My paper on the role of "spirit" in love and ethics in Plato's "Symposium"

For those interested in ethical theory, this paper deals with some elements I believe to be central in ethical reasoning, including the roles of pride and shame in forming our conscience and the concept of "spirit"

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"If we accept that thumos is best understood as having a passionate sense of self, then thumos is well-equipped as a concept for understanding our motivations for living well. This could (and certainly should) include love of others as an extension of the self. Thus, this set of emotions may provide the all the motivation we need for right action, including reasoning about such. Without passionate, thumotic drives, concern with the good would seem to lack a motivation or even a purpose. If we want to make people behave better and act more morally, perhaps we should move our focus from trying to appeal to their rationality towards trying to appeal to their sense of self."


This might actually be a very good starting point, it can be both rationally and emotionally satisfying to live life according to such a concept. At least to me it is, I would have to add. ;)


I would like to think that you could go as far as to claim that holding to thumos as a basis for ethical reasoning can lead to the empowering others for the sake of oneself. This in contrast to limiting oneself for the sake of others.


I hope I didn't butcher your paper too much, please feel free to correct/clarify and question if you wish. 

No, I don't sense any infractions :-). Very glad you have made it all the way through to reach my conclusion which, as you remind me, spoke right to the heart of our little discussion on whether ethics is ultimately objective or subjective. And doubly-glad you agree with my position.


Yes, I think you have it right. Empowering others is indeed one of the strongest messages this ethical theory hopes to send. It is my belief that we go much too far in limiting the powers of others (the horrid prisoner system, for one), and nowhere near as far as we could go in empowering other people and thus, by extension, ourselves! This is why, for one, thing, I am a staunch liberal (maybe even a socialist, within reasonable moderation).


Of course, there are circumstances where we should limit ourselves for the sake of others, as well as when we should empower ourselves at the expense of others, and even when we need to limit the power of others, etc. If we take all of these strategies as means towards the grander end of wanting to empower ourselves and others as much as possible, then I think it all starts to make a lot more sense.

Glad to hear that I didn't butcher what obviously took some time to create. I agree that limiting ourselves for the benefit of others is an important part of any truly human set of morals. 


Socialist, eh? Well, I can't say that that term has any meaning to me at all, I've heard too many people explain it so differently that I'v stopped assuming anything. So a liberal bordering on a socialist, what does that mean to you, if I may ask?

Ok well we are way off topic now, but I don't mind. I started paying attention to politics for a few reasons. One was 9/11, the resulting wars and the horrible way the country went during the Bush years. Another was the social injustices I recognized, such as wealth disparity and the poor way which our society seemed to be able to handle almost any social ill. Then there is also the fact of our isolation as atheists and how religion dominates political and social life despite all the talk about how secular we are as a nation. Obviously since secularism is exactly what is being fought in our schools and in public, etc. So I started thinking about what could be done to make society better.


The more I thought about it, the more apparent became the need for greater organization. Actually it seemed as if virtually all our problems could be attributed to a clear disorganization in every level of society, starting with the family and all the way up.


If you take a look at just the two parties, it becomes very clear that Republicans are against everything I believe in. They prefer religion to secularism, they want smaller government and therefore less organization at the medium to high levels (and what they want at the family level also goes against my idea of what it is that people should be doing to have better and more organized lives). And they offer nothing in the way of social justice, preferring charity and religion to government-funded social programs. Not to mention that their only interest is protecting the property of the rich. They do nothing but push a corporate agenda on our government, laying waste to our environment and any sense of our not being virtual slaves owned by big business interests.


Fine. But what about Dems? Well its a much more diverse group, who want social programs to help the poor, the sick, the needy, and who don't believe that if you just leave it to the goodwill of rich men all our problems will be solved. They want to protect the environment, they want better education for our children, they want greater social justice with rights for gays, atheists, women, and minorities of every type. They believe in diplomacy before war (unlike preemptive strike). And so on.


But why socialism? The best argument for socialism that I have heard is that we already have it. As soon as you have a government which has any power to regulate otherwise free markets, you no longer have lassiez-faire capitalism. When you throw in public schools, fire and police departments, libraries, post offices, roads, etc., you start heading down the path to taxing the predominantly rich to benefit the society as a whole. Then we add in anti-monopoly and anti-trust laws, government bailouts of private institutions, public health care, medicare/medicaid, social security, etc., and it looks to me like we've got socialism.


But let's say that socialism means more than just government intervention in private lives for the good of the society. Some take it to mean that the government should be involved in businesses, using tax dollars to run businesses and then use the proceeds for social good. Well, I believe that if this is done well then it could very well ease the burden on the tax payer. Tax dollars would be used to start running the business which, if it is successful and makes profits, runs on its own accord without the need for further investments and any further profits would go straight back into the government coffers, easing the need for more taxes.


Of course, socialism can be done very badly. You can go too far. Way too far. This is why I say we need reasonable moderation. I think we should take baby steps there. Start out with just a few programs and see how well it goes. There is for example the notion of worker-owned businesses. This could be a grand first step. Let the government offer workers a business which they could run and own. Eventually the government could hand the business over to the people, who would now be self-sufficient, and who would then be capable of paying more taxes. I.e., empower some people, let them get stronger so they in turn can help empower others, e.g. future generations.


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