Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Eight Pillars of Greek Wisdom

Western culture is founded on Christianity and Greco-Roman philosophy. But it was Greek philosophy that came before all.

I recently came across a book, The Eight Pillars of Greek Philosophy, by Stephen Bertman.

A lot in it certainly does sound familiar.

Unfortunately this ages-old wisdom isn't taught home, in schools, in church. People and society are paying for this lack.

The First Pillar - Humanism

"Be proud of your abilities and believe in your capacity to achieve great things."

The Second Pillar

The second pillar is the Pursuit of Excellence

The Greeks believed you gained Eudaimonia (well-being) through Arete (excellence). They thought you gained this by trying to be more today than you were yesterday. Of course, this is related to their definition of Humanism.

"To be sure we cannot all be winners, but neither were the Greeks. We may not throw the discus the farthest or write a prize-winning play. But that is not what life asks of us. Instead, it asks us to discover those things we are capable of doing well, and then to do them with all our heart and soul. To be a hero, to pursue excellence, is to be a loving mother, to be a compassionate husband, to do our job well-whatever it may be-with honor, integrity, and passion."

The Third Pillar

The Practice of Moderation. That means to beware of going to extremes, because in them lies danger.

"The Greeks tell us: first find the extremes; once you find the extremes, it’s easy to find the middle. In effect, what works for measuring a wall or a piece of paper can work for gauging behavior.

"Stop and reflect. What do you do too much of? Eat? Work? Sleep? Nothing? Where do you overdo it, hurting yourself and others in the process?...Compared to a life of exciting excess, practicing moderation may seem dreadfully dull. But the ancient Greeks weren’t trying to sell a life of boredom. All they were doing was warning us that if we go too far in one direction, we may pay a high price. But for emotional beings like us, moderation goes against the grain (not usual). Instead of steady common sense, we prefer the quick fix."

The Fourth Pillar - Self-Knowledge

That means to identify and understand your weaknesses and strengths. That means Sophrosyne (humility, knowledge of your limitations) as opposed to Hubris (not knowing your limitations, thinking you can get away with anything).

"The fourth pillar of Greek wisdom is self-knowledge. Self-knowledge is needed in order to choose wisely between the pursuit of excellence and the practice of moderation. Only through an assessment of our person all strengths and weaknesses can we know when it is time to press boldly ahead or pull back. It is for this reason that this principle was the second to be carved over the entrance-way to Apollo’s temple at Delphi. There for all to read were the words 'Know Thyself.' The search for self-knowledge requires that we identify our personal strengths and weaknesses. Only by so doing can we truly take measure of who we are, and who we can become. From an acknowledgement of our strengths can come the resolve to excel; from a recognition of our weaknesses can come the good sense to avoid extremes."

The Fifth Pillar

Rationalism - Search for the truth by using the power of your mind.

"The fifth pillar of Greek wisdom is rationalism. Rationalism means the use of reason. Unlike rationalization, which uses reason to explain behavior, rationalism employs uncompromising logic to discover the truth. To the ancient Greeks, rationalism was the primary means of gaining self-knowledge. Rather than waiting for enlightenment to come from divine revelation, the Greeks turned to an illuminating instrument closer at hand, the power of human intelligence. The ancient Greeks clearly saw that we are not totally rational creatures, but are in fact driven by emotional needs and appetites. They were the first in world history to view life as a battleground between reason and emotion. Yet if we are captives of our emotions, we are not in full control over our lives. How, then, can we gain such control? We must employ the power of reason to solve those problems…while acknowledging that reason has its limits and cannot solve all problems. Many problems cannot be addressed in the human brain; they can only be handled by the human heart."

The Sixth Pillar - Restless Curiosity - to seek to know what things really are, not merely what they seem to be.

"Restless curiosity, the sixth pillar of Greek wisdom, is the compulsive desire to know the truth. The capacity to be rational is worthless, the Greeks believed, unless we use it to generate courageous questions about ourselves and our world."

The Seventh Pillar - The Love of Freedom - only if we are free can we find fulfillment.

The Eighth Pillar - Individualism - Take pride in who you are as a unique individual.

All of these traits are related to each other. Just like the Four Cardinal Virtues, if you're lacking in one, you're lacking in all of them.

1 comment:

Baloo said...

This is a really worthwhile essay to link to. I've reblogged and quibcagged it here:
All philosophy starts with the Greeks, not with Karl Marx or MLK.