A Cursory Examination of Classical Philosophy
Moderation and Hubris
Moderation, according to Homeric tradition, is a virtue of humanity. It, along with other “Homeric virtues,” such as strength, courage, physical prowess, and wisdom in accomplishing goals in unique ways, are considered the model of human excellence.
The Iliad, written by Homer, is a story that emphasizes the need for moderation and illustrates how the lack of it, can lead to tragedy. One of its main characters, the hero Achilles, while possessing many of the virtues mentioned above, lacks the virtue of moderation. It is Achilles’ pride and anger which lead to disaster and his eventual death. In the story, Achilles is at first angered by Agamemnon, the brother of Menelaus, king of Sparta. After a raid on a Trojan ally, the Spartans capture a beautiful girl, a daughter of a priest of Apollo. The girl is given to Agamemnon, but the priest pleads for her return. After Agamemnon refuses, the priest prays to Apollo to help get his daughter back. Apollo answers with a plague that wreaks havoc on the Spartan army. Agamemnon returns the girl to stop the plague, but demands that he receives Achilles’ prize as a replacement (another exceptionally beautiful woman). They quarrel over the prize, but in the end, Achilles complies, but is outraged.
Achilles, being the greatest Greek warrior, having an uncontrollable anger has serious consequences. He refuses to fight at first, and this leads to a change in momentum to the Trojan army. However, when one Achilles’ closest friends dies at the hand of Hector, the Trojan hero, Achilles turns his focus on revenge. He kills Hector then drags his body from his chariot back to camp.
The moral of this story is about moderation. It shows how the lack of moderation, even though all the other virtues may be present, can result in tragedy. As the oracle at Delphi said: “Nothing too much.”
Hubris is another concept we see introduced in classical Greek mythology. Hubris, in Homeric poetry is when human beings act or think beyond their nature or intended limitations. It is a form of great arrogance as it attempts to portray humans as gods themselves.
Hubris isn’t restricted to simply believing one is on equal footing with the gods however. It can also happen when one doesn’t honor the gods properly or do as they command (or expect). According to Homeric tradition, and even in the writings of others, such as Pindar, there must be a distinction between mortal man and the gods. Human beings are not immortal, not divine, and thus, have no right to put themselves on the same playing field as those who are.
Thales, Heraclitus and Parmenides
Thales, whom Aristotle calls the founder of philosophy, was a metaphysical monist who believed that water is both the cause and element of everything, and that everything is filled with gods. Thales, as Aristotle explains, seems to have believed that because water is essential for practically all living things, and that it is the only natural substance that can have different forms (solid, liquid, gas), it must possess highly unique qualities. He reasoned that it is because of these qualities that water is the underlying nature of all things.
Thales believed that all things are filled with gods in the sense that reality is immortal. He is using the essential property of the gods (immortality) to describe reality itself. And he does so by describing nature from within the framework of nature itself, in contrast to using an external framework.
Heraclitus’ views of reality are quite a bit different. He believes that reality is a constant flux and opposition. It is Heraclitus who made the famous statement “you cannot step twice into the same river.” This is the crux of the first part of his theory of reality. It’s the idea that nothing stays the same; everything is in a constant state of change. The second part of his theory about reality involves opposition, or...
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