Aristotle-Ethics II

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The Mean

 

Now this discussion has shown that habit does make all the difference to our lives without being the only thing shaping those lives and without being the final form they take. The same discussion also points to a way to make some sense of one of the things that has always puzzled me most in the Ethics, the insistence that moral virtue is always in its own nature a mean condition. Quantitative relations are so far from any serious human situation that they would seem to be present only incidentally or metaphorically, but Aristotle says that “by its thing-hood and by the account that unfolds what it is for it to be, virtue is a mean.” (1107a, 7-8) This invites such hopeless shallowness as in the following sentences from a recent article in the journal Ancient Philosophy (Vol. 8, pp. 101-4): “To illustrate …0 marks the mean (e.g. Courage); …Cowardice is -3 while Rashness is 3…In our number language…’Always try to lower the absolute value of your vice.’ ” This scholar thinks achieving courage is like tuning in a radio station on an analog dial. Those who do not sink this low might think instead that Aristotle is praising a kind of mediocrity, like that found in those who used to go to college to get “gentlemen’s C’s.” But what sort of courage could be found in these timid souls, whose only aim in life is to blend so well into their social surroundings that virtue can never be chosen in preference to a fashionable vice? Aristotle points out twice that every moral virtue is an extreme (1107a, 8-9, 22-4), but he keeps that observation secondary to an over-riding sense in which it is a mean.

Could there be anything at all to the notion that we hone in on a virtue from two sides? There is a wonderful image of this sort of thing in the novel Nop’s Trials by Donald McCaig. The protagonist is not a human being, but a border collie named Nop. The author describes the way the dog has to find the balance point, the exact distance behind a herd of sheep from which he can drive the whole herd forward in a coherent mass. When the dog is too close, the sheep panic and run off in all directions; when he is too far back, the sheep ignore him, and turn in all directions to graze. While in motion, a good working dog keeps adjusting his pace to maintain the exact mean position that keeps the sheep stepping lively in the direction he determines. Now working border collies are brave, tireless, and determined. They have been documented as running more than a hundred miles in a day, and they love their work. There is no question that they display virtue, but it is not human virtue and not even of the same form. Some human activities do require the long sustained tension a sheep dog is always holding on to, an active state stretched to the limit, constantly and anxiously kept in balance. Running on a tightrope might capture the same flavor. But constantly maintained anxiety is not the kind of stable equilibrium Aristotle attributes to the virtuous human soul.

I think we may have stumbled on the way that human virtue is a mean when we found that habits were necessary in order to counteract other habits. This does accord with the things Aristotle says about straightening warped boards, aiming away from the worse extreme, and being on guard against the seductions of pleasure. (1109a, 30- b9) The habit of abstinence from bodily pleasure is at the opposite extreme from the childish habit of yielding to every immediate desire. Alone, either of them is a vice, according to Aristotle. The glutton, the drunkard, the person enslaved to every sexual impulse obviously cannot ever be happy, but the opposite extremes, which Aristotle groups together as a kind of numbness or denial of the senses (1107b, 8), miss the proper relation to bodily pleasure on the other side. It may seem that temperance in relation to food, say, depends merely on determining how many ounces of chocolate mousse to eat. Aristotle’s example of Milo the wrestler, who needs more food than the rest of us do to sustain him, seems to say this, but I think that misses the point. The example is given only to show that there is no single action that can be prescribed as right for every person and every circumstance, and it is not strictly analogous even to temperance with respect to food. What is at stake is not a correct quantity of food but a right relation to the pleasure that comes from eating.

Suppose you have carefully saved a bowl of chocolate mousse all day for your mid-evening snack, and just as you are ready to treat yourself, a friend arrives unexpectedly to visit. If you are a glutton, you might hide the mousse until the friend leaves, or gobble it down before you open the door. If you have the opposite vice, and have puritanically suppressed in yourself all indulgence in the pleasures of food, you probably won’t have chocolate mousse or any other treat to offer your visitor. If the state of your soul is in the mean in these matters, you are neither enslaved to nor shut out from the pleasure of eating treats, and can enhance the visit of a friend by sharing them. What you are sharing is incidentally the 6 ounces of chocolate mousse; the point is that you are sharing the pleasure, which is not found on any scale of measurement. If the pleasures of the body master you, or if you have broken their power only by rooting them out, you have missed out on the natural role that such pleasures can play in life. In the mean between those two states, you are free to notice possibilities that serve good ends, and to act on them.

It is worth repeating that the mean is not the 3 ounces of mousse on which you settled, since if two friends had come to visit you would have been willing to eat 2 ounces. That would not have been a division of the food but a multiplication of the pleasure. What is enlightening about the example is how readily and how nearly universally we all see that sharing the treat is the right thing to do. This is a matter of immediate perception, but it is perception of a special kind, not that of any one of the five senses, Aristotle says, but the sort by which we perceive that a triangle is the last kind of figure into which a polygon can be divided. (1142a, 28-30) This is thoughtful and imaginative perceiving, but it has to be perceived. The childish sort of habit clouds our sight, but the liberating counter-habit clears that sight. This is why Aristotle says that the person of moral stature, the spoudaios, is the one to whom things appear as they truly are. (1113a, 30-1) Once the earliest habits are neutralized, our desires are disentangled from the pressure for immediate gratification, we are calm enough to think, and most important, we can see what is in front of us in all its possibility. The mean state here is not a point on a dial that we need to fiddle up and down; it is a clearing in the midst of pleasures and pains that lets us judge what seems most truly pleasant and painful.

Achieving temperance toward bodily pleasures is, by this account, finding a mean, but it is not a simple question of adjusting a single varying condition toward the more or the less. The person who is always fighting the same battle, always struggling like the sheep dog to maintain the balance point between too much and too little indulgence, does not, according to Aristotle, have the virtue of temperance, but is at best selfrestrained or continent. In that case, the reasoning part of the soul is keeping the impulses reined in. But those impulses can slip the reins and go their own way, as parts of the body do in people with certain disorders of the nerves. (1102b, 14-22) Control in self-restrained people is an anxious, unstable equilibrium that will lapse whenever vigilance is relaxed. It is the old story of the conflict between the head and the emotions, never resolved but subject to truces. A soul with separate, self-contained rational and irrational parts could never become one undivided human being, since the parties would always believe they had divergent interests, and could at best compromise. The virtuous soul, on the contrary, blends all its parts in the act of choice.

This is arguably the best way to understand the active state of the soul that constitutes moral virtue and forms character. It is the condition in which all the powers of the soul are at work together, making it possible for action to engage the whole human being. The work of achieving character is a process of clearing away the obstacles that stand in the way of the full efficacy of the soul. Someone who is partial to food or drink, or to running away from trouble or to looking for trouble, is a partial human being. Let the whole power of the soul have its influence, and the choices that result will have the characteristic look that we call “courage” or “temperance” or simply “virtue.” Now this adjective “characteristic” comes from the Greek word charactÍr, which means the distinctive mark scratched or stamped on anything, and which is apparently never used in the Nicomachean Ethics. In the sense of character of which we are speaking, the word for which is Íthos, we see an outline of the human form itself. A person of character is someone you can count on, because there is a human nature in a deeper sense than that which refers to our early state of weakness. Someone with character has taken a stand in that fully mature nature, and cannot be moved all the way out of it.

But there is also such a thing as bad character, and this is what Aristotle means by vice, as distinct from bad habits or weakness. It is possible for someone with full responsibility and the free use of intellect to choose always to yield to bodily pleasure or to greed. Virtue is a mean, first because it can only emerge out of the stand-off between opposite habits, but second because it chooses to take its stand not in either of those habits but between them. In this middle region, thinking does come into play, but it is not correct to say that virtue takes its stand in principle; Aristotle makes clear that vice is a principled choice that following some extreme path toward or away from pleasure is right. (1146b, 22-3) Principles are wonderful things, but there are too many of them, and exclusive adherence to any one of them is always a vice.

In our earlier example, the true glutton would be someone who does not just have a bad habit of always indulging the desire for food, but someone who has chosen on principle that one ought always to yield to it. In Plato’s Gorgias, Callicles argues just that, about food, drink, and sex. He is serious, even though he is young and still open to argument. But the only principled alternative he can conceive is the denial of the body, and the choice of a life fit only for stones or corpses. (492E) This is the way most attempts to be serious about right action go astray. What, for example, is the virtue of a seminar leader? Is it to ask appropriate questions but never state an opinion? Or is it to offer everything one has learned on the subject of discussion? What principle should rule?–that all learning must come from the learners, or that without prior instruction no useful learning can take place? Is there a hybrid principle? Or should one try to find the mid-way point between the opposite principles? Or is the virtue some third kind of thing altogether?

Just as habits of indulgence always stand opposed to habits of abstinence, so too does every principle of action have its opposite principle. If good habituation ensures that we are not swept away by our strongest impulses, and the exercise of intelligence ensures that we will see two worthy sides to every question about action, what governs the choice of the mean? Aristotle gives this answer: “such things are among particulars, and the judgment is in the act of sense-perception.” (1109b, 23-4) But this is the calmly energetic, thought-laden perception to which we referred earlier. The origin of virtuous action is neither intellect nor appetite, but is variously described as intellect through-and-through infused with appetite, or appetite wholly infused with thinking, or appetite and reason joined for the sake of something; this unitary source is called by Aristotle simply anthropos. (1139a, 34, b, S-7) But our thinking must contribute right reason (ho orthos logos) and our appetites must contribute rightdesire (hÍ orthÍ orexis) if the action is to have moral stature. (1114b, 29, 1139a, 24-6, 31-2) What makes them right can only be the something for the sake of which they unite, and this is what is said to be accessible only to sense perception. This brings us to the third word we need to think about.

Source: www.iep.utm.edu

 

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Odysseus Elytis-Orientations

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ΤΟΥ ΑΙΓΑΙΟΥ

 

Ι

 

Ο έρωτας

Το αρχιπέλαγος

Κι η πρώρα των αφρών του

Κι οι γλάροι των ονείρων του

Στο πιο ψηλό κατάρτι του ο ναύτης ανεμίζει

Ένα τραγούδι

 

Ο έρωτας

Το τραγούδι του

Κι οι ορίζοντες του ταξιδιού του

Κι η ηχώ τη νοσταλγίας του

Στον πιο βρεμένο βράχο της η αρραβωνιαστικιά προσμένει

Ένα καράβι

 

Ο έρωτας

Το καράβι του

Κι η αμεριμνησία των μελτεμιών του

Κι ο φλόκος της ελπίδας του

Στον πιο ελαφρό κυματισμό του ένα νησί λικνίζει

Τον ερχομό.

 

 

FOR THE AEGEAN

 

I

 

Eros

the archipelago

and the bow of its froths

and the seagulls of its dreams

on its highest mast the sailor waves

a song

 

Eros

its song

and the horizons of its journey

and the echo of its nostalgia

on her wettest rock his fiancée awaits

a ship

 

Eros

its ship

and the nonchalance of its summer winds

and the jib of its hope

on its lightest undulation an island rocks

the homecoming.

 

~ Odysseus Elytis, Translated by Manolis Aligizakis

 

www.manolisaligizakis.com

Tasos Livaditis//Τάσος Λειβαδίτης

Tasos Livaditis_Vanilla

ΚΑΤΩ απ’ το μανδύα ενός άλλου πηγαίνουμε, που προχωράει
σιωπηλός, δίχως όνομα, ίσως γι’ αυτό και πιο αληθινός, κι όταν
σηκώνουμε το κύπελλο, είναι κι εκείνο μες στο μυστικό και δεν
ξεδιψάμε, γιατι η πρόνοια μας θέλει βιαστικούς, ολομόναχους μες
στην υπόσχεση, σαν τα χωράφια που πηγαίνουν σκεπασμένα το
φθινόπωρο, και μόνον όποιος φεύγει ξαναβρήκε την πατρίδα, αφού
κάθε μας λέξη εδώ μια πόρτα σφαλά εκεί ή ένα παράθυρο, κι αυτό
που έρχεται σαν σκόνη ή σαν σφάλμα κάθεται πάνω στο τραπέζι.
Όμως τα βράδια, ο οποιοσδήποτε είναι ένα πρόσωπο προορι-
σμένο.

WE WALK under the heavy coat of someone else who walks on
silently, who has no name, perhaps for this he’s truer to himself and
when we raise the cup it also hides in the secret so we don’t quench
our thirst because providence wants us to be fast, lonely, inside
the promise like the fields that in the fall go covered and only one
who leaves rediscovers his motherland since our every word shuts
a door here or a window there and what comes as dust or mistake sits
on the table.
However at night anybody can be the destined person.

~Τάσου Λειβαδίτη-Εκλεγμένα Ποιήματα/Μετάφραση Μανώλη Αλυγιζάκη
~Tasos Livaditis-Selected Poems/Translated by Manolis Aligizakis
http://www.libroslibertad.ca
http://www.authormanolis.wordpress.com

Τάσος Λειβαδίτης//Tasos Livaditis

Tasos Livaditis_Vanilla

ΤΕΡΨΕΙΣ ΤΟΥ ΑΠΟΓΕΥΜΑΤΟΣ

 

Ή μάλλον γιά νά `μαι πιο συγκεκριμένος όλα ξεκίνησαν απ’
αυτό το ρολόι, ένα ρολόι ηλίθιο και φαλακρό, εγώ τί έφταιξα —
απλώς καθόμουν τ’ απογεύματα ήσυχος στον καναπέ κι έτρωγα
τις θείες μου σε νεαρή ηλικία, αλλά μια μια, για να μη φανεί απότομα
η γύμνια του τοίχου ή μια φορά στο δρόμο έφτυσα αίμα, τόσο η
πόλη ήταν ακαλαίσθητη
και μόνον η έλλειψη κάθε ενδιαφέροντος για τους άλλους είναι
που έδωσε στη ζωή μας αυτό το ατέλειωτο βάθος.

AFTERNOON DELIGHTS

 

Or perhaps to be more accurate it all started by
this clock a stupid bald headed clock, it wasn’t my fault —
every afternoon I simply sat quietly on the sofa and ate my
young unties, however but one by one so that the emptiness
of the wall wouldn’t show or another time in the street I spat
blood so much the city was inelegant
that only the lack of interest for others gave our lives
this endless depth.

 

~Τάσου Λειβαδίτη-Εκλεγμένα Ποιήματα/Μετάφραση Μανώλη Αλυγιζάκη
~Tasos Livaditis-Selected Poems/Translated by Manolis Aligizakis
http://www.libroslibertad.ca
http://www.authormanolis.wordpress.com

ΕΣΩΣΤΡΕΦΕΙΑ/INTROVERSION

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ΚΑΛΛΙΤΕΧΝΗΣ

Φαινόταν καλαίσθητος
επιτήδειος, ποιητική συμπεριφορά

ευφραδείς συλλογισμοί
που άφησαν τους τριγύρω
άναυδους

πριν απομακρυνθούν

σε κανένα δεν άρεσε
να μοιάζει μ’ ανεκπαίδευτο
αγροίκο μπρος στο δημαγωγό
που έπειθε ακόμα
και το διάβολο να βάλει φόρεμα

κι ο καλλιτέχνης συνέχισε την ομιλία
για το συγκεκριμένο πίνακα
αόρατο στα μάτια των τριγύρω
που ύψωσαν τα φρύδια τους

και ξάφνου ένιωσαν παντογνώστες
αρμοστοί να `ναι σιμά στον καλλιτέχνη

ARTIST

He looked elegant
artiste, poetic body language

eloquent syllogisms
left people around
with gaping mouths

before they left him
no one liked to look

uneducated before this
demagogue talker
who could convince
the devil to wear dress

artistic man kept talking
about a painting
invisible to the men around
who raised their eyebrows

suddenly feeling knowledgeable
suitable to be in his proximity

 

Tasos Livaditis//Τάσος Λειβαδίτης

Tasos Livaditis_Vanilla

ΟΙ ΜΕΡΕΣ είχαν αρχίσει να μεγαλώνουν, όταν ήρθαν αυτοί που
ξέρουν να περιμένουν
σαν την παρθενία, οι γυναίκες ταράχτηκαν κι έγειραν άξαφνα
όπως η υπομονή μες στον πολύν καιρό, εμείς ακουμπισμένοι στ’
αμόνια
κοιτάζαμε τήν πόλη ερημωμένη, κι ά, τί φριχτές σκηνές από πα-
νάρχαια γεγονότα,
κι όταν, στο γέρμα του ήλιου εκείνοι ξανάφυγαν και τα γαβγίσμα-
τα των σκυλιών
όλο και πιο πολύ μεγάλωναν την απόσταση, δεν έμεινε
παρά το μοναχικό άστρο κι η μυρουδιά που είχε το άχυρο
στην παιδική ηλικία.
THE DAYS had become longer when the ones who know how
to wait arrived
like virginity, women stirred and suddenly stooped
like patience in the infinity of time and we bowed over
the anvils and
we gazed the deserted city and yes the horrible images coming
from ancient events
and when at sundown those people left and the barking
of dogs
slowly made the distance longer only the lone star was left
and the odor of hay emitted from our childhood years.
~Τάσου Λειβαδίτη-Εκλεγμένα Ποιήματα/Μετάφραση Μανώλη Αλυγιζάκη
~Tasos Livaditis-Selected Poems/Translated by Manolis Aligizakis
http://www.authormanolis.wordpress.com

Yannis Ritsos//Γιάννης Ρίτσος

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Συμπαράσταση

Ο άνεμος κουβεντιάζει μπροστά στα παράθυρα
όπως εκείνοι που πρόκειται να χωρίσουν.
Τά έπιπλα γίνονται σάν τά φτωχά κορίτσια πού μαζεύουν
τίς πεσμένες ελιές. Η βραδιά περπατάει κάτω απ’ τά λιόδεντρα
ολομόναχη, κι ο κάμπος μέ τά θερισμένα στάχυα
είναι μιά άρνηση. Τό παλιό δέρμα τού τζίτζικα
μοιάζει μ’ ένα μικρό καμπαναριό γκρεμισμένο στά ξερά χόρτα.

Έρχεται αργότερα η ψιχάλα—κυνηγάει τά σπουργίτια,
αργά τό φεγγάρι πλαγιάζει κάτου απ’ τά κυπαρίσσια
σάν τό παρατημένο αλέτρι. Ο ζευγολάτης
κοιμάται κάτου απ’ τό χώμα—
η γυναίκα του μονάχη μέ τό σκυλί καί τό λιγνό βόδι.

Τά χέρια τής σιωπής είναι παγωμένα
έτσι πού δένει κάτου απ’ τό πηγούνι της τό μαύρο τσεμπέρι της.
Όμως στό ξύλο τού αλετριού μένει τό χνάρι τού χεριού του πιό
δυνατό απ’ τό χέρι του
κι η ράχη τής καρέκλας κρατάει ζεστό τό φάρδος τής πλάτης του.

Γιά τούτα τ’ ασήμαντα πράματα—δέν ξέρω—
θέλω νά γράψω ένα μικρό τραγούδι πού νά δείχνει πώς δέν ξέρω
τίποτα γιά όλ’ αυτά, μόνο πώς είναι αυτά όπως είναι
μονάχα, καταμόναχα κι ούτε ζητάνε καμιά μεσολάβηση
ανάμεσα σ’ εκείνα καί σέ κάποιον άλλον.
Solidarity

The wind converses with the windows
like those who are going to separate.
The furniture becomes like the poor girls who gather
fallen olives. The evening walks under the olive trees
all alone and the field with harvested wheat
is a denial. The shed husk of the cicada
resembles a small bell-tower fallen on dry grass.

Later, the drizzle comes – it hunts the sparrows,
slowly the moon lies down under the cypresses
like the abandoned plow. The plowman
sleeps beneath the soil –
his wife alone with the dog and the thin ox.

The hands of silence are frozen
as she ties her black headscarf under her chin.
But the trace of his hand stays on the wood of the plow
more strong than his hand
and the chair’s back retains the warmth of his broad shoulder blades.

About these insignificant things – I don’t know –
I want to write a small song that will show I don’t know
anything about them, only that they are as they are
alone, completely alone and they don’t ask for any mediation
between themselves and someone else.
~Γιάννη Ρίτσου-ποιήματα/Μετάφραση Μανώλη Αλυγιζάκη
~Yannis Ritsos-Poems/translated by Manolis Aligizakis
http://www.authormanolis.wordpress.com
http://www.libroslibertad.ca

Κ. Καβάφης//C. Cavafy

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THIS MUCH I GAZED

This much I have gazed on beauty—,
my vision is filled with it.

Contours of the body. Red lips. Sensual limbs.
Hair as if taken from Greek statues;
always beautiful, even when undone,
and falling, a bit, on the white brow.
Faces of love, as my poetry
wished them…in the nights of my early manhood,
in my nights, secretly, met…

ΕΤΣΙ ΠΟΛΥ ΑΤΕΝΙΣΑ
Την εμορφιά έτσι πολύ ατένισα
που πλήρης είναι αυτής η όρασίς μου.

Γραμμές του σώματος. Κόκκινα χείλη. Μέλη ηδονικά.
Μαλλιά σαν από αγάλματα ελληνικά παρμένα
πάντα έμορφα, κι αχτένιστα σαν είναι,
και πέφτουν λίγο, επάνω στ’ άσπρα μέτωπα.
Πρόσωπα της αγάπης, όπως τάθελεν
η ποίησίς μου…μες στες νύχτες της νεότητός μου,
μέσα στες νύχτες μου, κρυφά, συναντημένα…

 

http://www.ekstasiseditions.com

Υπεράνθρωπος//Ubermensch

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FIRST PAIN

During the first night of resurrection we decided
to shed our blood and mix it with our enemy’s.
When we neared the dark forest we remembered
the forbidden room where the wax dripped onto
the ravaged tablecloth where candle snuff out
the un-repeated call of our hero who chose us
because we yearned for knowledge, we chose to become
the reason and the path for Ubermensch, we elected
our sundown even when our eyes were glued onto
the faded curtain that waited for dawn to light
the forbidden room where we felt the first pain of youth.

ΠΡΩΤΟΣ ΠΟΝΟΣ

Την πρώτη νύχτα της ανάστασης αποφασίσαμε
το αίμα μας να σμίξουμε με των εχθρών μας.
Στο σκοτεινό δάσος μπήκαμε και θυμηθήκαμε
εκείνο το δωμάτιο που σαν παιδιά μας απαγόρευαν
να εισέλθουμε εκεί που το κερί έλιωνε στάζοντας
στο λεκιασμένο τραπεζομάντιλο, ανεπανάληπτο
του ήρωά μας κάλεσμα που διάλεξε κοντά αυτούς
που πεθυμήσαν γνώση για να γίνουν άγια αιτία
τον Υπεράνθρωπο να φέρουν και το ηλιοβασίλεμα
πάντα τα μάτια κολλημένα ήτανε στη κουρτίνα
που ξεθώριασε το φως να περιμένει, μες το δωμάτιο
να μπει να το φωτίσει εκεί της πρώτης νιότης
το ανάβρυσμα που νιώσαμε.

 

http://www.ekstasiseditions.com

 

Τάσος Λειβαδίτης//Tasos Livaditis

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ΑΙΩΝΙΑ, σκοτεινή αποδημία, λαοί που πλανιούνται από όνειρο
σε όνειρο,
πουλιά που διασταυρώνονται με το ποτέ ή το πουθενά.
Κι ίσως τα δέντρα στάθηκαν μαντεύοντας το άσκοπο του δρόμου.
ETERNAL, dark emigration, races that travel from dream to
dream
birds that intersect the never or the nowhere.
Perhaps for this the trees stood guessing the futility of the road.
~Τάσου Λειβαδίτη-Εκλεγμένα Ποιήματα/Μετάφραση Μανώλη Αλυγιζάκη
~Tasos Livaditis-Selected Poems/Translated by Manolis Aligizakis
http://www.libroslibertad.ca
http://www.authormanolis.wordpress.com