, Plutarch suggested that intelligence by itself wasn't responsible for human behaviour, because passions were completely distinct from intelligence and something that intelligence had to train.

Plutarch didn't restrict the class of passions to be trained just to desires for sensual pleasures. He was also quick to condemn such activities as talking too much and being too nosy. In many ways, Plutarch followed Aristotelian idea of virtue as a medium between two vices. Thus, Plutarch was wont to admit that one should not spend too much, but also not to procure too much wealth, or that although one should not be rude to people, one should also not try to serve every whim of other persons, or that even though one was not to praise oneself too much, there still were ways to praise oneself modestly. Then again, Plutarch also admitted that there were things one should refrain from altogether, such as being envy of other people's fortune or taking on debt.

Plutarch gave also more detailed instructions on various aspects of life. Plutarch was even concerned about such quite specific topics as giving advice on what issues to speak about during parties. Thus, he mentions that one could, of course, discuss the formalities of parties – whether some people should have a better seat than others – but also more generally interesting questions, such as whether chicken is in some sense prior to an egg.

Plutarch had also something to say about gender relations. He insisted that men and women should have a common criteria for good life: thus, women can be brave in the same manner as men. Then again, he admitted that males and females might have different natures, which would have an effect on how to apply these criteria. This is well seen when Plutarch advised how married people should live together, as he in a very conventional manner suggested that wife should always follow her husband's will. At times, he even went so far as to insist that wife should be glad if her husband chooses to do things unsuitable for well-mannered women with prostitutes. Then again, he also celebrated marriage as a communion of personalities, which is just strengthened by occasional brief moments of mutual sensual pleasure.

Plutarch also had something to say on how we should act as friends. We should not just flatter people, but to tell them frankly, if they have done badly. Furthermore, we shouldn't try to collect a huge group of friends, since one has only a finite amount of love to give to one's friends. Indeed, Plutarch continues, often enemies are more useful to people than would-be-friends, because they at least reveal our faults more truthfully. Then again, Plutarch was very adamant of the importance of family – even animals show love towards their siblings and offspring, thus, surely should human beings also do that.

Plutarch insisted that a true philosopher shouldn't abstain from dealing with the good life of a community. Indeed, he even encouraged philosophers to educate rulers, if the opportunity arose, since through such means they could benefit a great number of people. In fact, Plutarch thought that anyone with experience on how to live well, such as elder people, should not isolate themselves, but take part in communal decisions. No matter what position one holds in community, however insignificant it may seem, its importance is increased by the worth it brings to the community.

Plutarch wasn't just interested of good life of individuals and states, but he had also a keen interest on the structure of natural world, although he was willing to admit that he could just make reasonable conjectures about such matters. His main point was that the universe was a purposeful construct. For instance, Moon didn't just revolve around Earth by necessity, but its revolution had to satisfy some goal. Perhaps, Plutarch suggested, Moon was a kind of a halfway house between cold and inert Earth and bright and lively heavens, so that souls of human beings could there purify themselves of the last vestiges of earthly life on their journey to completely intellectual life of heavens.

Even more interested Plutarch was of living nature. He was quite convinced that animals were not completely removed from humanity and insisted that they could compete with humans in their various virtues – for instance, some animals could reason as well humans and they were more easily satisfied by natural pleasures. Indeed, Plutarch at time even suggested that eating animals was a cruel habit, especially as no animals devoured humans as often.

Plutarch's most original contribution for philosophy was perhaps his search for wisdom beyond this life and world. Following Plato, he suggested that body was of hindrance to seeing the true reality and that death was therefore nothing to be afraid of, but more like a return to a more divine level. Along with body, Plutarch insisted, all the work dedicated to sustaining the body was ultimately of no importance and it would be far better if a human being could survive without any nourishment. Plutarch ridiculed the idea that eating was of importance, because without the need for food there would be no agriculture and therefore no sacrifices for gods. Plutarch noted that an idea of gods as beings who demanded sacrifices and punished humans for failing to provide them was even worse than atheism – it is better to deny the existence of gods than to call them fickle and cruel.

Even though Plutarch was critical of such traditional ideas of gods, he was quite fascinated of religious practices and myths and often tried to find rational explanations for them. He was not really interested of explaining them as symbols for natural phenomena – for instance, he did not think that the myth of the death of Egyptian god Osiris in the hands of Typhon (Seth) and his eventual rebirth with the help of the goddess Isis would be just a story retelling the cycles of river Nile. Instead, Plutarch saw in this tale hints of metaphysical truths. Typhon was an indication of an idea of a source of imperfection that corrupted the natural world and led to death and dissolution of material things. Then again, nature or Isis could reproduce an image of true eternity or Osiris through its cyclical renewal of everything. Similarly, a letter E inscribed on the temple of Apollo in Delphi was according to him a Greek way of saying ”I am”, which indicates that divinity is a source of all being, just like the more famous ”know thyself” is according to him an advice not to think of oneself as a divinity.

Plutarch also criticized the Stoic notion of divinities, which essentially made lesser gods into mere powerful beings, which could be destroyed as well as any material beings. Even more ridiculous in Plutarch's eyes was the notion that the highest creator God would in no manner be any more blessed and happy than any human being that had just found the perfect mode of life. The highest blasphemy in Plutarch's eyes was the Stoic notion that evil things in the world were created by God and that they were even a necessary part of world condition.

Plutarch used Plato's Timaeus as a foundation of his own cosmogony, although he read the dialogue in a rather creative fashion. According to Plutarch, matter used to be a completely chaotic mess, governed only by a living and self-powered, but also irrational force, which ruled the matter with iron necessity. The divinity ordered the matter into a well-regulated universe and gave the force or soul reason, by which to take care of the world. Still, because the world soul had an irrational beginning, the world still contains some hints of irregularity and evil.

Although Plutarch was convinced that divinity was completely removed from human affairs, he supposed that a hierarchy of other beings bridged the gap between them, and for instance, took care that the wicked would ultimately be punished, if not right away, then in the afterlife. These demigods could also be responsible for divination, Plutarch conjectured. This would also explain, why sources of divination could change according to human needs – demigods would leave places, where people did not live anymore, and they would use more cryptic images in times, when secrecy was of utmost importance.

Then again, human souls might attain a similar status to these supposed demigods, when not tied up to the interests of their bodies. Indeed, the faculty for divination or connection to some divination inducing stuff might well be natural for human beings, but only veiled from us by our body. Socrates was an example of a person whose body did not hinder this divining element, but naturally received messages from a higher dimension, which Plutarch mythologically suggested was somewhere in the upper celestial regions.

We know little about the details of the development of Platonistic currents after Plutarch, but certain common elements seem to have persisted. Apuleius, who even suggested he might be descended of Plutarch, was, like his supposed ancestor, quite interested of mystery religions, such as the worship of Isis, the mother of gods, which in a sense were only avatars of this one central goddess – or God, since speaking of gender is just conventional, when it comes to this prime creator. Just like Plutarch, Apuleius insisted that a turn away from the sensuous world and its pleasures was required in order to reach this ultimate source of everything. Although interested of such mysteries, Apuleius firmly denied that he had any magical powers – he considered himself more of a researcher of the world around him.

A more mundane approach to Plato was apparently favoured by Alcinous, who used Aristotelianism and Stoicism to understand Plato's philosophy. Alcinous presented philosophical contemplation as a step above normal everyday activities: a philosopher can say how humans should live (object if practical philosophy) more reliably than ordinary people, because he knows what there is (object of theoretical philosophy). Yet, like Stoics had already pointed out, before trying to say what there is contemplation should begin by a study of means of contemplation (what was then called logic).

Alcinous gave a Platonic twist to the notion of studying contemplation, when he said that in addition to senses human beings had a capacity to think certain non-sensuous objects, like the Platonic ideas, which appeared to be known by us even before we were born. An important part of human cognition for Alcinous was just this duality of senses and thinking. While senses as such make us acquainted only with individual, unconnected sensations and thinking as such only with immaterial ideas, humans as both thinking and sensing can also combine individual sensations and recognise them as belonging to concrete objects and similarly recognise ideas as embodied in material entities.

The actual methodology Alcinous accepts for his philosophy is essentially Aristotelian logic, with its different parts for strict demonstrations, probable arguments and even a study of deceptive arguments. But Alcinous regards Plato as being already implicitly aware of this methodology, because he used it in his dialogues before Aristotle wrote about it.

Broadly Aristotelian is also the habit of Alcinous to divide theoretical philosophy into mathematics, theology or metaphysics and physics. Like Plato, Alcinous considers mathematics to be of great use, firstly, in practical everyday matters, but also secondly, in leading us to non-sensuous matters dealt in theology. Yet, it is is not the only way, because even by considering what is sensed we can discover something that cannot be sensed. In other words, while sensuous properties are unstable, there must be something, which remains stable throughout these changes – matter. Because this supposed matter should be able to take on any possible sensuous determinations, it itself must be without any sensible characteristics.

Still, matter by itself cannot have taken on different shapes just by itself, but these must have come out of a different source. This is where Platonic ideas come in – ideas work as a scheme by which matter is modeled, Alcinous says. Furthermore, Alcinous notes that this formation must have been instigated by someone – God.

While Apuleius and Alcinous use different routes to find divinity they conceive his relation to the world in similar manner Just like Plutarch, Apuleius and Alcinous saw especially Plato's Timaeus as a serious description of how the world around us had been created. Or actually, they were quick to explain, there was no one moment of creation, but world was in a sense created eternally – world had existed always, but its existence was dependent on the highest god. In a figurative manner we could say, according to Apuleius and Alcinous, that the wholly immaterial divinity had took independently existing shapeless matter and organised it according to ideal principles or forms. Thus, God imposed geometric shapes to the matter and so produced the first elements. From the elements God had shaped various other stuff – stars and planets and earthly bodies – and finally the whole universe. As a ruler of the universe the divinity had appointed a living entity – a world soul – which it had fashioned out of numerical relationships.

This world soul was then the progenitor of all souls in the world. Some of these souls were as immaterial as God itself, such as the gods of Greek mythology. Other souls were embodied or connected with certain physical bodies, which just meant that these bodies thus were alive. Highest of these embodied souls were fiery bodies – these were the stars and planets, which could also be called gods. Apuleisus was especially interested of an even lower rank of aery entities or lower spirits, which acted as mediators between immutable gods and the earthly worlds. Like gods, spirits or daemons were indestructible, but they still weren't as immutable and independent of all other things as gods were.

Some of the aery spirits were connected with bodies fashioned for them by the gods – these were the human souls. Human souls, Apuleius and Alcinous continued, consisted of three parts corresponding to three parts of human bodies – desires residing in stomach and the lower regions of the body, passion or anger residing in the heart and reason residing in the head. Humans shared reason with gods and non-earthly daemons, and thus reason was meant to rule the other two parts of the soul, which would insure the harmony and health of the body also.

Alcinous was especially interested of the Platonic notion that when human reason losed it control over its lower parts, it would become more like an animal and would wonder after death to an animal body. In any case, he was convinced that at least reasoning part of a human would live eternally, although he wasn't so sure about the lower parts.

In a sense, Apuleius and Alcinous regarded Timaeus as the Platonic answer to Hellenistic demand of a theory of universe or physics. Similarly, they wanted to find answers in Plato about ethics, that is, about good life, although often the answers they described as Platonic were actually taken from Aristotle or Stoics. The ultimate good, according to Apuleius and Alcinous, resided in the divinity that had created the world. Even humans could live perfectly only by imitating God and staying in contact with the lower divinities.

Apuleius was somewhat skeptical whether humans ever achieve the goal of imitation of God completely. Indeed, in humans good life, which was naturally a unity, was divided into different facets according to different facets of human soul – wisdom or a good use of reason, courage or wisely controlled use of passion and anger, austerity or a control over desires, and finally justice or a balancing of the three sides of the soul. Alcinous, on the other hand, noted that in a perfect state of human soul these four aspects were essentially a unity – no one could use one's reason perfectly unless one had a perfect command of one's lower faculties, while no one could control one's faculties, unless one could use one's reason perfectly. Still both Apuleius and Alcinous agreed that when we speak of these four aspects of good life in their imperfect, non-unified state, wisdom could be simply learned, but the other aspects require also training of one's lower faculties.

Now, the best thing a person could have, Apuleius said, is the ability to follow these four principles of good life. Only few people could follow these principles perfectly, but then again, only few people lived completely against them, while the majority of human beings lived at least partially good lives – indeed, Apuleius insisted, no one willingly chose a bad life, but this was always a result of ignorance. In comparison, Apuleius continued, other goods are only partially good, that is, good if they are put to good use. Especially pleasure was good only, if it followed a good life, while pleasure following from abuse of the principles was a shameful thing.

Alcinous was more interested of studying affections or irrational processes of human souls, because search for good life required doing something to them. All these affections, Alcinous said, were caused by soul becoming aware of something it considered good or bad – either something that was actually present or something the soul hoped or feared for – or by some mixture of these two basic affections. Alcinous especially instructed people to cultivate natural and necessary affections, which were milder than unnatural affections and thus easier to control by reason.

Friendship and love were topics, which interested both Apuleius and Alcinous. Both philosophers noted that friendship and love come in many levels. Friendship and love were good, if they were guided by principles of good life and showed concern for soul and character of the friend or beloved, whereas friendship and love based on mere seeking of pleasure or self-interest were something fickle and unreliable.

Apuleius and Alcinous also followed Plato's Republic and Laws closely in their description of good and bad communities. In an ideal community, people were governed by wise rulers and defended by brave youngsters. While ideal rulers would need only their own reason for ruling and in a perfect society all things would be common, in practice rulers required laws to guide them and they had to accept private ownership and marriages. If a state lacked wise rulers, the vacuum would be filled, in the best case by soldiers, in a somewhat worse case by rich oligarchs, in an even worse case by democratic assembly, and in the worst case by a single dictator.

Alcinous also considered what distinguished false philosophers like sophists from true philosophers like Plato. While philosophers based their considerations always on the eternal and unchanging source of being, that is, God, sophists took as their foundation things that differed from this source of being and which were thus always in some sense changing and variable. Thus, while a true philosopher would be always unerringly right, a sophist might seemingly change his opinions, as if guided by mere whims.

keskiviikko 6. heinäkuuta 2016

Reshaping the religion

Until now, almost no mention of religion has been necessary. True, I have described some philosophers as dealing with essentially religious themes, and some religious topics, like the question of divinities, have cropped up regularly. Yet, only now does religion truly start to interact with philosophy. But what then is religion and how did religions and especially religious texts come about?

This will not be a proper historical or anthropological study of actual religious developments, but more like a rough general outline of certain tendencies that may be discerned in the religious life of the environment of Mediterranean. Still, from this general standpoint, we might first note it is a common practice to explain events and happenings through likely scenarios of what might have happened. Some of these scenarios are based on known facts, while others are more speculative, but the common element is that we tell a story of proceedings leading up to the fact to be explained.

Many religious texts abound with such scenarios. ”Why is this mountain called as it is? Because some of our ancestors came to this mountain in certain circumstances, which suggested then this as a proper name for the mountain.” Some of these scenarios were based on more or less reliable historical knowledge, others on mere hearsay and unreliable traditions.

We may note two important types of these scenarios. First type tried to explain certain natural phenomena, such as raining, thundering, blossoming and wilting of flowers etc. - and of course, ultimately, the final existence of the world around us. Second type, on the other hand, tried to make certain habits and customs of a society or culture more comprehensible – why do we act in such and such manner, why do we celebrate certain days of the year etc.?

Almost no human culture has lived in a splendid isolation, thus, it has been quite natural that some of these scenarios or their aspects have traversed from one culture to another. One might have just switched the names of the characters to fit their own store of scenarios. Thus, life stories of certain mythical and even historical persons became confused with all types of stories.

Before these scenarios were put to writing, they were obviously quite modifiable, and one tribe might have quite a bit of variation in their scenarios, when compared to a neighboring tribe. Indeed, when these scenarios were transferred from oral tradition to written form, the writers were forced to make compromises between various relevant versions of these scenarios.

It was also quite common that under new circumstances old scenarios were reinterpreted. If a nation congratulated itself as a chosen nation in its days of glory, a fall of that nation might have required an emendation that the nation was punished because of its bad behaviour. Practices that once were held to be of greatest importance might be ridiculed by later religious innovators as mere superfluity. Layers upon layers of reinterpretation heaped up.

An important element in many of these scenarios was formed by certain human-like personalities with powers beyond human capacities – it makes little difference in this context, whether these personalities were called gods, angels, demons or something else. The main point is that these superhuman persons gave a convenient reason for explaining natural phenomena that were clearly beyond human capacities.

These superhuman persons were not just shaped like any ordinary human being. Because of their power, these persons were often considered regal – kings above kings. And just like with human kings, their whims were something that one ought to obey. Gifts were given to appease divinities or to show gratitude for their grace.

Just like with other scenarios, the scenarios about superhuman persons became layered, when cultures converged and cultural environment changed. When nations with different superhuman persons came in contact, there were different strategies for synthesising the different scenarios. The divinities of other cultures could be incorporated as new gods, unknown before contact, or they could be identified with divinities of one's own culture. In any case, list of superhuman persons would keep on developing.

Unwieldy collections of divinities would require establishing some sort of hierarchy. Different gods and spirits could be taken as having been generated from one another, in a temporal ordering. Then again the gods could also be arranged according to their power and importance in the divine hierarchy and according to their appearance in the supposed history of divinities. In best cases, these two orderings might coincide at least partially and the gods with most power would be earlier in time also – in the most extreme case, the most powerful, highest or even the only god would be the ultimate source of everything else.

In time, the superhuman persons or divinities would be used to back up moral and legal statements. If a person acted in a manner not in line with some moral or legal standards, one could always say that the divinities would punish her: immediately, in the future or even after her death. In this fashion, the divinities would once again play the role of earthly rulers, who had also a duty of upholding the laws of the nation.

The role of superhuman persons as righteous judges in some scenarios and their role as powerful beings with some mischievous whims in other scenarios were in clear contradiction. Sometimes it was easy just to assign these roles to different persons. In a religion like Zoroastrianism, we see two juxtaposed forces, a good creator god battling against a destructive spirit.

In other cases, the assignment could not be done so easily. The Israelite god Yahweh acted sometimes like a dictatorial monarch, condemning all humanity for crimes that appeared to not deserve such a great punishment, yet he was still supposed to be a standard of morality. Gnostic sects did try to use the obvious solution and separate these two roles: Yaldabaoth, insane creator of human world thought himself to be the highest god, although he was only an accidental birth of higher and more benevolent divinities. Yet, the Gnostic rereading of Genesis remained an idea of mere sects, perhaps because the Yahweh scenarios were so deeply entrenched in the Jewish culture.

What is most important from my perspective is what happens when religious scenarios come in contact with philosophical ideas. A case in point is Philo, who read Torah in light of Greek philosophy, especially Platonism and Stoicism. Philo's strategy was to downplay the elements of Torah he finds too marvelous, such as the tales of giants. He even outright denied that e.g. tower of Babel could have been actually built, because the fiery air of the upper regions of the sky would have melted it. Of course, he still accepted things we might find quite fantastic, like the idea of souls as aerial entities descending from the heavens to snatch earthly bodies. Since this was something accepted by many philosophers of the day, Philo did not think it incredible, but quite a scientific story.

Philo also de-emphasised the role of Torah as a historical account, at least in a straightforward sense. Instead, he read Torah allegorically, so that each individual story contained hidden meanings, that could be applied universally to various cases. The basic idea behind this allegorical reading was to make Torah into a philosophically respectable text.

Thus, noting the somewhat confusing fact that Torah has two distinct creation stories, Philo had an explanation ready. God must have first created something akin to Platonic world of ideas, which served as a blueprint for the later, material creation – or actually ”first” refers only to the importance of various parts of creation, since Philo thought that the scenario of creation taking place in six days cannot be a literal truth, because God creates all at once.

This paradigmatic blueprint is a somewhat peculiar feature of Philo's reading. It is not quite clear, if it was meant to refer just to the mind of God or whether it was supposed to be something distinct from the God itself. Still, Philo described it with the Stoic word Logos, and like in Stoicism, it played the role of keeping the material world well-ordered.

Just like Plato had left the creation of earthly things to lower divinities, so did Philo suggest that God used lesser spiritual beings as helpers in the mundane creation. Thus, Philo was able to explain why Torah made God sometimes refer to himself in plural. Furthermore, Philo could then assume the common idea that stars and planets were actually living beings of a higher order than humans.

God created then both an ideal human being, or an ideal of how human should live their lives, and earthly human beings, who in many ways often fell short of this ideal. The scenario of the original sin, Philo read as a universal philosophical account of what led human mind (Adam) astray: it was senses (Eve), which were often beguiled by promises of pleasure (snake).

The true crime of human mind was still not its imperfection, but its arrogant assumption of being in possession of everything in the world (exemplified by Cain), while a better course of life would be to refer all back to God (like Abel did). Even worse than self-centered Cain were ”giants” or earth-bound people, like Epicureans, who followed nothing but their low desires. A counterpart to the giants was Noah, the first inventor of real agriculture, who tilled not only with soil, but with his fellow human beings, cultivating their education. Yet, Noah was just a symbol of a well-acting person, who still lacks the proper perfection of a human being, that is, wisdom.

Story of Abraham then recounts the life of a person learning true wisdom through teaching. Abraham left behind astrological speculations, which originated in Chaldea and which support the notion that world is self-sufficient and uncreated, and moved on to Haran, which symbolises reliance on sense perception that can be used as an evidence for God's existence. His further journies then represent further travails on the road to divine wisdom and his discussions with God show how a good man should let divine truth lead him in all circumstances. When Abraham conceived a child first with Hagar, the servant, and only afterwards with Sarah, Philo understood this to be just a description of the proper order of training – we should first train ourselves with disciplines that serve philosophy and only later with wisdom itself.

While Abraham was the symbolical man who learned wisdom, his son Isaac was supposedly something even higher, a person who is by nature wise. Their difference is symbolised by Abraham receiving a new name after his education, Philo said, while Isaac is always called by the same name. Somewhat less perfect than Abraham was his grandson Jacob or Israel, who was supposed to symbolise a person who learns wisdom – not through theoretical teaching, but through practice. Below all of the three was Joseph, whose knowledge lied in the material affairs of state.

But the highest figure in the eyes of Philo was the supposed writer of Torah, Moses, who was not just the perfect statesman, but also knew the mind of God best of all human beings. Torah was for Philo a book describing rules of conduct. The story of creation in Genesis confirmed the divine origin of these rules and the legendary figures before Moses showed how these rules could be put into practice. The four other books of Torah then stated the rules explicitly, firstly, in summarised form in Decalogue, and secondly, in form of particular laws. These latter laws fell under some general law of Decalogue and often had some symbolical meaning for Philo. For instance, circumcision Philo took to be symbolical expression for cutting away excessive pleasure.

Decalogue and the other laws of Torah thus served for Philo as a general guide of good conduct. The first two commands dealt with person's relation towards God. The created world belies the existence of a creator, and although finite human beings can never hope to completely understand what God is like, they can at least think of his powers, which were for Philo essentially the Platonic ideas giving unity and beauty to the whole material universe. Thus, one should not believe people denying the existence of either God or ideas and one should also not follow anyone who multiplies the number of gods. Furthermore, one should not put any created things, whether sensible or rational, above God, because they are imperfect in comparison.

The three following commands made further demands on a person's behaviour towards God, but on a more symbolical level. Because God is the most constant thing possible, Philo explained, one should avoid swearing to do anything by his name, since such promises must be kept. Since Philo's God had created world that follows certain simple numerical relationships, he also demanded his followers to have celebrations and special occasions according to a strict numeric scheme. Many of these holidays were meant for training our intellect, thus, anyone (even servants) should not need to do any bodily work at those times. Finally, parents were to Philo a symbol of divinity among humans, since they have created life and therefore their children must respect them.

Rest of the commands concerned the behaviour of human beings, when it is not directly involved with God. One should avoid excesses of sensual pleasure, Philo said, and so justified the strict rules governing sexuality in Torah. The only true purpose of sex for Philo was procreation – otherwise sex is merely gratification of one's sensuous desires – and Philo followed this view to its logical conclusion, denying even marriage with a person who is known to be barren.

Although sensuous or material side of a human being was lower for Philo than her intellect, Philo did admit that human body is the highest pinnacle of natural world. Hence, destroying such a body or killing a human being could not be tolerated. Indeed, any attempt to harm a living human being through violence, poison or other means was strictly forbidden.

After quickly condemning thievery and describing correct court proceedings. Philo returned to his pet peeve, the sensuous desire. This time, he was especially interested of the various restrictions on eating. Philo suggested that their purpose was to diminish the pleasure one gets from eating – you shouldn't ear pork, because pork just tastes too good. This was all part of Philo's conviction that material side of our existence is not to be overindulged.

This concluded Philo's attempt to rationalise the laws of Torah. Yet, he also wanted to show that Torah agreed with traditional Greek ideals of living, embodied in Platonic notion of four primary virtues. With some of these virtues Philo had an easy task – he also thought that we should follow wise teachers who know the ways of good living and that we should control our sensuous desires. Justice or the virtue of communal living was embodied especially in the commands of Torah on appointment of the kings and their duties and rights.

Courage was a more difficult thing, because warfare between city states was not so relevant thing anymore in Philo's own lifetime, although he did have the biblical tales of warfare to follow. Thus, it was more boldness at times of peace Philo concentrated on – something Cicero did also. It was especially a certain notion of masculinity Philo was after with his idea of courage – and he was very anxious to point out that Torah forbids men to dress in women's clothing.

Yet, Philo was not quite willing to let the Greek standards of good life to rule over the guidance of Torah. While Plato had thought that respect of divinities was no independent virtue, since divinities really wanted us just to live well, Philo thought that Torah guides us toward respecting God as the most important thing, for instance, through sacrifices. Another important element by which Philo modified Greek and especially Platonic ethics was his suggestion that repentance and humility is something to be respected – if one can admit one's faults, one is at least on a way toward better life.

Furthermore, Philo suggested a quite new way to evaluate worth of person's action, namely, their gentleness in dealing with other living beings. We should treat everyone with respect, even if their condition in life belies of a low social status or even slavery, he said. Indeed, Philo had no respect for supposed nobility by birth, because good persons have had bad children and vice versa. Even animals must be respected and one should not kill or destroy them in an improper fashion.

Philo was then an example of a philosopher trying to rationalise religious texts, but he was definitely not the only one in late antiquity combining philosophy and religion. Indeed, there was one important group of philosophers interested in religions - Platonists - and an important religious group with philosophically inclined thinkers - the Christian Church Fathers.

perjantai 1. heinäkuuta 2016

Science and learning in antiquity

The general tendency of ancient Greek and Roman thought has been to associate philosophy with the practice of good life and the ability to pursue such a life, although we have seen Aristotle instead relating the highest philosophy to theoretical knowledge of certain key elements of the world. Still, philosophy of the ancients was not completely separate from the questions of science, or learning in general, and for instance, early Stoics thought that full knowledge of the world and its ways was at least a necessary precondition of perfectly good life. Thus, it is justifiable to investigate Greek science and learning to shed some light on the ancient philosophy.

By far the most developed science of ancient times was mathematics. We often hear of the external form of Euclidean mathematics, which supposedly derives everything from self-evident axioms and definition through incontestable demonstrations. All of this sounds like Greek mathematics would have been quite formal and removed from ordinary experience. Yet, when we look at e.g. Euclid's Elements, we quickly find that Greek mathematics was quite heavily linked to experience. Just think about some key proofs at the beginning of the first book: Euclid asks us to move one triangle on top of another triangle and thus to conclude that the two triangles coincide. This is a primary manner in which the similar magnitude of areas is seen – through quite concrete experiment. In fact, many of the more complex proofs dealing with areas work by cutting compared areas to pieces that we could then know to be similar by relying on some previous propositions – and ultimately on direct observation. This is in fact the manner in which Euclid proves the most famous theory of elementary geometry, the Pythagorean formula.

Although Euclid called his book Elements, an average modern reader would probably find only the first book filled with recognisable questions of elementary geometry: when are triangles similar, what is the sum of the angles in a triangle, how are the angles generated by parallel line related etc.? The second book already opens up avenues unfamiliar from geometry. The book apparently deals with rectangles, but the true topic of the book are certain equations of algebra. Ancient mathematicians had as yet no way to express complex calculations in any other way than through geometric means – squaring through actual squares, multiplication through rectangles. Thus, a simple task of squaring the sum of two magnitudes was represented as a square made out of a line combined of two smaller lines – and the result was then shown to consist of two smaller squares, with sides equal to the smaller lines, together with two rectangles formed by same two lines.

The need to express such equations explains also certain uses of circle by ancient mathematicians. Circle was, of course, important because it provided a way to copy a length of one line to another place. It was also a source for more intricate tools. At the very end of the third book of Elements, Euclid proves that no matter what sort of lines you draw, from a spot outside the circle, towards the circle and cutting it in two places, the rectangle formed by the first line between the spot and the first cutting place and the second line between the two cutting places is always of the same size – and if the line merely touches the circle, the square formed by the line between the spot and the touching place equals all these rectangles. This at first somewhat uninteresting result works in many proofs as a convenient trick e.g. to express some multiples as squares.

The fourth book of Elements continues the study of circles, and its topic is especially drawing figures of certain shape within and around circles. While at first this might seem rather unimportant pursuit, fit only for decorative purposes, it is actually of utmost importance at least in two cases. Firstly, it gives a convenient manner to divide the circumference of circle to equal parts – something which is especially useful for astronomical purposes. Secondly, it can be used to estimate the area of circle. The latter case deserves a more thorough explanation.

Elements is not precisely meant to provide for exact formulas for measurement. Instead, it gives exact means for measuring relations between different geometrical objects. In fact, the fifth book contains a theory of ratios between different magnitudes – that is, it tells us when a pair of number is related exactly in the same manner as another pair and when the pair has a larger or smaller ratio than the other pair. This is convenient in case of estimating magnitude of figures that one cannot express through simple algebraic means. For instance, in the sixth book Euclid can show that two circles have the exactly same ratio as squares on their diameters. Here Euclid is helped by what is called a method of exhaustion. By drawing polygons within and around the circles, he points out that their ratios provide limits between which the ratios of the circles must fall – and because every other ratio exceeds limits given by some of these polygons, the only alternative is the one already mentioned.

Elements is then a book on two-dimensional geometry, but it is also a book on arithmetics – or at least for certain arithmetical principles. Euclid doesn't go so far as to do exact calculations, but we do know from other sources that actual counting at antiquity was rather cumbersome. Instead, in the seventh, eighth and ninth book of Elements Euclid explicates such trivialities as ”odd times even is even”, but also goes through very intricate truths about number, for instance, that there is no highest prime number.

This theory of numbers provides also a ground for Euclid's theory of rational and irrational quantities, which is developed in the tenth book. The notion of ratios provides again a starting point: we just choose some magnitude as rational and then all magnitudes of same type that have the same ratio to the rational magnitude as a number has to another number are rational, while other magnitudes of same type are irrational. Since it is especially geometric magnitudes, or lines and areas, Euclid deals with, he makes the somewhat confusing choice that even all lines with rational squares should be called rational. Going through various relations between lines and areas, Euclid provided a crude classification of all irrationals, only to conclude that his classification fails to account for all irrationals.

The final three books of Elements extend the geometrical account to three-dimensional cases. What is most intriguing is perhaps the manner in which Euclid defines the various three-dimensional shapes through a method for their construction, for instance, when a circle is thought as moving around one of its diameters, a sphere is formed. The actual propositions of the last books are mostly rather uninspiring: we are shown in a similar manner to two-dimensional cases what are the relations of e.g. pyramids and rectangular solids with same bases and same height and we see that relations of cones and cylinders can then be determined through the method of exhaustion. The final book still closes with a true high note, when Euclid shows how to inscribe all the five Platonic shapes into balls and demonstrates that the sides of these shapes must be certain irrationals.

All the things in the two-dimensional part of Elements are accomplished through circles and straight line. In later mathematics, this was made a sort of virtue, but it seems clear that at least not all ancient mathematicians did not put as strict limits to mathematics. This is shown even by Euclid's three-dimensional mathematics and its method of constructing three-dimensional shapes, but even more clearly by the ancient treatises of various types of curves, most interesting of which are possibly the conic sections, which get their names from being generated by planes cutting the cones in different angles. The use of conic section is, once again, not arbitrary, but important e.g. for expressing relations between one- and two-dimensional magnitudes.

Another interesting point in ancient mathematics is Arhcimedes' account of how to calculate various curvilinear areas and volumes. On some level, not much has changed from Euclidean account of finding relations that hold e.g. between circles. In many cases Archimedes even uses the same method of exhaustion Euclid had applied. For instance, when trying to determine the segment of a parabola, Archimedes shows that we can limit the area of the segment through sums of triangles, and by making the triangles smaller and smaller the limits become closer and closer to a certain area. But Archimedes had also another type of proof for such theories – he showed that when put to a lever the segment could be balanced with a triangle of a certain area, which was then equal to the segment. In other words, Archimedes used mechanical principles to determine an answer to a mathematical problem. As he himself testifies, this mostly just helped him to discover the areas, but he didn't accept it as a proper proof, which could be determined only through mathematical means.

Although Archimedes did use then mechanics as a tool in mathematics, more familiar is his application of mathematics in mechanics. There was considerable interest on mechanical questions even before Archimedes, as shown by a work on mechanical problems, attributed to Aristotle, but in a sense, in Archimedes the ancient tradition of mechanics culminated. Especially important in this context is the notion of a centre of gravity, that is, a place to which we can think that the whole weight of a body is concentrated. Through this notion Archimedes can prove a number of important mechanical principles, such as the lever law – the longer the stick the more weight you can lift. Note how close to practice the Archimedean practice of mechanics is – it is all about making machines, like levers and pulleys.

Even more important field of application for mathematics was the study of stars and their comings and goings. Here especially the study of circles and angles was of primary importance. Earth and the universe were pictured as a sphere within a sphere. By carefully noting the distances between places, measuring differences of shadows and the places of stars in the sky, one could get a reasonable model of the place of the Earth in relation to the universe. Then by following the changes in the positions of the stars, and especially of the strangest of these, that is, planets, and by assuming that the movements of all heavenly objects must be somehow based on circles, Ptolemy constructed a reasonably accurate model of planetary movement.

Ancient thinkers were not satisfied with mere modelling of planetary movement, but they also tried to explain this phenomenon. The basic notions were simplistically mechanical or then compared the movement of stars to movements of animal things. Whatever the case, the stars themselves and their movement was supposed to have an effect on Earthly things through their pressure on Earth's atmosphere. Such influences were also felt to be a justification for attempts to predict key events in human life.

In addition to these astrological considerations, study of stars was quite useful in making maps – one can use the positions of stars in the night sky for approximating one's position on the globe. Here ancient mathematical learning came in contact with ancient empirical knowledge. One cannot say that Greeks and Romans would not have appreciated empirical learning. Quite the contrary, as Strabo's geographical writings and Pliny's collection of all sorts of interesting factoids show.

What was lacking was such technological advances like telescope and microscope, which have allowed us to see farther and in more detail. Also, the lack of trustworthy and fast communications often made it impossible to verify the facts collected, which makes these empirical compilations into an often tantalising mix of truths and fairy tales. One can see that there was e.g. great technological expertise on various special subjects, such as metallurgy, but this expertise was dispersed to many different individuals – while one person could know everything of, say, gold and its behaviour, he might have no idea about forging iron.

While ancient culture did have empirically discovered information on many questions of nature, the role of theoretical foundation of such information was rather ambiguous, reflecting the conflicts between various philosophical schools. The complex interactions between theory and empiria and many viewpoints on these interactions can be well exemplified through the difference of ancient schools of medicine. We have methodists, who were affiliated with the Pyrrhonic school and who accepted only some rules of thumb that had appeared to work in previous occasions. We have empiricists, who accepted immediate appearances and experiences as a tool for suggesting treatment, but who denied the possibility of any knowledge on the hidden causes of various diseases. And there were various rationalist schools, who attempted to justify their procedures through some theoretical framework, although what was a correct theory of human body was a point hotly debated.

Probably the most famous of these researchers of medicine was Galen, whose position was somewhere between empirical and rational schools. Galen despised methodists, whom he thought as mere bunglers and frauds. He was quite sympathetic of empiricists and admitted that in many cases empirical observations were enough for discovering a good treatment. He endorsed the rationalist ideal of a science of medicine based on certain foundations, but only if the foundations were correct. His preferred theory of human body was quite Aristotelian: the constituents of human body were characterised by four qualities (hotness, dryness, coldness and wetness), and if some quality took a too forceful position in some part of the body, causing imbalance and disharmony, a proper treatment was to apply opposed quality.

While Galenian medicine thus offered a comprehensive account of the biological make-up of human body, rhetoric was at least advertised as a comprehensive account of the cultural side of human beings. On the superficial level, the topic of the rhetoric is much more restricted – the production of speeches, and especially of speeches meant to be used in a court setting. Thus, the central aim of ancient rhetoric was to show how to invent good arguments for one's position, how to arrange these arguments into a coherent whole, how to express this whole in a good style, how to memorise the written speech and how to present it in a compelling manner.

Yet, writers like Cicero and Quintilian were eager to suggest that rhetoric was something more, namely the lost half of philosophy. That is, they pictured a time, when philosophical study of truths and especially of truths concerning good human life and rhetorical expertise of expressing those truths were an undivided unity. A conclusion they both draw was that a good rhetorician should also be a good person and know all the intricacies of human life.

An important part in rhetoric, Quintilian suggested was then the education of a future rhetoric. As it should be evident from his wide definition of rhetoric, Quntilian plans a careful curriculum for his imaginary students who wish to learn ,not just the tricks of the trade, but also the rudiments for becoming an ideal speaker. It appears that an ideal speaker should learn as much a possible from every topic – even if her skills are to be used in the courthouse, it is a definite possibility that some case would require expertise knowledge of some special topic. In addition to specialised knowledge, the rhetorician-to-be should also learn history, since past events often play part in modern cases. A special place in the curriculum is given to literature, which at the same time teaches the students the basics of good language, but also suggests various examples of human behaviour.

Quintilian's school of rhetoric incorporates then two important pieces of humanist learning: history and literature, both of which were important fields of study in antiquity. Study of history in ancient Greece and Rome was in a sense something quite different from academic history of our time. The ancient historians had progressed not much beyond mere chronicling of events. Often their standards of criticism were quite suspect. As a case in point, we might raise the historian of philosophy, Diogenes Laërtius, whose work is at worst a rambling collection of anecdotes from the lives of philosophers, without a proper explanation of their philosophies. The main historical guide line of Diogenes is the notion of one philosopher being a student of another, which allows him to create two lines of thinkers, but fails in explaining how the ideas of earlier philosophers led to ideas of future philosophers.

As for study of different types of literature, a scholarly criticism was quite developed. As an example, we might pick out the investigation of works of Aristotle, ancient commentaries on which could have filled libraries. An important example of this tradition is Alexander of Aphrodisias, who apparently set out to explain all of Aristotle's extant works, although only a handful of his commentaries have been passed down to us. And explain he does. Following through Aristotle's account of different types of deductions, Alexander goes carefully through every reasoning and every example Aristotle uses, expanding Aristotle's sometimes rather summarised sentences.

In some cases, Alexander picks on details that Aristotle probably did not mean as important. Why did Aristotle choose to present the three different figures of syllogisms in a certain order, Alexander asks. Pretty clearly the first figure is most important, because it is the only one allowing us to prove universal and affirmative propositions, required in scientific reasoning. Alexander takes this line of thought further and suggests that second figure, leading only to negative conclusions, is second best, because it can be used in philosophical debates, meant for refuting the ideas of opponents – and the third figure is then worst, leading only to particular conclusions and thus useful only in sophistical reasoning, in which propositions applying merely for particular cases are deceptively presented as holding in general.

At times, Alexander defends Aristotle against later critics. For instance, some Stoics had claimed that Aristotle went wrong in assuming that one cannot deduce impossibilities out of possibilities, because a possible statement ”Dion is dead” implied a statement ”he is dead” (”he” referring to Dion), but since the Greek term for ”he” could be used only of living persons, the implied statement was always an impossibility. Alexander noted that, if Stoics were correct in their grammar, then the first statement simply did not imply the latter. Furthermore, he pointed out that since Stoics believed in eternal recurrence of all things, death was always only a temporary state and one could refer to a dead person with a pronoun.

Alexander also opposed Stoics on their understanding of negation. Stoics had suggested that ”Socrates is not white” is not the negation of ”Socrates is white”, because both of these presuppose that Socrates exist, while ”It is not so that Socrates is white” does not, making it the sought-out negation. Alexander pointed out that a proper name did not necessarily refer to an existing entity, like in a sentence ”My future son will be called Eric”, which made Stoic assumption doubtful.

At other times, Alexander tried to show that certain innovations of later logicians were already accounted for by Aristotle. Thus, he attempts to show that a deduction consisting of nothing else but conditionals (”if A then B, if B then C, thus, if A then C”) must still follow syllogistic rules, because the premisses must have been ultimately deduced syllogistically.

Sometimes Alexander went clearly too far in his attempt to speak for Aristotle. A good example is latter's attempt to add necessity and possibility in his logic. Aristotle's efforts become quickly a hopeless muddle, when he distinguished many different meanings of possibility or contingency and then himself confused these various meanings from time to time. Alexander's valiant effort to make sense out of it manages just to muddle the issue even further.

tiistai 28. kesäkuuta 2016

The Stoic Attitude

Although we've seen philosophic schools like Epicureans and Academics find followers in Rome, by the time of Imperial Rome it was definitely the Stoic school that had the most prominent and influential members – take for instance, Seneca, famous as a minister for the emperor Nero.

It was a clear need for education that drew Seneca to philosophy. He admits that learning anything for the sake of profit is not worth the time of a gentleman – a common attitude among ancient philosophers. But not even the usual studies of nobility of his time satisfied Seneca. Grammar and poetry are of no consequence in matters of life, and neither is music. Mathematics can be useful in ascertaining the lay of my lands, but this does not still tell me whether I should own land at all. And even if astrological predictions are true, it is of no use to know my future, if I cannot avoid it.

Even all areas of philosophy were not so important in Seneca's eyes. Logic he especially regarded as often concerning itself with mere trivialities. What does it help to know in how many ways word “friend” is used, if it does not tell us what to do to a friend? Seneca ridicules even the seemingly clever syllogisms of Zeno and other Stoics, who try to prove great ethical truths with simple logical tricks. Even worse is to spend time thinking about fallacies like Liar's paradox – learning about such mistakes in reasoning does not advance us at all in what is truly important in our life.

Yet, abstract reasoning about genera and meaning of being might have a place in life, Seneca admits, for if one is to be entertained, one might even at least train one's mind with one's entertainment. And at least Platonic idea of true being residing in something covered by reasoning shows us not to hold things of sense world in great value.

Questions about nature Seneca found somewhat more interesting, and he even compiled a treatise of curiosities of natural phenomena. Although interesting in themselves, these phenomena also point to some builder behind all these wonders, who shares a similar relation to world than soul to its body. The existence of such a creative intelligence suggests to Seneca that life of a person continues, even when separated from its dying body.

But it was especially the question of how to live that interested Seneca and one that he thought philosophy was especially fit to answer. Of course, philosophical study itself might benefit of an addition of simple guiding lines in these matters – in spur of the moment, remembering a simple piece of wisdom might be easier than going through elaborate proof. Yet, mere sayings are still not enough, especially as, Seneca says, current times are perverted and so far from the natural way of life that every possible help is required for living well.

It seems no question of human condition was too small to interest Seneca, as he ponders even such problems whether it is best to read detached sentences from several books or concentrate your attention on few books. Indeed, he says, philosophy is not just a source for some isolated principles, but an example for molding your whole life.

But it is especially big questions of life that Seneca is interested of. One should live the life to utmost and take advantage of every moment, because death is something that is inevitably following everyone and may surprise us suddenly. And if one should live old enough, one should cherish every day even more and relish the days when the desires of youth have gone by. And when the time comes, one must seize the opportunity and leave the aching body behind without any care.

Seneca's advice to seize the day was especially meant to eradicate all fears of future disasters. Why should one be unhappy before an event has occurred? If one is complacent with the idea that even the seemingly worst fate of them all, that is, one's death, can be an honourable event and that death leads either to cessation of all experiences, good and bad alike, or to release of human mind from bondage of body, all reasons to fear vanish. A person who has truly understood this will remain indifferent to her outward conditions – whether he is sensually pleasured or tormented by pain, her state of mind will be unaffected. Even a loss of something dear, like a good friend or beloved child, is something she does not regret – at least she has not switched good to a devious friend and at least she has had the opportunity to enjoy the life of her child thus far. And all the seeming hardships of life she deems to be mere challenges set by god, in which she can show the strength of her character. Even if this seems like an ideal that one cannot truly perform, it is an idea that one should try to emulate as much as she can.

Even the most seemingly useful negative emotions prove to be disadvantageous on a closer look. Thus, while Aristotelians would have commended the emotion of anger, as long as it was kept under strict control, Seneca wants to have none of this, since giving even restricted freedom to rage means losing one's self-control. Indeed, it is some results of rage that are more to be commended, such as a brave stance towards injustice, but these can also be a consequence of a controlled mind. In fact, it is much better not to hate people, whom one punishes, since their crimes are just a sign of their lack of self-control. Especially important this ability to control one's anger and be merciful is to people with great power, since on their decision depends lives of many people.

A good question is whether it is at all possible then to get rid of such negative emotions like anger, when they seem to arise in us without any choice on our parts. Yet, Seneca suggests, it is only the first impulse that is generated naturally, but turning impulses into actions still requires our assent. We might weaken impulses through exercise, but most important remedy against e.g. angered behaviour is not to give in to impulses demanding such a behaviour. For instance, we should take time to let our first feelings cool and to reflect whether the thing that made us angry really is worth all the fuss.

The result of losing all these negative emotions, Seneca believed, was not a state of no emotions, but a state of full joy. It was a state in which one truly controlled oneself and felt happy about this self-control – and this was the true source of happiness. Thus, things like traveling can by themselves lead to no happiness, since the main source of human activity or person's own mind remains same throughout one's travels. Yet, this does not mean that a truly wise person would completely disparage all external matters – if it be in her power to choose, she will still e.g. prefer doing honourable deeds benefiting her family or country than to be assailed by sickness and pain, and she would gladly have riches, because she can use them for good purposes.

Although Seneca thus insisted that perfect living would imply taking control of oneself, he also admitted that some reactions of body can never be fully controlled. For instance, some people naturally blush in novel situations, but this is just due to an increase in blood flow and not to any weakness in their character. Similarly, although a perfectly wise person would feel joy when thinking of happy times spent with departed friends, the body might still force some tears to her eyes. Indeed, Seneca says, one should not take that much care of body – only a moderate exercise is enough, because one should concentrate more on the well-being of one's mind, which was the truly divine element in a person.

Seneca's ideas of social relations are ambiguous. On the one hand, one should avoid crowds, especially when they are engaging in some brutal and inhuman activity, like gladiator battles, which Seneca despised. One should even try to make oneself as uninteresting as possible in eyes of the people, in other words, live as unluxurious life as possible – at least one should from time to time try to live with just the barest essentials. Indeed, why should one gather much wealth, when needs of nature can be fulfilled so easily, and in case of total deprivation one can still leave the life? Equally unimportant is social status, since we all derive from the same stock, and it is quite unimportant if other people think less of you because of your status in life. Some might even say that low status means easier life, since one does not then need to care about envy of people – and one should not take slavery as a reason to not enjoy a person's company.

On the other hand, it is good to have companions whom you trust, whom you can help in their need and with whom you can share all that you have learned from the art of living. Indeed, a person who is still just learning the art of good life requires some guidance from other people. And even if truly well-living persons can spend their time happily with themselves and live their whole life as a hermit, they still prefer having around them people they like, since company of friends is a source of joy also. One should just not be beguiled to think that one needs a lot of riches to provide for one's friends, for true friends will remain one's friends, no matter what one's financial condition.

Seneca's opinion on political affairs is equally ambiguous. Surely a wise person should help the community in any way she can, but if the community does not want her advice and especially if it is ruled by power-hungry and self-seeking persons, there is no duty to take care of such a community. Then a wise person might as well spend her life quietly contemplating the wonders of the universe – that is also useful, since surely such divine works require some observer.

Compared to Seneca, Epictetus seems more like the traditional image of a Stoic – a former slave, who dedicated his life to teaching other people the secrets of philosophy. His main conviction on this score was that students often just tried to memorise sayings of famous philosophers, which in itself was still no philosophy – a true philosopher was known of his actions, not of his lectures.

Like Seneca before him, Epictetus spoke of all three traditional parts of Stoic philosophy. He didn't disparage even logic or study of what is true. Indeed, he despised all skeptical philosophers who had thrown away the greatest gift of human beings or the capacity for reasoning, which is the only true measure of truth. An irrational person or a person who falls for all sorts of false deductions has erred and should thus correct herself, even if an error in reasoning seems a less important thing than an error in behaviour. Even study of rhetoric was of some use, Epictetus thought, because clarity in speech made it more easy for others to understand you. Still, one should not confuse such preliminary studies with the genuine philosophy.

The use of the study of nature lies in Epictetus' view especially in the evidence that it offers for the existence of some artificer or god behind the whole world. God has created the world purposefully and has given every creature its share of natural capacities to use – even such a seemingly useless thing as a beard is valuable, since it is such a clear sign of gender, Epictetus claims. To human beings, god gave something divine, namely, reason. Thus, we should be proud of our own heritage, which ultimately leads to god, and at the same time, respect the value of other human beings, no matter what their station in life.

Just like with Seneca, the true value of philosophy, according to Epictetus, lies in the art of living – it is here that one's progress in study of philosophy is evaluated. Epictetus notes that the art of living is in a sense something that everyone must look for herself, because everyone has different capacities – for some people, it is good to humble oneself and carry the chamber pot of their superiors, for others, that would be a great insult and a reason to object one's superiors. Similarly, one cannot really condemn people for living badly, because it is not their fault if they haven't been taught the skills required for good life – a thief just hasn't been explained well, why she shouldn't continue in her ways.

Still, even if no detailed rules fit for everyone can be made, Epictetus is still willing to say something general about good life. There is only one thing we can control, he insists, namely, our attitude towards all what we perceive to happen, while everything else lies beyond our control. The rule of good life is then to aim to control what we can – that is, our attitudes toward everything – and not care about things we can never control, like riches and health. This is the only way to true freedom, Epictetus says, because true freedom requires complete control of oneself.

In other words, we should be cautious about things we can control and confidently bear things we cannot control. Among the things one cannot control is one's bodily appearance. Thus, Epictetus says, we should not spend our time for improving our appearance or lamenting our bodily health. Instead, one should make one's inner choices as beautiful as possible and bear one's illnesses as gracefully as possible. And if one's life becomes unbearable, one should always remember that in suicide lies the final escape route out of all miseries.

Among the things one cannot control are also the actions of others. What should if I care, if others despise or pity me? What should I care, if a powerful person threatens my external conditions or my body? What should I care, if someone else failed to live like a philosopher? All of these things are such that I have no say on them. Because the lure of other people is so enticing, Epictetus suggests that a philosopher-to-be should at first avoid large crowds and return to civilisation only after fortifying one's mind.

Although Epictetus did not place much value in community life, he did not want to make Stoics into complete hermits. Indeed, he says a philosopher should clean oneself, so as to be worthy of being called a human being – and not to repulse other persons from philosophy, because of the stench. Epictetus is also willing to disregard certain radical ideas on community life of earlier Stoics. For instance, when earlier Stoics had declared that all women should be communally owned, Epictetus points out that we still shouldn't touch a woman with a different husband, because it would also be rude to take one's seat in a theater, although neither of you exactly owns the seat.

Epictetus divides the learning to live well into three phases. Firstly, one should try to tame one's emotions, so that neither love nor hate would affect one's judgement in any manner. Secondly, one should know one's duties in relation to other persons and act according to them. Finally, one should cultivate one's faculty of judgement, so that one is always in a position to say what is good or bad, no matter whether one's faculties are in a good condition or not.

Epictetus held Cynics as an ideal of living well. He congratulated Diogenes as truly independent and thus kingly person, because Diogenes was never perturbed by sudden blows of fate, such as being captured by pirates, but treated them with the same disdain as all others. Epictetus himself admits that he has a long way to go, if he wants to achieve the ideal result.

While Seneca wrote long essays on various themes, teachings of Epictetus were collected by his student, Arrian, and were often quite short. Even more aphoristical are the writings of our final example of later Stoics, Marcus Aurelius, who is quite an extraordinary specimen – a ruler of the Roman empire. In contrast with his grand state, he begins his Meditations quite humbly by reminding himself how much he has gotten from people who have educated him and taught of the ways of good life.

Humble is also his view about his own mental capacities. Everything in human life seems like a fleeting opinion, nothing is certain and not just material world, but everything in human soul is flux, he says. Yet, this is all just indifferent, because important thing is to keep hold of what is truly essential in oneself and disregard everything else by severing ties to one's material side. Even if there were no divinities, it would be good to hold on to what seems divine in you and gain complete self-mastery. Yet, even though Marcus Aurelius is sure that there are divinities taking care of the world, this does not mean any change in one's ideal behaviour: it is still good to live as naturally as possible.

An important part of life, Marcus Aurelius says, is the inevitable loss of one's faculties due to old age. This is nothing to complain about, since decay is also a part of natural progress. Even death is nothing to complain about, since it is only dissolution and return of body to the material elements, from which it originally arose. Life is like a stage, and we just have to bow out of it, when our time comes – and who knows, we might have to play the same part again during the repeating cycles of the world, so we should better play our part well.

The fact of old age and death does mean that one should not waste time with anything that one cannot really control, such as thoughts of other people. Instead, one should concentrate on what is most noble in human beings, that is, their capacity to reflect on things. Reason should be put to good use by inspecting and accepting everything that happens around us – whatever happens is just part of the natural course of the world. Being disturbed of all the pain, decay and death is disrespectful of the powers controlling the world, since all these things form the natural cycle of the world. Of course, it is also natural that humans act against their better reason and are disrespectful of everything in their deeds and words. Thus, one should not be disturbed of the fact that some people cannot act in such a philosophical manner, even more so if oneself is also incapable of living all times like a philosopher.

The capacity to reflect gives us a constant resting place from the ordeals and pains of human life. If something disturbs you, Marcus Aurelius says, you have the power to change your opinion and conclude that it wasn't nothing to be disturbed of. It is oneself everyone should be trying to control, not others, who might always be beyond your power. Ironically, this ruler of Roman empire appears to think that one of the worst fates that can befall a human being is becoming an emperor. Still, if one has to take that position, one must hold that position like a philosopher would.

The existence of reason is something shared by all human beings. Thus, reason connects all human beings into one community. Similarly, the whole world forms a unity, in which all living beings should be respected. One should dedicate one's life to this cosmological community by accepting the fate universe has bestowed on one. In world, Marcus Aurelius says, things feed one another, thus, what seems death and destruction is actually just change of one shape of matter into another according to rules and laws of universe. Then again, just like an individual should help the (local or global) community, she should be ready to accept help from others, since a group of persons can achieve things that a single individual by herself couldn't.

Although Marcus Aurelius was a dedicated Stoic, his aphorisms show a bit of carelessness in the acceptance of Stoicism. Thus, he is quite indifferent about the question whether world is governed by a benevolent person or whether Epicureans were right in denying all intention about the behaviour of the world. Whatever the case, Marcus Aurelius says, we should still hold on to our independence and reason.

In a sense, this branch of Stoicism has taken to its inevitable conclusion the idea that philosophy is all about the art of living. This development is in a sense a natural concomitant of the growing independence of other fields of investigation, which is something I'll take a look at in my next post. And when philosophy became synonymous with ethics, it was deprived of all speculations concerning the nature of reality – who cares whether world is ruled by chaos, providence or necessity, as long as I can control myself? Yet, this void of speculation could not be left empty and in yet further posts we will see how philosophy was overtaken by religion.