I recently wrote this paper for a graduate class in the humanities. I had to read Plato's "Symposium", which is a story in which Socrates sits down with 6 other men for a night of drinking when one of them suggests that to compliment the drinking they each ought to take turns praising the god of love, Eros, in their own particular fashion. My paper focuses on the role of thumos, or spirit, in Plato's understanding of love and of the Good, and argues that instead of the Good being equated with the Beautiful as Plato seems to conclude, that rather it is the human spirit itself (thumos) which ought to perform this basic function.


Enjoy, if you dare!

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This begs the question of what is considered to be a benefit and what is considered a harm. The question I am really addressing in this post (and in my paper) is, how is the word "good" defined? To say "what is good is what is for the greater good" is at least circular and self-dependent. Is what is good just what is good for fitting into any particular society at whatever point in space and time you find yourself? Or does it go beyond that?

Good: a property which creates, directly or vicariously, a feeling of pleasure, satisfaction, or comfort in the most, while having little to no adverse affect.


Good is not a thing but an idea/concept~ but being a concept based off of human perception, relativity, and emotion/response (unlike, say, the number two, which is universally descriptive by nature[a static concept]) defies a constant nature, but is instead used in relation to quantifiability~ whereas when used as an adjective it is in relation to the maximum possible positivity (bringing in satisfaction, comfort,benefit), and its descriptive capability limited to a generalized notion of that ultimate positivity in relation to the norm.


ugh, feels like I'm typing math~ I'll take another stab at it later

I shouldn't have said that what I was trying to define was merely the word "good". I would define "good" simply as that which brings about the desired state in question, and bad that which is detrmiental to that desired state. The question I am really getting at is what is that desired state, i.e. what is morality, and what is it that we value. But it is hardly any answer to say that what is valued or moral is just what brings about any of these multiple desired states, be they pleasure, satisfaction, happiness, comfort, etc. The question is more, what is the best or highest desired state? What is most basic to what we value as humans? Is it pleasure? Is it happiness? Is it all of the above? But that doesn't strike to the heart of the matter. It is one thing to say, yeah, we value a whole range of things, and we each have to engage in this really complicated balancing act where we have to figure out just how much of each and in what proportions relative to each of the others we should pursue in order to bring about the most satisfaction from our lives. It is quite another thing to say, you know what one single concept captures the heart of the matter, what one single end we should always keep in mind towards which all these other ends are just the means towards that penultimate, most basic good which really captures the essence of what we as humans value? It's this: and then to fill in the blank with something that really might get at the heart of the matter. I think if this latter option is possible, then we should really try to get at it, and it would make our lives a whole lot easier if we could, both for how we live as individuals day to day and for how we might make our arguments to others (e.g. religious people) about what goodness and value and morality really are. I say that the concept of motivation is an incredibly powerful concept, one that, if properly understood, really might help pave the way towards this deeper understanding. I think it holds for anyone, anywhere, regardless of what society you belong to, or what powers you are or are not in possession of. I think it shows us the way forward, so that for any society, we can say that we should be striving towards enhancing this fundamental value, relative to the society and relative to each and every one of us. Seeking after this basic good is what is most fulfilling to us, and each of these other, lesser goods are really just a part of this ultimate value, and as means to that end. I think this is what it is all about. But admittedly I am still working out the details, and I am still in the testing mode. Perhaps when I emerge from this stage I will have to start again with an altered concept, or an altered goal. But I would very much like to see this one out to conclusion. So far I have seen little reason to doubt that I am right. I challenge all of you to show me why I might not be.

My husband is often shameless, which I see as a positive because he is able to do things for the good of everyone, without being constrained by social emotions like shame – based on limited perceptions on the world.


If it’s shameful to leave your group and spend some time somewhere else, so you can come back and share your income with the group – then the group will be stuck in this limited culture.


In my culture it’s shameful to earn lots of money, it’s shameful to enjoy sex, it’s shameful to generally enjoy life – even when it’s not at the expense of anyone.


That’s wrong IMO.


I think it’s worth applying science when thinking about morals – or at least critical thinking to dispel fear, shame, guilt, obligation and duty that are misplaced and based on false beliefs, either culturally, socially or personally.


Illusion of happiness often comes from our imagined future self or past self and not our present moment.  if I relax and ask myself if I’m happy or not, most often I’m quite contented.


I find it quite easy to find reasons for atrocious acts.


I would agree with you that well-being for all is a good aim to have.  Meaning that slavery isn’t included if someone’s well being is lessened by the experience.


It’s all about improvement to well-being – if an act isn’t contributing to well-being then it’s not moral.  But what if an act did contribute to overall well=being, but had a small detrimental effect on someone’s well=being.


Harris reckons that fairness is an act that gives us brain reward along with cooperation, compassion, kindness and altruism generally.


Harris also states that 1% of the population are psychopaths.  I’m really curious about how a person becomes psychopathic – is it genetic, acquired or environmental or a thought out strategies based on conditions present and needs needed?  I% is a huge number – it means that you are likely to know one or a few of them.


Most people – 99% perhaps agree that being good to others feels good and is good.


Children are nice.  They are very kind caring and in fact show us that humans are naturally wanting to cooperate, and be kind to each other.


Yes, I agree, it’s all very well feeling good about being altruistic, but when I comes to aggression, greed, lust etc we seem to want to avoid nature.


So what you are saying is that competition is what keeps us strong and viable?  And competitive traits are attractive for this reason?


True regarding shame and pride.  I was shamed a lot as a child.  I wasn’t given anything to feel proud about – although thinking about it, I did feel pride about some things with both my parents.  Interesting how our parents ‘control’ us in this way.


I think it’s really worth making an effort to think about the effects of shame and pride on children.  I don’t have a good habit around these emotions.  I would like my children to feel loved and free to be themselves – but it doesn’t seem that easy.


So there is much benefit in remaining loyal to those we love, even if we love them less at times… : )


I think you call this – responding to good behaviour and ignoring or showing displeasure at bad behaviour – only as you see it – good and bad – as who knows how to define good and bad – it’s all relative – although is suppose there are some standards we can live by – such as hitting is bad and kissing is good : )  my 2 year old does both very well…


My father too had a shameful up bringing – how can shamed parents bring in proud children?  It’s just not possible – shame and pride is something that is almost inherited – it’s so hard to break the cycle.


My husband has a good saying here – fake it till you make it – basically – fake feeling proud so that you’re children can inherit it!


Shame, guilt, kindness, fear, cooperation – are all feelings that have good and positive effects on our body chemistry – they are in fact our body chemistry – shame is a body feeling, set off from hormones – we need a balance of them – I’ve met lots of people who are lovely and kind and yet feel much shame – and others who do awful things and feel so proud of themselves.  I think we need a rule of thumb – on how to behave and feel good too.


I think it not useful to use spiritual words in the name of science or reality – they tend to confuse and misrepresent.  As well as show support to magical thinking.


I do agree that spirituality isn’t some strange thing only to be caught hold of by theists – we all have ‘spiritual’ experiences – it’s natural to have these experiences – I would just prefer as a non magical thinker, to have another word for them, that are more descriptive and in line with my world view.


Sometimes when I sit on a rock and look at the view, the sunset, the valley, or my kids playing – I feel a sense of peace and love a sense of inner contentment – achievement, serenity, surrender – when I lie on my back at night and look at the starts and think about all the galaxies out there, and just how many there are – I feel wonder, amazement, glory, overwhelming sense of awe and joy – at my life and my being, at my ability to feel as I do.


It’s great.  but I don’t want to call it spirituality for fear of being mixed up with some ridiculous magical thinker down the road who is living in a fantasy and threatens my sense of security when I know that they are voting in the same democracy that I live in!

I think we can use other works that are better than spirit or energy or psychic energy – I think that you are related to ancient philosophers and using their terminology, when we have learnt so much since then about how the world operates and have more technical words to describe what’s going on.  I don’t think that we’ve got them all yet, but I think it useful to use a more modern and science based word over sprit, due to my previous complains of being confused with magical thinking.


OK – so you seem to be saying that if we can convince religious folks that we too can experience these ‘spiritual’ experiences as atheists then they will have an epiphany and leave the church? LOL


I have a confession – I love the casting crowns self titled CD.  I found it whilst searching for other music online.  It’s really amazing to listen too – same with Maharaji music – Elan vital – it’s devotional music and very moving.  I can listen to it and get the full experience, but I don’t need to become a christian or start having magical thinking – even though I might be having what I can call a magical experience.  I think this sort of aligning of your happiness can bring on increased healing, as your biochemistry is giving all your cells some loving.


I think that because we are such large communities now that our values have fallen apart – we no longer know what is up and what is down…


That is what religious groups have – they have a map of up and down – literally – heaven and hell.


But us who are secular, don’t have any reason to know where we are.


Small traditional cultures have all that we need – but with mass production society that’s all been messed up.


They had art, crafts, food preparation, festivals, family bones, marriage rules, ceremonies for all stages of life – and everyone made it important in the whole place – you grow up with others.  We still have this now, but it’s all mixed up and fractured.

I'll respond in full when I actually have any time (maybe a week or two). Until then, I will respond to only one thing. You say you can have what you could call a "magical experience" without having magical thinking or being religious. This is exactly what I am talking about. Obviously (Park!) I don't believe in magical thinking! I never have and I never will. What I am focusing on is precisely the type of powerful experience when one feels highly motivated and "good" about oneself.

Park – the question is begged – was it moral to treat a friend as different to an unknown person?  Apparently you – like many of us – if not most – are willing to have double standards – where your behaviour and response is changed by your company.  Interesting – as you have just demonstrated a fact talked about in Sam Harris book – the Moral landscape and an article I read recently.  http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fmotherjones.com%2Fpoli...


Harris talks about universal morals based on treating everyone fairly.  He talks about how we all have the same brains that are rewarded for eating, sleeping, drinking, finding patterns, co-operating, being kind and compassionate, treating people fairly – he was talking about how we have a flip side friend and foe – but what happens in our society when we don’t know who is friend and who is foe – do we have a double standard – we do – and this can be embarrassing when we treat friend like foe – by accident.


I believe that we are all very similar.


Wanderer – interesting that you think Park might have been more honest – he was simply under different influences – emotional influences – which lead to him having different values about what you had said – he might not have been being more honest – just differently influenced.  Like how people are more likely to say they believe the myth that Obama is a Muslim if in the company of only white people, whereas, if a black person ask they will more likely say it sounds like a myth that Obama is Muslim.  This isn’t so much about being honest about opinion, as it is about who you spend more time around, black people or white people – even one black person in your life is likely to change your ‘honest’ opinion.  It’s determined, not honesty that tells us of our beliefs.


Oh – I feel some compassion for Phil – the poor bloke – but will I change my ‘honest’ opinion of Phil after more of your company?  Perhaps I’ll be mistaken or mislead?


Well Obviously!  That’s is why I said what I did about magical experiences – to provide you with evidence – that seemed rational to me, and also contextual to your ‘feelings’, that what you talked about was a possibility.


Bit random!  But you get the idea…


Harris argues that morals are common to all humans based on our social emotions of shame, guilt, fear of punishment, embarrassment etc.

Harris argues that our morals are based on our values – that are inherently intertwined with our beliefs, our faith and our reasoning – in the brain.

Another article that I’ve posted elsewhere states that we are bias in our believes and favour evidence that supports our premise – which comes from I don’t know where – perhaps childhood – or personal experience or parenting or even genetics.

It would then be credible that you could breed and select for different moral values or social habits.

Perhaps in the middle east aggression is considered more attractive and therefore they have more children or are more likely to get married and more likely to get her pregnant more often – as she is desiring his aggression.

On the other hand, English women might prefer kindness, tenderness and a man who does housework.

This is perhaps based on the difference in family structure. Women in the middle east look to other women, mothers, mother in law etc to help with emotional caring and house work – whereas in the UK women look to their partners to help with this stuff.

These two different styles of family arrangement lead to different selection techniques for women – when choosing a mate to breed with.

Over many generations this may lead to more aggressive populations in the middle east and more pacifist populations in the UK. This perhaps works differently in the US where each class has it’s own preferences. Lower class might find criminals especially attractive for their ability to steal resources to provide for the family. Whereas in the upper class it is their intellect, their ability to write poetry and inherit lots of money that is more desirable to a women for breeding. In this way we have competing strains of humans – and perhaps their values are indeed very different – and unlike Harris’ argument that we can have an elite group of moral authors is quite wrong due to selective breeding for different traits.

Perhaps a model more related to our tribes, would be more relevant. Starting from individuals, family, kin, clans and tribes being the broader border of our moral sharing.

It seems as though just be nature that – in order for life to exist in fact – that we are not uniform and perfect in any way – it therefore follows that anomalies in moral codes will some die out and some be taken on as great innovations – in fact in all aspects – this is basically the theory of natural selection – of which human or controlled selection is a part.


I notice also that in atheist society we have much more variety that in christian society or other religious society.  Religious societies don’t tolerate any variance very easily.  I therefore follows that it is more likely that newness will arise from atheist societies…



Good is always relevant to current conditions.


There is no ultimate good – there back where I started.  But it doesn’t mean that Harris’ idea of a moral elite group board of sorts wouldn’t be very useful – in gagging the current conditions on what was good and what wasn’t based on a line of evolution – and therefore it would be quite OK to contradict past rulings and bring in new precedents.


Is that like what Hillary said when he left the tent in the south pole – “I’m going for a walk now, I may be some time…”  I hope not, I kind of like you.

What is morality


What is it that we value


This is not necessarily what brings about the best desired state – pleasure, satisfaction, happiness, comfort


Very true.


What is most basic to what we value as humans?


We value a whole range of things.

Yes we have to perform a great balancing act when considering what to do next.


The blank is….  Well being for all


Look at some of the discussions in compassionate communication group I’m in on my AN home page.




  1. be mindful of our own feelings and needs
  2. be mindful to meet our own needs with fully and qual consideration of others needs
  3. use protective force where others lack tools to consider others needs for safety.
  4. be mindful to show appreciation of others


All these relate to a large goal of “well being for all”


I feel good having children – I don’t enjoy being pregnant, I don’t enjoy giving birth, it’s very painful – I don’t enjoy being woken up all night for 18 months, I don’t enjoy getting engorged breasts, cracked and sore nipples and mastitis.  I don’t enjoy shouting at my kids.  I don’t enjoy the fear and adrenaline of having them nearly die running to a busy road.  I don’t enjoy forcing them to clean up or learn how to read or speak properly.  But for some reason I’ve had 3 of them!  Go figure.


What about well-being for all?


It might feel good to a paedophile to have sex with a child.  But it’s not going to be good for the well-being of the child – they aren’t yet sexually developed, don’t have any such drive and will perhaps feel shame and embarrassment all their lives due to this ‘immoral act’ that they participated in as a child.


Therefore – paedophilia doesn’t contribute to general well-being – it has a negative knock on effect past down through generations.  Even though it might feel ‘good’ to one person who started it.


Cutting of female genitals of a child doesn’t contribute to general well-being – even though it is traditional practise for many Muslims.  It’ might feel good to the parents who believe that their daughter is now more attractive to a mate – it might feel good to their future mate that her virgina has a more narrow opening than naturally – but I’m sure that it has greatly reduced the well-being of the girl herself both in the short and long term.


Gay marriage – prevention of which causes much distress to gay couples all over the globe, who wish to enter into a legal commitment that allows them to share resources and legally be eligible for payments on death etc – which increase their financial security, support the love they have for each other and promote their union as valid by society.  And yet christians who don’t know any gay couples or communities and who care nothing of their well-being, get to say democratically that it’s not to be allowed – how would gay marriage effect their well-being?  Not very much – they don’t even know any gay couples that their well-being might be effected by directly.


Capital punishment…

Gun laws…

Global warming…


We could go on…


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