Primacy of the Ancient Philosophers

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Primacy of the Ancient Philosophers

Postby Marcus Tullius Ioannes on Sat Feb 23, 2008 4:37 pm

The more I read the ancients, the more impressed I am by the fact that (it seems to me) they addressed and responded to the problems of philosophy as the art of living at least as well, if not far better than, subsequent thinkers have throughout the centuries. Also, with a striking simplicity and elegance.

Take Epicurus on the problem of evil:

"If God is willing to prevent evil, but is not able, then he is not omnipotent. If he is able, but not willing, then he is malevolent. If he is able and willing, then whence cometh evil? If he is neither willing nor able, then why call him God?"

I am no professional philosopher, but have done some reading, and do not know of any other instance of this problem being so well expressed, nor do I think that, as it is expressed by Epicurus, it has ever been resolved.

I wonder whether there was something about ancient Greek and Roman culture which allowed or inspired such clarity of thoght, or whether we humans simply have grown no wiser, or are incapable of doing so.

Just a thought/question for the day.
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Postby Quintus Aurelius Orcus on Fri Feb 29, 2008 9:10 am

salve

So far I know, the ancient Greeks accepted that there is evil in the world, mostly man-made, sometimes produced by supernatural elements like kako-daimones like the Lamiai or Medusa, etc....
A man once said that the greatest evil is done with good intentions. It's easier to blame your wrongdoings on something supernatural than on yourself.
The last several centuries, evil is associated with chaos, complete lack of good of the ability to feel any remorse whatsoever. A perfect example is how evil is portrayed in fiction: novels, movies, tv, comics.
At its core, all those "evil" characters exist for one thing: to do harm, to do evil by hurting others or trying to destroy everything on their path. Most of the time, they know what they are doing is evil and love doing it because of it. What these characters have in common is that they are one-dimensional at best. It's based on the concept that evil exist only to destroy everything that is good and decent, a concept Christians call the devil and Zoroastrians call Ahriman. Every monotheistic , especially abrahamistic faiths have their version of evil which seems to be the direct opposite of their supreme deity.
I think the ancient Greeks and perhaps the Romans as well, knew that mankind was able to good things and bad things at the same time. Just as the gods were both good and evil. Apollon heals the sick, but sends plagues as well to the Greeks during the Trojan war. Ares is the god of war, but he is out to rescue Thanatos from Sisyfos when the latter captures Thanatos and holds him prison, preventing anyone from dying.
I think that the evil in the world lies not within the actions alone, but more in the intentions of what they are trying to accomplish and how they perceive the world, reality to be.
Afterall, Hitler wasn't just a monster alone, he was human. He could feel pain, remorse (possibly, don't know that for sure), love, happiness, etc...
Still Epicurus does have a point. If God is able to stop evil, than why doesn't he? If he's willing to prevent evil, than why doesn't he?
I don't think it is a question of whether he is able to stop or prevent and/ or willing to do so. I think it has to do with the concept of free will. If we all have free wil to do and say what we want, than it isn't God's fault of anyone elses besides our own for the very evil we inflict upon the world.
It isn't anymore of God's fault than to blame him for a lethal animal attack that has killed a human being.
Couple of years ago, I saw a video of a man in Africa being attacked and killed by lions in front of several people, including his family, only after he steps out of the car wanting to take snapshots of the animals. No one could protect him from the animals and yet he did step out and ignore the warnings. No god can be blamed for this kind of stupidity, neither for the actions of any human beings. It's like blaming God for all the wrongdoings of the Catholic church or the evil the religious extremists inflict upon the world?
I don't think we will ever outgrown or evolve to the point where we stop being who we are and what we are. We are human, another form of life, of animal life that like anything else has the capacity to do both good and evil. Just look at how we treat our world and it's inhabitants.
Anyway, that's my point of view on it.

vale

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Another viewpoint

Postby Marcus Lupinius Paulus on Fri Feb 29, 2008 7:41 pm

Salve Orcus,

First, I think I need to disagree about something you said. The Christian devil is not quite the same as the Persian one. Christian's have always spoken of the devil as a fallen angel, not as some kind of equal but opposite deity. This is because evil is really seen as a spoiled or warped goodness. Granted that there may be some sick individuals who do evil acts just because they are evil, the human race as a whole does not do this. Evil acts are performed usually because of some good either being twisted/warped, or merely being pursued in the wrong way.

Example: The sex instinct is not evil in and of itself. The sadistic rapist also seeks sexual pleasure. But the pleasure or desire in this case is warped, deformed. Not a polar opposite of good. Ruined goodness.

Plato makes a similar case in Book One of the Republic, when he argues that good is superior to evil because even evil men are dependent upon goodness to function.

As for freewill---you have hit the matter right on the head. I think the reality of freewill is central to the discussion. If we do not have freewill, then all our talk of morality, or ethics, is meaningless babble. Eveb words like 'should' and 'ought' become meaningless.

I get amused sometimes how some atheists begin by lauding human freedom, and say how they are "free" from religion...and then their objection to God seems to be that God does not violate the very freedom they are lauding!

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Postby Aldus Marius on Fri Feb 29, 2008 9:32 pm

Salvete, philosophi!

Na, *I* get amused by people assuming that other animals are capable of evil (or "viciousness"). Only Man has excused himself from the natural order; we call that "free will". So only Man can be "vicious", which means "full of vice"; and only Man can be held morally responsible for his actions. Morality itself is a human and cultural construct, not applicable to the rest of Life.

Go Tigers! <g>
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Postby Marcus Lupinius Paulus on Sun Mar 02, 2008 12:51 am

Salve Marius!

"Only Man has excused himself from the natural order; we call that "free will". I would ask how man could have excused himself from the natural order if he did not have freewill. If we were not free, then all our behavior, including our worst behavior, must be determined. We could not do othewise. But if this is the case, then I have think that our worst or most "unnatural" behavior is in fact natural after all.

I don't think this is the case however.

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Postby Marcus Tullius Ioannes on Sun Mar 02, 2008 5:45 pm

Thank you for the thoughtful replies.

I agree (or at least hope) that we have free will, and are responsible for our own evil acts--but, as someone who admires the stoics, I have problems reconciling the fact of evil with the view that everything occurs in accordance with the divine plan, and thus must ultimately be "good."

For me, the problem of evil does not involve blaming God for causing evil. The problem arises from the fact God, supposedly omnipotent and all-knowing, allows evil to occur. One can say that he created us with free will, and if we do evil he is not to blame, but he does not prevent the evil we create from tormenting and killing the innocent, and presumably can do so if he has the attributes commonly ascribed. Does the fact that he endowed us with free will for some reason, like seeing how we turn out, or allowing us the opportunity to be good if we choose, justify or mitigate the consequences of our evil acts? I would say"no."

The answers arrived at by the stoics and epicureans as I understand them (we cannot fully comprehend the divine plan, so cannot completely understand why everything ultimately works toward the good; or the gods, though immortal, do not concern themselves with our world), may allow us to believe in a God or gods of a sort, but I would say those answers do not "feel" satisfactory (to me at least). And, I would say, those who believe in a personal God, listening and answering prayers, intervening in our world to reward or punish behavior, have an even more difficult task explaining why such a God allows evil.

Perhaps the Greeks and Romans were better able to come to terms with the problem of evil because they did not believe their gods to be omnipotent, all-knowing and all-good, and their philosophers viewed the supreme being as largely detached from human emotions, desires and affairs--and recommended that we follow that example, if we wish to be happy or virtuous.
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Re: Another viewpoint

Postby Quintus Aurelius Orcus on Sun Mar 02, 2008 8:47 pm

Salve
Marcus Lupinius Paulus wrote:Salve Orcus,

First, I think I need to disagree about something you said. The Christian devil is not quite the same as the Persian one. Christian's have always spoken of the devil as a fallen angel, not as some kind of equal but opposite deity. This is because evil is really seen as a spoiled or warped goodness. Granted that there may be some sick individuals who do evil acts just because they are evil, the human race as a whole does not do this. Evil acts are performed usually because of some good either being twisted/warped, or merely being pursued in the wrong way.

Example: The sex instinct is not evil in and of itself. The sadistic rapist also seeks sexual pleasure. But the pleasure or desire in this case is warped, deformed. Not a polar opposite of good. Ruined goodness.

Plato makes a similar case in Book One of the Republic, when he argues that good is superior to evil because even evil men are dependent upon goodness to function.

As for freewill---you have hit the matter right on the head. I think the reality of freewill is central to the discussion. If we do not have freewill, then all our talk of morality, or ethics, is meaningless babble. Eveb words like 'should' and 'ought' become meaningless.

I get amused sometimes how some atheists begin by lauding human freedom, and say how they are "free" from religion...and then their objection to God seems to be that God does not violate the very freedom they are lauding!

Marcus Lupinius Paulus


Well I remember a quote saying that without good, there can't be evil and without evil, there can't be good. People view chaos as the absence of order, but it is proven (i think) that within chaos there is still a order. So the same could apply to the whole good vs evil debate. It would make sense since both sides are part of humanity.
In the 17th episode of season 4 of Angel (the spinoff of Buffy) the demon skip points out that there is no real free will. Mankind doesn't have the freedom to do what it wants. At least not when it is about the big picture, in the grand scheme of things, but according to him, we have free will when it comes to brushing our teeth, eating, walking, etc....
I think that there is some truth in it. There is free will, but not entirly. In the grand scheme of things, our birth and death are things that are already set. We know it is going to happen, just not when, where or how? I think the Fates (Moirai) do know the answers to these questions. Now turning points in our lives, I think these are set to happen, but the outcome can still change depending on the sitation where it arises.

vale

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That Which we Cannot, and That Which we Can Control

Postby Valerius Claudius Iohanes on Fri May 23, 2008 2:50 am

Salve, Aurelii Orce, atque Sodales Omnes -

Hae litterae vobis missae multos menses postea, quod ab huius colloquii stirpe mihi aliquod occurrit:


Q. Aurelius Orcus wrote:In the 17th episode of season 4 of Angel (the spinoff of Buffy) the demon Skip points out that there is no real free will. Mankind doesn't have the freedom to do what it wants. At least not when it is about the big picture, in the grand scheme of things; but according to him, we have free will when it comes to brushing our teeth, eating, walking, etc....


This principle of existence should be so obvious to us, so plain, and yet in my case it has taken me so many years to get it into my head. In youth, some of us just don't get it: What? we ask; I can't BECOME a rock star? It's damned hard to accept unfreedom in one's youth, especially in a world of apparently endless opportunity. But this relationship with earthly Freedom/Unfreedom has to be personally found, tested, verified and used by everyone who has some decent intelligence, so it seems to me.

Excuse me for rambling! Valete!
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