Ethics – the attainment of self-knowledge – virtue and happiness


Early Arab depiction of Aristotle. Ethics as a subject begins with Aristotle.

Socrates (469 BC to 399 BC) maintained that evil or bad actions are the result of ignorance. Through knowledge you would be able to attain self-knowledge and with that your actions, by the very nature of such knowledge, would be virtuous and and provide you with happiness.

Quite a nice idea, but we also know too well that it does’nt work that way. We all want to be happy, we think we would like to be virtuous and would like to know if that would lead to happiness.
So-called “primitive” societies – the last ones today fighting for their survival in the Amazon rain forest – have knowledge, gained and transmitted from one generation to the next and might achieve self-knowledge, virtue and happiness all at the same time. Their example shows us how tenuous such knowledge is but we know too that such societies have never been all happy. The closest a society has come to more than just a fair degree of happiness we are told were the Hawaiian communities at the time of their being discovered by European explorers.

James Cook (1728-1779) who on his third travel around the world was killed by Hawaiians, the same people who's peace he had enjoyed and disturbed years earlier. Ever since the South Sea Islands embodied our vision of paradise lost.

Gaugin’s dreamscape – Tahiti.

Paul Gaugin (1848-1903), Ta Matete - The Marketplace. Study on carton. 1892. Privately owned.

If we follow Socrates for a moment longer, can we then say that the evil or bad actions by commercial banks and governments are the result of ignorance? That they have no knowledge of what they are doing and no self-knowledge as institutions and as such cannot provide happiness?
Much of what is written today leads one to that conclusion – what, then, are we as a world community to do?

Here are a few thoughts filtered out as a result of what we have been reading in the last while.

+ people in power have abandoned all care about ethics
+ our knowledge of the world is fragmented
+ self-knowledge is nowhere publicly referred to
+ happiness is advertised to be had for a price

* happiness – there is no shortcut to it
* self-knowledge – there is no shortcut to it either
* the fragmentation of our knowledge is an awesome challenge
* ethics – personal or religious, can only be found in you and me

The lack of ethics or rather the lack of reference to it, in the public sphere puzzled us during our stay in Europe. In Africa things are not directly comparable – Africa still is a wild place. Ethics emerged from Greece. Something the Greeks themselves should be thinking about in dealing with their crisis these days and support their state instead of complaining – while stashing away their private wealth.
Yet, if we try to gather a global picture we cannot but look to ourselves, individually. In our fractured world ethics can only begin and be maintained at home: with you and me.

Aristotle. Louvre

With love as always
Walter & Colleen
Antibes – Côtes d’Azur/France
Sunday, October 16, 2011

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