Aristotle and Ethics in a minute.

‘One swallow doesn’t make a summer’. This is a phrase from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics which nicely alludes to his thought on happiness, meaning that he felt a few moments of pleasure don’t add up to true happiness. When we think of happiness we might think of holidays, chocolate or books but to Aristotle this would not have been enough for a good life, as for Aristotle, happiness is not so much about how you feel but more about what you achieve over a long period of time. It might be understood as the feeling we get at the end of the day when the sun is setting and we feel our days work is done.

Equally for Aristotle, virtue played a pivotal role in his concept of happiness or fulfilment. What Aristotle called the ‘magnanimous man’ was someone different from the Christian saint. quoting Bertrand Russell, ‘he should have proper pride, and not underestimate his own merits. He should despise whoever deserves to be despised.’ This justified Nietzsche’s criticism of religion as slave morality a few millennia later…

Similarly, Aristotle thought that virtue was the means between two extremes. For example, it is bad to not tell the truth, but Aristotle argues that it is also bad to be too truthful, namely, heavily criticising your grandmothers cooking!! Ultimately, Aristotle champions the philosopher and wished to create a society in which children grew up articulating the world with wisdom. This is what Aristotle meant when he said that ethics and therefore happiness was only open to the philosophers. Similar to the famous maxim of Socrates ‘an unexamined life is not worth living’.



Knowledge to be applied in our lives: Epicurus.

like most of the philosophies of Epicurus’ age, they aimed at securing tranquility for the individual. Epicurus is a great example for the universal applicability of Epicureanism as he himself was poor and suffered from ill health throughout most of his life yet still managed to live a life of great bravery and fortitude.

Pleasure:

Epicurus’ pleasure was not quite our modern day definition of pleasure or hedonism. Epicurus himself lived a very minimalistic life eating no more than bread and olives with the occasional slice of cheese, as Epicurus exclaims ‘the greatest good of all is prudence’. Similar to buddhism, Epicurus somewhat renounces the material world in an attempt to flee from the constraints of culture. amongst the prohibitions Epicurus noted an involvement in political life, sexual pursuits and marriage as difficult when attempting to pursue a life of peace. Essentially, for Epicurus his notion of pleasure was cynical, he didn’t believe in consumerist happiness and renounced a lot of what Aristotle or the stoics might have thought of when conceptualising the good life. Epicurus’ philosophy is a one of peace.

Friendship:

Above all however, Epicurus thought that the safest of social pleasures was in fact friendship. Having renounced most of his surroundings he recognised that one was not able to live without friends. This is what I believe we can learn from Epicurus, as he calls for a interconnectivity or a brotherhood of man that seems to be crucial to us as social beings. Although we may not agree with the austerity and asceticism that runs through Epicurus’ work, we can all agree that our social relationships dictate much of our lives and really ensuring these are meaningful to us is a mission worth working towards. But why is it so important?

Friends are their to comfort you in both joy and sadness. They can help you gain perspective when your life has gone astray.

Friends are integral for developing social skills, if we didn’t have friends we would never have been able to act out different personalities, styles and modes of behaviour that help us develop as young people. In the best cases, friends can act as a self-critical group that strengthen your sense of morality.

Making friends can break down social barriers. Making friends with someone of different skin colour, religion or sex is useful for us when expanding our circle of tolerance.

More selfishly, friends can help us with our health and longevity. Studies have shown that old people with friends generally live happier and healthier lives.

Conversations, fraternity, sorority and friendship are what we need if we are to unpack complex problems. Debates we seen on youtube or conversations we see on TV news could be greatly improved if we attempted to conduct our speech in the spirit of friendship.

Knowledge to be applied in our lives: On Liberty(Mill, J.S. 1859)

Freedom and eccentricity:

‘while mankind are imperfect there should be different opinions, so it is that there should be different experiments of living’. This maxim from Mill’s On Liberty is a valid reason for why freedom of speech should never be prohibited as long as it doesn’t transfigure into violent acts. However, there have been debates over whether hate speech in fact propels violence, So I won’t try and answer the question on absolute free speech today, but I will demonstrate the relationship between the precious commodity of eccentricity and freedom.

In this book, Mill coins the ‘harm principle’, which in layman’s terms means that I should be able to do whatever I want as long as I’m not harming anyone, or better put, “my fist ends at the tip of your nose”. Mill also thought that free speech was heavily dependent on where you say it, for example, shouting “BOMB!” in a theatre full of people knowing their isn’t a bomb is a violation of free speech, yet speech to offend should not be prohibited, as sometimes forms of truth are not golden and shiny but instead, cold and frosty. Again, I’m not arguing whether this is patently right as we might be more enmeshed than Mills thought, but that at least there are aspects of importance here that can be applicable to our lives.

Mill gives us the freedom to live experimentally, trying different forms of behaviour and expanding our societies scope for creativity and eccentricity. Most people are content to live a life relative conformity and that is fine, but the idea of being creative, eccentric and individual should always be offered to people if needed. If we all hesitated to criticise someone for wearing a strange hat, walking the dog at 1am or being unusually awkward, we would in fact live freer ourselves as the realms of possible experience would expand, potentially leading us to live more original and interesting lives. Although moral laws are crucial for our collective consciousness, we must admit that freedom of being is yet to fully develop. It is necessary for this to happen for progress as some of the most enlightened adepts of all disciplines and occupations such as Nietzsche, Ghandi, Da Vinci, Wilde, Diogenes were able go lives that defied conventionality. Specifically, Da Vinci as a kid would go out, observe and ask questions about existence such as ‘what is the colour of a woodpeckers tongue?’. Ghandi, coming from a wealthy family ended living in robes usually worn by the poor and Wilde would dress flamboyantly in a time when this was unheard of. It is our job then to preserve this landscape of possibilities for ourselves and for the people who need it the most. Freedom of choice and speech must be seen as ongoing experiments that will at times offend us, but we should reflect on feelings of offence and ask, is it my lack of freedom that makes me externalise this uncertainty?

Knowledge to be applied in our lives(film): Embrace of the serpent(Guerra, C. 2015)

Forgotten lands:

Ciro Geurra’s dreamlike film, Embrace of the Serpent is full of sentiment, surrealism, terror and disarray. He does this by editing the film in an ethereal black and white haze of mysticism that casts a hypnotic veil over the audiences eyes. However for me, what this film more importantly shows is how the realm of mystical experience is rarely gazed at in the western world. We might think of the concept of the dream in this film as forgotten lands that still walk through our psyche’s at night, that still speak to us when reductionist materialism fails to generate feelings of wholesomeness. The central focus of the film is on a character called Karamakate who we are introduced to as a young adult and an old man. He is the last of his clan and seems to be the last person keeping the dreamscape alive and shows this by his faith in the dream but also by harbouring a cynicism of a world that may no longer exist. Quite aptly, the metaphorical destruction of the dream is shown through the destruction of his group due to the production of rubber, a material substance used for many reasons other than dreaming.

So what is the dream?

The dream represents the most precious aspect of religion. The ability to connect to phenomena in ways that are transportive and transfiguring. After all the word religion derives from the latin ‘religare’ which means to bind, to link and reconnect. I am not saying that this quality of experience is only a feature of religion or that any form of religious belief is necessary for this sense of transcendence, it is only that I Believe words like God, Religion and revelation have been useful polywords for a canon of experience that doesn’t have so much of a footing in the material world. In many ways Karamakate is symbolic of this effervescence that never seems to fully compute with the other main characters, two travellers from the west. Specifically, the scene in which Karamakate gives Yakruna to the traveller, he asks of the plant to show the man ‘everything it sees’ and ‘everything it feels’, which then cuts to a number of swooping birds eye view shots showing the majesty of the jungle and the interconnectedness of all phenomena that transcend appearances in consciousness. In the appearance of dualism there is every reason to, at times, know what it means to transcend this. Of course, I believe this has been the best use of religions but of course it often rarely features. crusades? slavery? fundamentalism? Yet lets not throw out the baby with the bath water. Lets promote freedom of choice, freedom of voice, fraternity and what the best of religion offers, a collection of transcendent experiences that all of us can attempt to have more of. Whether we call it God or religion does not matter.