Aristotle on the State

February 6, 2010

“The state is a community of well-being in families and aggregations of families for the sake of a perfect and self-sufficing life.”
– Aristotle, The Politics.

I’ve started a re-read of the politics by Aristotle, with a great intro. The purpose of the city (and the state) was so different than todays socities. Good life was a virtue, something no person could teach, but were learned through living in a good community with good constitution and government. More on Politics later.


Socrates on knowledge

December 23, 2009

This is timeless..

“As for me, all I know is that I know nothing.”
– Socrates, greek thinker.

On a personal note – this has been understood in two different ways through the years.. First, that as you learn more – you learn how little you really know, as there are indefinite amounts of knowledge and understanding to absorb.

Later on, it evolved into another interpretation – that all you really know is your own way of viewing things, ie. the way your brain has ordered and grown with the inputs of all the years since your early childhood. And one single persons view on things – is really nothing.. Not to complicate too much, but one only knows a few things, which might be cluttered with mistakes and skewings. With that in mind, you don’t really know anything for sure, but can assume a few things with a certain probability – but the human brain is highly approximate.

A bit harsh, but important nonetheless..

No strong feelings about this one, but a few reflections;

“There is no such thing as justice in the abstract; it is merely a compact between men.”
– Epicurus, greek thinker.

To me the beauty and relief in Epicurus is the concrete and simple way of thinking, the realistic approach to things. Which implies – that abstracts are merely some little tools of the human brain – which could or could not be helpful, and it’s often highly coincidental how well it applies to a real situation. They have no value in themselves, apart from the occasional self-absorbed joy of thinking.

One could devout a lifetime of work to this subject, but for now – I just find his realist thinking a bliss – as opposed to the too widespread use of dreams and theories in society and culture in general.

Second point, regarding justice. As people are so different, there will be lots of things that doesn’t suit all – and the concept of what is fair is perhaps often rooted in a persons own feelings and emotions, with some kind of rationality or logic applied on top. As Epicirus points out – what is fair must be agreed upon between two parts or within a group. In relationships as in society. We make some hard rules for conduct and some soft for morality, but all is according to common opinion.

Which, of course, could be highly self-destructive.
Maybe one should separate good and bad justice.
Or maybe come back to the whole issue later…

Another short and beautiful one..

“Not what we have but what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance.”
– Epicurus, greek thinker.

Once again a quote from Epicurus that captures some of the things that the last few years have given in experience. Slow down, do the things you enjoy, and your life will quickly become richer and filled with calm “happiness” – in lack of a better word.

There are some basic facts of human nature and evolution which would support this, as the quote would probably apply to apes and giraffes as well as humans. Do the things your nature is formed to do – and it makes you feel okay.

If the human brain is filled with complicated non-sense from birth and way into adult life, it will often cloud the most obviuos things, but still most people find their way ok by themselves after a while – just by following their own instincts.

There is also the hoopla of social pressure and supression of basic needs – which makes so many people struggle for things which seems and sounds nice – but are empty dreams and blocks the good calm life.

Old news, but still..

Now for some politics and latin quotes;

Nihil est incertius vulgo, nihil obscurius voluntate hominum, nihil fallacius ratione tota comitiorum.”

“Nothing is more unpredictable than the mob, nothing more obscure than public opinion, nothing more deceptive than the whole political system.”
– Cicero, Roman Statesman.

Thought of this in concert with current trends in domestic US politics.  The mass groups driven by mediashows, the constant polling obsession, the workings of the Senate and Congress – with lobbygroups, voter-tactics, party-games and personal interests and vain.

At the same time, things seems to be working pretty okay, and better than any known alternative. There is also an impressive robustness and effectivness in the US constitution, blending in all sorts of groups and so far incorporating a 60-fold increase in population, an industrial lifestyle and seemingly also the recent gadget-addictive lifestyles.

And, once the disappointments of political games and society are swallowed, one can scale back – and enjoy the company of classical literature, friendships, relaxed city-life and fresh air in the open. It’s a good life, if – it’s according to nature.

This needs some digestion;

“Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little.”
– Epicurus.

This philosopher has quickly become one of my favourites. He’s not for all, but he’s so clear and simple – and teaches about moderation and calm life.

The quote captures something about the difference of wanting “about right” or “enough”, and the pull for “more”. The danger of ever-hunting for “more” is a theme for countless stories and proverbials in many cultures, so it seems like another of the hard-wired workings of the human brain. The call for moderation applies for so much in life – income and lifestyle might be the most obvious, but also areas like friendships and personal aspects like self-confidence and general expectations from life and basic human relationships. About right and middle of the road works just fine.

And the beautiful thing of Epicurus is the emphasis on “enough”, and the logic of stopping there – and the non-logic of wanting more than enough. It’s almost musical in its simplicity, and a little treasure for good conversations and sidewalk philosophy.

Aahh.. This made me happy!

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”
– Jorge Luis Borges, argentine writer, 1899-1986.