World and Soul – Origen

Synopsis:

Origen’s exposition on the material world – and its relation to the human soul – examines the complexion of evil, the genesis of virtue, as well as the internal frictions of the middle-ground vis-à-vis human action. Origen affirms the mono-causality of wisdom, righteousness, and truth in synthesis with God.

Excerpts:

“The never-ending thirst for wisdom must be chosen by souls as their first object. This necessarily means first of all a strong orientation inward involving the closing of one’s eyes to the outer world.

“To ask about the soul means to cast one’s gaze into the abyss of eternal eons and immeasurable waves of fate.

“Just as when our eyes rest upon something made by an artist, our mind burns to know how and in what way and to what purpose it was made, far more and beyond all comparison with such things does our spirit burn with an unspeakable longing to know the why and wherefore of the works of God which we see.

“You must understand that you are another world in miniature, and that there is in you sun and moon and also stars.

“For the body to grow and to become great lies not within our power. For the body takes its material size, whether large or small, from its genetic origin; but our soul has its own causes and its free will to make it large or small.

*All excerpts have been taken from Origen: Spirit & Fire, The Catholic University of America Press.

Maxims – Seneca

54

Synopsis:

In letter #33, Seneca defines the balance between derivative reasoning, and novel thinking. According to Seneca, erudition functions only as a means to an end – rather than an end itself.

Excerpts:

“All those men who never create but lurk as interpreters under the shadow of another are lacking, I believe, in independence of spirit. They never venture to do the thing they have long rehearsed. They exercise their memories on what is not their own. But to remember is one thing, to know another.

“You may recognize unevenness in a work when attention is attracted by what rises above the level. One tree is not noteworthy if the whole forest rises to the same height.

“Don’t expect, then, that you can sample the masterpieces of great minds by way of summaries; you must examine the whole, work over the whole. Their structure is a totality fitted together according to the outlines of their special genius, and if any member is removed the whole may collapse…An admired ankle or arm does not make a woman beautiful; a beautiful woman is one whose total appearance silences praise of her parts.

“If we rest content with solutions offered, the real solution will never be found. Moreover, a man who follows another not only finds nothing, he is not even looking.

*All excerpts have been taken from The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca: Essays and Letters, W.W. Norton.

On Living in Accordance with Nature – Cicero

Synopsis:

In Book One of On Duties Cicero examines the vital center of Stoicism – i.e. living in accordance with human nature. According to Cicero, human nature is underpinned by human action, and human action is supported by reason. Likewise, reason is balanced by virtue.

Excerpts:

“A salient characteristic of humankind is our quest for truth. When we are free from necessary care and labor, we long to see, hear, and learn, and we regard knowledge of hidden and marvelous matters as essential to a happy life.

“For whenever it’s impossible for the majority to excel, competition becomes so intense that it’s extremely difficult to maintain the sacred bond of social order.

“For it is appropriate to refer to the basic elements of justice I described at the outset: first, not to harm anyone; second, to be of service to the common good.

“Of the two sources of injury, force and fraud, fraud is fit for foxes, force for lions, and neither is at all suited to human beings.

“The Stoics are thus correct to define courage as virtue struggling on behalf of fairness. This is why a person who acquires a reputation for courage through treachery or foul play does not deserve praise. For nothing is honorable if it is devoid of justice.

*All excerpts have been taken from Cicero: On Living and Dying Well, Penguin Classics.

The Liberalism of Classical Political Philosophy – Leo Strauss

Synopsis:

The late nineteenth and early twentieth century discipline of philosophy demanded a second-nature familiarity with the classic works of Western antiquity. Leo Strauss was a scholar in the discipline of political philosophy during the tail end of the era, and he tends to signal a crescendo before the decline of this tradition in Western philosophy. In his essay ‘The Liberalism of Classical Political Philosophy’ Strauss demonstrates his expansive knowledge of the Western canon, and is skeptical of any rock-solid continuity between ancient and modern liberalism.

Excerpts:

“Positivism rejects classical political philosophy with a view to its mode as unscientific and with a view to its substance as undemocratic. There is a tension between these grounds, for, according to positivism, science is incapable of validating any value judgment, and therefore science can never reject a doctrine because it is undemocratic. But ‘the heart has its reasons which reason does not know,’ and not indeed positivism but many positivists possess a heart.

“The characteristic assertion of liberalism seems to be that man and hence also morality is not ‘a fixed quantity’; that man’s nature and therewith morality are essentially changing; that this change constitutes History; and that through History man has developed from most imperfect beginnings into a civilized or human being.

“When Plato adopted Hesiod’s scheme in the Republic, he gave a reason why or intimated in what respect the fourth race, or rather the fourth regime, is almost equal to the first regime: the first regime is the rule of the philosophers, and the fourth regime is democracy, that is, the only regime apart from the first in which philosophers can live or live freely.

“In other words, man fashions ‘a state within a state’: the manmade ‘worlds’ have a fundamentally different status from ‘the world’ and its parts. The liberal view originally emerged through the combination of determinism with the assumption that the laws always correspond to genuine, not merely imagined, needs or that in principle all laws are sensible.

“True liberals today have no more pressing duty than to counteract the perverted liberalism which contends ‘that just to live, securely and happily, and protected but otherwise unregulated, is man’s simple but supreme goal’ and which forgets quality, excellence, or virtue.

*All excerpts have been taken from Liberalism Ancient & Modern, The University of Chicago Press.

God in Man – Seneca

Synopsis:

In letter #41, Seneca observes the vitality of the Holy Spirit within the human soul. He considers human excellence, and virtue to be demonstrations of continuity with the Holy Spirit. Living in accordance with nature for Seneca is the soul in union with the Holy Spirit. A union made discordant by vice.

Excerpts:

“We do not need to lift our hands to heaven or beg the sexton for nearer access to the idol’s ear, as if he could hear us more clearly; god is near you, with you, inside you. Yes, Lucilius, there is a holy spirit abiding within us who observes our good deeds and bad and watches over us. He treats us according as we treat him. No man is good without god. Could any man rise above Fortune without his help? It is he that imparts grand and upstanding counsel.

“If you see a man undaunted in danger, untouched by passion, happy in adversity, calm in the raging storm, viewing mankind from a higher level and the gods from their own, will you not be moved by veneration? Will you not say: ‘This is too grand and lofty to be of a quality with the little body that contains it; the power that has informed that man is divine?

“A soul which is of superior stature and well governed, which deflates the imposing by passing it by and laughs at all our fears and prayers, is impelled by a celestial force. So great a thing cannot stand without a buttress of divinity. Its larger portion therefore abides at its source. Just as the rays of the sun do indeed warm the earth but remain at the source of their radiation, so a great and holy soul is lowered to earth to give us a nearer knowledge of the divine; but though it is in intercourse with us, it cleaves to its source; it is tied to it, it looks toward it, it seeks to rejoin it, and its concern with our affairs is superior and detached.

“In a vine the peculiar virtue is fertility, and in a man, too, we should praise what is peculiarly his own. He has a handsome troop of slaves, a fine house, broad acres, large investments; but none of these things is in him, they are around him. Praise what cannot be given or taken away, what is peculiarly the man’s. What is this, you ask? It is soul, and reason perfected in the soul.

“Man is a rational animal, and his good is realized if he implements the potentiality for which nature gave him being. And what does reason demand of him? A very easy thing: to live according to his nature. But general derangement makes this difficult; we shove one another into vice. And how can people be recalled to safety when there is a crowd pushing them and nobody to hold them back?

*All excerpts have been taken from The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca: Essays and Letters, W.W. Norton.

Rhetoric – Aristotle (Part III)

g53

Synopsis:

In his treatise on Rhetoric, Aristotle considers the requisite building blocks of rhetoric as well as its existent contemporaneous forms. He also examines the subjects of politics, virtue, happiness, and morality in his customary common-sense way.

Excerpts:

“Victory is pleasant, not only to those who love to conquer, but to all; for there is produced an idea of superiority, which all with more or less eagerness desire.

“Therefore our recollections are pleasant, not only when they recall things which when present were agreeable, but also some things which were not, if their consequence subsequently proves honorable or good; whence the saying: ‘Truly it is pleasant to remember toil after one has escaped it,’ and, ‘When a man has suffered much and accomplished much, he afterwards takes pleasure even in his sorrows when he recalls them.’ The reason of this is that even to be free from evil is pleasant.

“Since, then, all men are selfish, it follows that all find pleasure in what is their own, such as their works and words. That is why men as a rule are fond of those who flatter and love them, of honor, and of children; for the last are their own work.

*All excerpts have been taken from Aristotle: Rhetoric, Chios Classics.

Empires of Trust – Thomas F. Madden

Synopsis:

Empires of Trust was published in 2008 during the low-point of the United States war in Iraq, and perhaps because of that war it sought to examine the evolution of American power in comparison with the Roman Empire. Ancient and medieval historian Thomas F. Madden goes into considerable detail propounding the complexities of Roman culture, and explaining how that empire emerged. Although Madden identifies many similarities between American and Roman civilizations he unexpectedly unmasks many more differences.

Excerpts:

“The U.S. military is larger than the militaries of all other NATO allies combined. American military bases are planted in many NATO countries, while no allied bases are in the United States at all. Yet, Americans will still insist that NATO is an alliance of equals, not a structure of an empire.

“Doubt among allies regarding the trustworthiness of the Empire of Trust is toxic. Americans cannot allow it and neither could the Romans. Hannibal understood that very well. As a result of the failure to defend Saguntum, Rome’s word already meant nothing in Spain – something that Roman envoys learned when they arrived to seek allies in the war against Hannibal.

“We believe that the normal human condition is peace, periodically disrupted by war. That illusion is the product of a large and historically rare superstructure built to keep lasting peace in existence. Without the perfect functioning of that superstructure, peace disappears.

“If it was truly the UN that was responsible for the growing peace, then the continued warfare in Africa makes little sense. UN missions to Africa are numerous. In truth, it is American apathy for the region that allows it to continue to remain violent, provided that the warfare does not affect American assets or security. Just as the Romans had only a passing interest in Germans or Celts outside of their empire, so Americans tend to ignore a sub-Saharan Africa that, while frequently in a state of crisis, poses no security threat to the United States or its allies.

“For some years the military strategy of the United States has included the ability to project significant power anywhere in the world. For the most part it has achieved that goal. These facts, in and of themselves, represent an extraordinary disparity in power. That is not to say that the United States has the power to fight the world and win. It does not. Nor does it need it. An Empire of trust only requires sufficient power to defend its allies and deter or punish aggression. In short, it must have ‘military strengths beyond challenge.’

*All excerpts have been taken from Empires of Trust: How Rome Built – and America is Building – a New World, Plume.