Wednesday, February 15, 2023

The Human Problem


The Human Problem

Peter Schultz


            Let us say that the human problem is beastliness or inhumanity. That is, beastliness or inhumanity aren’t aberrations. They are, so to speak, the default position for humanity.


            Insofar as this is so, then Aristotle’s account of the rise of the polis in Book I of his Politics obscures this problem. Humans are not constructed, not pointed toward the humanity and refinement of the polis, as Aristotle argues. And The Politics needs to be read with this in mind – as Pascal argued regarding Plato and Aristotle. How seriously is Aristotle’s Politics to be taken? Or how seriously is politics to be taken? The same argument could be made about Aristotle’s Ethics – how seriously are his Ethics, or ethics generally, to be taken?


            Politics may be “as good as it gets,” but how good is that? Perhaps political leaders aren’t “stentorian baboons” but what exactly are they? Are they all potential tyrants? If so, this would be a massive fact or a fact with massive implications. If so, it would mean that politics or political life moves toward tyranny spontaneously. And, if so, then those who embrace the political life are, as Aristotle put it, “sick” or delusional insofar as they believe they are seeking the good as in the common good. Rather, like Lincoln’s description of members of the tribe of the lion, they’re seeking fame, immortality, seeking to be god-like. They are truly sick because they can’t be gods or god-like.


            So, what then is the highest humans can attain, the best they can be, if being the greatest politically is sick or delusional? What isn’t delusional for humans? How about the pursuit and appreciation of the greatest unalloyed pleasures, pleasures conferred by the beautiful? And, if so, how is beauty to be accessed? Through virtue, moral or intellectual? Or through some kind of inspiration? Who, i.e., which human types are open to inspiration? The morally virtuous, the dutiful? Seems doubtful. What of the artistic, the poetic, the creative types? Seems likely.


            Are philosophers creative types? Are they inspired? Were Plato and Aristotle inspired? Was Machiavelli? Is philosophy best understood as a kind of inspiration? If so, are “Athens and Jerusalem” opposites? Are they enemies?


            Note well how far we’ve risen above the beastliness and inhumanity said to be the default position of humanity. Buried within or circling above human beastliness and inhumanity is beauty, waiting as it were to be discovered or uncovered, which will only happen using our imagination, for example in imagining the best regime. Some of what can be imagined, the best of what can be imagined, isn’t imaginary at all. It might be rare, but it is nonetheless invaluable.

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