Lower men wallow in pity as swine do in mud

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Reply Fri 27 Jun, 2008 10:00 pm
"Lower men wallow in pity as swine do in mud, their pity for others being the same as their pity for themselves. Thus spake Nietzsche... How the emotion became a virtue."


Hi,

Here is an philosophically stimulating article which says that compassion is not as worthy a thing for us to have as we have been led to believe. My question is: is compassion really for low life's alone? It's a strong philosophical argument that makes me wonder whether I am wrong to feel compassion or pity as I do. I hope it is enough to stir active philosophical discussion on the nature of pity and human compassion or what are the truest virtues to have.

Please note that we are not arguing against "the good". The deeper and more profoundly important question is how do we really get to "the good". Philosophically, it's very surprising to think that compassion may lead to pornography and free sex and other things in modern life that are debased. So I ask you this controversial question: Is compassion wrong?

Here is the complete text of the article: Incharacter.org


Excerpt here:


"Compassion today is widely regarded as a good, and those who display it as good people. Indeed, many see compassion or some related virtue (e.g., empathy) as the core of goodness, as the virtue of virtues. It's not only a private but also a public virtue, much cherished in our politicians. Even in international affairs, of all places, the apex of virtuous action is widely taken to be "humanitarian intervention" or the use of force to relieve suffering. Compassion has not always enjoyed so lofty and uncontroversial a status; will it someday once again relinquish it?

That compassion is natural to human beings there is no question. But does it pertain to our higher or to our lower natures? As even or precisely those who take compassion for a virtue acknowledge, it is an emotion. Can an emotion be a virtue? Yes, if the keynote of virtue is naturalness in the sense of spontaneity or authenticity. No, if what defines virtue is the perfection of our nature through the triumph of reason over passion. For this reason the long history of thought about compassion (stretching back at least 2,500 years now) has revolved around just this issue.


I. The thinkers of classical antiquity for the most part struck a dispassionate or even disapproving stance toward compassion.

They recognized its power and therefore its utility in political life, but doubted its reasonableness and therefore its justice. It figures in Plato's Republic primarily as a threat to justice (cf. Republic 415c, 606a-c). Aristotle treats it not in his Ethics, his account of those virtues for which human beings are to be admired, but in his Rhetoric</EM>, his exposition of those passions by which those lacking virtue are swayed. Since for both thinkers virtue consists of the proper (which is to say rational) disposition toward the passions, it follows that pity, as a passion, is not to be confused with the virtues. Just as virtue requires us to get a handle on our other passions, so it requires that we become masters of our pity.

To better understand the ancients' position, consider that the locus of the virtues as they understood it was not the "self" (a distinctly modern notion) but the soul, and the relevant opposition was that of soul and body. For them concern with the "self" or our particularity was an expression of concern with the body. Such concern was natural, even inevitable, but it wasn't virtuous; good character consisted in surmounting it.

Compassion, however, displays precisely such selfish concern. As was already evident to Aristotle, we tend to pity most those who most resemble ourselves or whose misfortunes most resemble our own (Rhetoric II.viii.13-14). Like "identifies" readily with like, much less readily with unlike. This suggests that our pity for others is a vicarious expression of our fears for ourselves.

Moreover, those least able to bear the sufferings of others are commonly least able to bear their own (Republic 606a-c). But self-pity is a vice, not a virtue. In the classical view the virtuous man will display a certain hardness toward others, demanding of them as he does of himself that they bear their sufferings like men. And yes, we can expect women to be more compassionate than men, because they are weaker and more fearful than men. None of which should be misinterpreted as an endorsement of cruelty or a complete repudiation of pity. But again the classical view was that the virtuous must master their pity even as they do their other passions, indulging it only insofar as it is just and reasonable to do so (Republic 516c, 539a, 589e, 620a). Reverence for pity there was none.

II. This being a brief history, we must paint in broad strokes.

Paganism yielded to Christianity, and classical philosophy to Christian theology. This was a necessary condition of the subsequent rise in the status of compassion to its present triumphant peak. Still, it would be mistaken to suppose that what Christianity taught was compassion.


A single and omnipotent God who, having become flesh, suffered all that flesh can suffer; a morality that begins in the contemplation of the Passion of this God-man, an injunction to universal charity as the supreme virtue - this was far indeed from the humanistic and aristocratic rationalism of the pagan philosophers. At the same time, Christian charity was also far from what we mean by compassion, so far, in fact, that the latter emerged only by way of a profound critique of it.

The best translation of the Latin caritas (Greek ) is (non-erotic) love, the model for which is God's infinite love for man. "Love one another as I have loved you," Jesus instructed his disciples. Yet, man being so much less than God, this injunction is not within human capacity to honor. Only by God's grace can our love for our fellow men approach His love for us.

Charity, then, was not a (merely) natural virtue such as those taught by the ancients, but a "theological" or "infused" one. As such, moreover, it necessarily aimed not only or even primarily at the relief of our neighbor's earthly suffering but at his eternal salvation. Salvation alone was the good (and damnation the evil) beside which all others paled.

So while Christianity may indeed have multiplied soup kitchens, it never confused happiness with the absence of hunger pains. Truer to say that while modern compassion seeks to eliminate suffering, Christianity, recognizing its inevitability for mortal and sinful beings, sought to make it meaningful. It sought to teach us to grasp it as that suffering in and with Christ on which salvation ultimately depends. When, then, Christopher Hitchens excoriated the late Mother Teresa for not being a true "humanitarian" at all, he was perfectly correct: she could not be a mere humanitarian because (as she made no secret) she strove to be a true Christian.

"Modern" compassion, then - and what we mean by compassion is something distinctively modern - stands in an ambivalent relationship to Christianity. On the one hand its triumph drew on the extraordinary prestige enjoyed by charity under the Christian dispensation. On the other, it implied a powerful critique (and rejection) of Christian otherworldliness.

III. The crucial century for the emergence of compassion was the eighteenth.

Some writers have offered a "sociological" explanation for this: compassion emerged with the modern market system and the larger and more homogenous public it created, which also led to a broadening of the scope of fellow-feeling. This was to some extent also the view of such thoughtful contemporary observers as Montesquieu. Yet compassion did not simply emerge (if indeed it even emerged primarily) as a result of the spontaneous play of social forces. It represented an intellectual project undertaken by a large handful of the greatest minds of the day. They may be said not merely to have discovered or promoted what we have since come to know as compassion but actually to have invented it. What had been pity to the ancients (natural and this-worldly, but no virtue) and charity to the Christians (a virtue but supernatural and otherworldly) became in their hands compassion (merely natural, resolutely this-worldly, and a virtue).

What sort of virtue? A post-Christian virtue, which couldn't have existed prior to Christianity but was designed to supplant it. In magnificent bad faith, the great thinkers of early modernity purveyed a faux Christianity. This counterfeit faith depended on the reinterpretation of charity as religious toleration on the one hand and compassionate concern for one's neighbor on the other. By thus purging charity of its theological character and its supernatural model, origin, and concern, they sought to make of it an engine for a better life in this world characterized by a salutary indifference to the next. When Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the greatest of all promoters of compassion, described it in his Discourse on the Origins of Inequality as "so natural that even the beasts show signs of it," he was fully aware of the momentous consequences of basing his new morality not on the imitatio Christi but on what is not only merely human but perhaps even merely subhuman.

The morality of compassion, then, is an aspect of an early modern naturalism. As such it took aim not only at Christian supernaturalism but also at that classical rationalism that Christianity had co-opted in the form of Scholasticism. Much as we might suppose that a morality of compassion signifies some kind of idealism, it in fact participated rather in the new realism of modern thought. The ancient philosophers had themselves recognized that their rational morality was in a crucial sense utopian: as a morality for the fully rational, it necessarily excluded the vast majority of human beings. It was an ethics by philosophers for philosophers, but philosophers are nowhere more than a tiny minority. The resolute anti-utopianism of early modern thought, first articulated by Machiavelli in the watershed Chapter 15 of The Prince, implied the rejection not only of Christian supernaturalism (with its impossibly high standards for human beings, productive only of hypocrisy), but also of classical naturalism insofar as it was rationalistic.

The new approach to ethics both private and public relied on neither God nor reason but on the human passions. It was precisely as one of these that compassion would achieve its new prominence. To be sure, the initial inclination of modern realists was to follow Machiavelli's indications in building on men's most urgent selfish concerns: fear of violent death, in the case of Hobbes; fear of penury, in the case of Locke. These thinkers already cultivated that ethics that Tocqueville identified as the principal moral doctrine of his Americans: self-interest rightly understood.

Calculation figured prominently in each of the several variations on this theme, but this modern rationalism was very different from - and very much more "realistic" than - its classical predecessor. For reason, rather than seeking to master the passions, was now content to serve them: passions were to be tamed not by bowing to reason, but by being transformed through reason's complicity into "interests" and even into rights. "The little catechism of the rights of man is soon learned," as Burke would so memorably complain, "and the inferences are in the passions."

IV. How, then, did this moral realism further the prominence of compassion?

In two opposing fashions, one of which we may associate with Montesquieu and the other with his pupil and rival Rousseau.

For Montesquieu, at the heart of the modern project lay the promotion of commerce. Commerce dictated a sober, orderly way of life that rejected alike the heroic republicanism and philosophic austerity of classical antiquity and the ascetic or hypocritical otherworldliness of Christianity. This way of life was "reasonable" in its rejection of these excessively lofty standards in favor of a life of comfortable self-preservation, but also in the impossibility of confining it within the bounds of moral parochialism.

Commerce cures destructive prejudices; and it is almost a general rule that wherever manners are gentle, there is commerce; and wherever there is commerce, manners are gentle. (Of the Spirit of the Laws, XX.1)

The gentleness or mildness (douceur) of which Montesquieu speaks here he elsewhere characterizes as the virtue of . While not the first to use the term humanity in this sense, Montesquieu's choice of it remains significant, for it suggests that virtue thus newly understood represents a return to (or perhaps more likely the first historical achievement of) virtue on a human scale rather than a superhuman or supernatural one.

Commerce smoothes rough edges, and where rough edges are smoothed, it is the work of commerce. Elsewhere Montesquieu also credits Christianity for its historical contribution to this process of what we might call the decruelification of the human race (e.g., SL XXIV.3; "On the Greatness of the Romans and Their Decline," ch. 15), but careful study discloses his view that however great this contribution in the past, the torch has now passed decisively to commerce. For Christianity also fosters its distinctive cruelties, of fanaticism and asceticism, from which only commerce can save us. The crucial point is that it is precisely the dissemination of the way of life most in accordance with the modern moral realism of enlightened self-interest that will make men more gentle, tolerant, and humane; as parochialism and superstition fall away, we become not only more secure and prosperous but also kinder.

Montesquieu, however, rarely employs the term compassion; by he perhaps means rather the absence of cruelty than any great efflorescence of fellow-feeling. Nor does he speak of sympathy, a major theme of the moral philosophies of his great contemporaries of the Scottish Enlightenment such as Hume and Adam Smith. Sympathy would be a major theme of ours except that being so much broader than compassion it lacked compassion's moral edge: that is to say, its specific preoccupation with the relief of the sufferings of others. It also therefore lacked compassion's social and political edge. The Scottish Enlighteners just referred to were moderate progressives, which is to say also moderate conservatives: the incremental reform that they favored posed no stark challenge to the social order. It would be no exaggeration to say that their sympathy was a virtue perpetually at home with the evolving liberal, tolerant, and commercial status quo. In this they were very much on the same page as Montesquieu himself.

Compassion, by contrast, became the rallying cry of Montesquieu's greatest disciple, who was also his greatest critic, Jean-Jacques Rousseau. On the Spirit of the Laws had appeared in 1748; already by 1755 the hitherto completely obscure Rousseau had displaced Montesquieu as Europe's leading intellectual celebrity by turning his teaching on its head. In Rousseau's hands compassion (his counterpart to Montesquieu's humanity) figures not in the vindication of the emerging liberal/commercial way of life but as the core of a radical critique of it. Stated most simply, Rousseau was the founder of the modern Left, and compassion figured prominently in his articulation of this fateful new moral and political sensibility.

We spoke above of the link between compassion and modern moral realism: nowhere is that link so clear as in the thought of Rousseau. As his predecessors had rejected classical thought as utopian in the excessive rationalism of its account of virtue, so he turns the tables on them by accusing them of repeating this error even as they believed that they addressed it. For while they sought to craft a more effective morality by yoking reason to our strongest passions, thus inventing enlightened self-interest, the result, according to Rousseau, was still much too reliant on reason. Not calculation but immediate, spontaneous sentiment was the only effective basis of morality.

Besides, the effectual truth of enlightened self-interest and the invocation of rights in service of that interest was hateful competition among men, not genuine co-operation. Ultimately commerce and all other such forms of competition serve the passion of amour-propre or vanity, which craves superiority over our fellows or inequality for its own sake. Rousseau thus presents the emergent liberal commercial society in which Montesquieu, Hume, and Smith invested such hopes as a lurid nightmare of strife, exploitation, and cruelty.

Commerce makes men more alike while also multiplying inequalities among them. Montesquieu seized on the first of these facts to welcome commerce as a new dawn: whereas difference bred narrowness and hostility, sameness brought greater understanding. Rousseau, by contrast, stressed the second of these elements, presenting commerce as driving men apart even as it supposedly brought them together. For Montesquieu the most baneful differences were those of sect, race, nation, and (as we would say) culture; for Rousseau (although he too hated fanaticism), the fatal distinctions were those of class. Of the resources available to social man, only compassion addressed both the utopianism of early liberal thought and the harmful effects of commerce. It was not calculated but spontaneous, and the bonds that it forged with our fellow human beings were mutual and genuine. It alone permitted those who had received a proper education in it to transcend the barriers of inequality as of other divisions among human beings. Rousseau's imagined paragons of compassion were the "great cosmopolitan souls" of the Discourse on Inequality, who "surmount the imaginary barriers that separate Peoples and who, following the example of the sovereign Being who created them, include the whole human Race in their benevolence."

Compassion thus emerged in Rousseau's thought as the great alternative to amour-propre and all the exploitation resulting from it, and he invested his incomparable rhetorical skills in touting it as the social balm. As the supreme modern psychologist, he was only too aware not only of the power of compassion but also of its limitations. These last, however, he communicated sotto voce, for he had decided that, all things considered, the promotion of compassion was the moral strategy most suited to his own age and to the ailing, distressed, unequal Europe of the foreseeable future.

Like any theme that Rousseau took up, compassion proved highly contagious. He was the wellspring of that mania for compassion that so infected the nineteenth century and from which we've not recovered fully even today. Here I'll cite just two otherwise highly dissimilar cases. When the great philosopher Schopenhauer promoted compassion as the only basis of morality, and when the bombastic poet Victor Hugo praised his fictional ass who altered his gait so as to avoid crushing a toad as "greater than Socrates, more sublime than Plato," it was Rousseau from whom they derived their inspiration.


V. Of the thinkers of the first rank who have made compassion their theme, Alexis de Tocqueville is of special interest to Americans because we were of special interest to him.

Democracy in America has been called the best book ever written about democracy and the best book ever written about America. Tocqueville's main concern in writing it, however, was not America but democracy, which he foresaw would triumph also in Europe and perhaps throughout the world. He found much to admire in America; he had seen the democratic future and, for the most part, it worked. One of the respects in which it worked was in fostering compassion.

Few passages of DemocracyVI. As mentioned earlier, compassion has also known its modern detractors, most significantly Spinoza, Kant, and Nietzsche.

Spinoza and Kant promoted versions of the rationalist critique already encountered in antiquity, but did so on the basis of distinctively modern notions of the character of reason and its status in the world. Nietzsche's still more radical critique accompanied his rejection of modern rationalism. He remained closer to Montesquieu and Rousseau in recognizing the primacy of affect for human beings, but he interpreted all human affects as drives, and ultimately as expressions of the single comprehensive drive infusing all nature: the will to power.

Pity, while a temptation (even the final or most powerful temptation) to the higher man, was primarily the preserve of lower ones. These, Nietzsche dared to think, wallowed in it as swine do in mud, their pity for others being indistinguishable from their pity for themselves. This preoccupation with pity, the modern epidemic (which, as Nietzsche says, glancing at Schopenhauer, "has made even philosophers sick"), was the sign of a declining life form, an anesthetic for incurable sufferers. It pointed the way toward the last man, who would feel nothing and long for nothing.

Although Nietzsche often described himself (and has been described by others) as an immoralist, his ultimate objection to compassion was an ethical one. The core of humanity was its ambition to greatness, and all greatness depended on suffering. The modern project of compassion, then, taken as the elimination of suffering, was ipso facto a campaign against humanity as such in favor of a descent into the subhuman.

Nietzsche's teaching thus echoed the Christian one in raising the question of whether human suffering was simply bad. (For if not, then the modern ethics of compassion cannot be regarded as simply good.) Yet Nietzsche also recalled the classics in suggesting that for human beings to reach their full potential they must master their compassion in the name of higher considerations. It seems that we would be rash to regard these questions as settled.


.....

Recommended TranslationsThe Republic of PlatoAristotle, On RhetoricThe Spirit of the LawsThe DiscoursesEmile, or on EducationDemocracy in AmericaBeyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the FutureOn the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo. Translated by Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale. Edited with commentary by Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage Books, 1967.


.....

Clifford Orwin is Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto and Distinguished Visiting Fellow and Member of the Task Force on the Virtues of a Free Society at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. He is a frequent contributor to the Globe & Mail, Canada's national newspaper of record. He has written extensively on the thinkers discussed in this article and is completing a book on the contemporary scene to be titled Deeply Compassionate.
 
Solace
 
Reply Fri 27 Jun, 2008 10:52 pm
@Pythagorean,
That's some very thought-provoking stuff, Pythagorean, and surprisingly easy for a layman to read and comprehend. Although I see the sense in what is being said, I can't help but wonder if the case against compassion was simply being stated to excuse the apathy of those who lack it. Nietzsche was a clever fellow, no doubt, but was he compassionate? If not, then he'd naturally rationalize why he wasn't so as to paint himself in the best possible light.
 
Didymos Thomas
 
Reply Sat 28 Jun, 2008 09:08 am
@Solace,
Before I present a more detailed and comprehensive critique of this essay, let me point out that the author does himself no favors by limiting his considerations to western thought.

What honest account can we give of compassion if we ignore the tradition that most consistently advances compassion? Buddhism's focus on compassion surpasses any other, and ignoring their account of compassion is nothing but convenient to the mouth who seeks to criticize compassion.
 
Aedes
 
Reply Sat 28 Jun, 2008 09:22 am
@Didymos Thomas,
This argument is a modern restatement of Nietzsche's own passage from Genealogy of Morals in which he specifically argues against the intrinsic good of altruism (which is just a more philosophical rendition of compassion). In fact this author's general approval of classical thought and disapproval of intellectual history under the church is also very much in step with Nietzsche, who was a trained philologist himself and a lover of classical works.

While I am in general a fan of Nietzsche's ethics (in theory, definitely not in practice), I think the novel attitudes of Nietzsche's era are a bit arcane now. Modernism in philosophy and literature set out to destroy romanticized notions and transcendent concepts, and Nietzsche along with Dostoyevsky were the two towering figures to start this movement in the late 19th century.

But we've come a long way since then. We understand psychology and sociology in a way that was truly impossible at the time of Nietzsche, and I think it's necessary to reevaluate ethics in light of what we now know. We make value judgements emotionally and not rationally, and then we overlay them onto philosophies or belief systems or whatever. We share a biological inclination towards compassion with many other animals. We know that young children who have not yet developed the ability to think abstractly about morals are overtly compassionate and empathetic.

So irrespective of the philosophy of compassion, and its iterations through history, compassion is part of us and needs to be understood, not simply accepted or rejected on philosophical grounds.
 
boagie
 
Reply Sat 28 Jun, 2008 01:48 pm
@Aedes,
Pythagorean,Smile

I think it has already been stated that compassion is part and parcel of our biology. A look at our prehistory in the form of rituals and mythologies might be of aid in recognizing the early manifestation of compassion going back to Neanderthals.

Compassion is not only an expression of our biology it is part of the cultural complex of any society whether that of village life, city life or the cultural complex of a whole country, it is humanities commonality.
This commonality cannot be understood in any other terms then the extension of human biology, this is if you like, the out put of a living system. Our agriculture, our industries, our technologies and our complex social organizations, all, biological extensions.


I remember the late Joseph Campbell discussing the nature of a beautiful complex spiders web, and he questioned. Did the spider create this of its own intent, and with an understanding of the complex engineering principles involved, or, did it arise out of the beauty of the nature of the spider itself. If one has no difficulty realizing that this complex structure of a spiders web is a biological extension and expression of its own innate beauty, then one might see where man's creations are biological extensions of the beauty innate to mankind. Compassion may not be the sole ingredient, but it is the mortar which holds and maintains all of these man made structures together.

As the apple tree apples, so to does man create through biological extension. I believe it is man's destiny to realize that the under pininings of all reality is its relational nature, for human society compassion is the essential ingredient to civilization. Identification with others, maybe the trigger for a compassionate response, a reaction to the plight of others that we have in a sense expanded our concept of self to embrace that of other.
 
Pythagorean
 
Reply Sun 29 Jun, 2008 08:00 am
@Aedes,
Aedes wrote:


This argument is a modern restatement of Nietzsche's own passage from Genealogy of Morals in which he specifically argues against the intrinsic good of altruism (which is just a more philosophical rendition of compassion). In fact this author's general approval of classical thought and disapproval of intellectual history under the church is also very much in step with Nietzsche, who was a trained philologist himself and a lover of classical works.


I think the author is saying that because we have come to value feeling and compassion those things are now determined to die away. He seems to imply that there is classical virtue which is the true science of human nature at all times and in this light he sees that compassion and the over relying upon feeling will lead to an inevitable decay. Christianity was essential to the coming-to-be and domination of compassion and feeling and with its troubled passing and decay history will now revert to barbarism; he says this in the light of the classical conception of man which is, like Euclidean geometry, non-historical.


Quote:
While I am in general a fan of Nietzsche's ethics (in theory, definitely not in practice), I think the novel attitudes of Nietzsche's era are a bit arcane now. Modernism in philosophy and literature set out to destroy romanticized notions and transcendent concepts, and Nietzsche along with Dostoyevsky were the two towering figures to start this movement in the late 19th century.



But the death or the ideological murder of these transcendent ideals still lives on in the current decay of seriously fundamentalist Christianity (which is most evident in Europe today, which has gone atheistic). Nietzsche was prophetic when he said that God was dead. And as for Existentialist philosophy it may be instructive to consider what Leo Strauss once said, "Existentialism was the last philosophy that Europe has or can produce."



The death of Existentialism and of literary modernism is still now having their effect upon us -we are postmodern or post-postmodern now. This is the psychology of the western world today. Christianity brought compassion to the masses but the death or transfiguration of Christianity in popular culture leaves us blind to the classical understanding and left us holding our emotions without true philosophical or literary (or political) guidance. This is my take on the tatoos and the pornography and the inexcusable 'Wall Street' greed. We are now lost. This is my take on the deep political and financial trouble that is occuring in America today. This seems to be the author's message also, if only by implication.



Quote:
But we've come a long way since then. We understand psychology and sociology in a way that was truly impossible at the time of Nietzsche, and I think it's necessary to reevaluate ethics in light of what we now know. We make value judgements emotionally and not rationally, and then we overlay them onto philosophies or belief systems or whatever. We share a biological inclination towards compassion with many other animals. We know that young children who have not yet developed the ability to think abstractly about morals are overtly compassionate and empathetic.


I think that you may be in a minority position of saying that we are biologically determined etc. The medical community really has no social role to play within man's psychological nature today. They only prescribe medicine mostly and are left out of the internal life of the patient. There is no more family doctor that visits your home anymore. And the psychiatrists do not have you lay on the couch so much as they give you drugs - Freudianism is dead, it died with the advent of post-modernism.

The masses or "the people" really have no moral instruction today as they did of yesteryear. The only instruction comes from the "do what feels good" crowd and the pop culture of T.V. land etc. They are closed in and left to their mere feelings without edification; that is the problem and the reason for the current decline in compassion in society today.

Quote:
So irrespective of the philosophy of compassion, and its iterations through history, compassion is part of us and needs to be understood, not simply accepted or rejected on philosophical grounds.



I hope I am allowed to reject it without being ostrasized. I would simply like to reserve the right to assert that compassion is a weakness and not a virtue. You see, I am a partisan of the classical Greek and Roman version of the virtues. Yes, a man out of time! And with all due respect this is philosophy after all, and not biology class. What I mean is that real life is vast and can be profound while the theory of biological determinism is historically a small field.

Please don't take it the wrong way, I just disagree with you and I'm trying to make my case. And since my skills are a little rusty 0 and I may not be as polished a writer as you, I hope you'll make some allowances for whatever lapses in logic or lacuna of reason that I may exhibit. :eek:
 
Aedes
 
Reply Sun 29 Jun, 2008 10:04 am
@Pythagorean,
Pythagorean wrote:
As for Existentialist philosophy it may be instructive to consider what Leo Strauss once said, "Existentialism was the last philosophy that Europe has or can produce."
I disagree with this. Existentialism is not a comprehensive philosophy -- it's an ethical / social philosophy that basically disregards other projects (like epistemology and metaphysics). Existentialism rejects innate qualities and it rejects inherited values and prejudices, and it builds ethics out of the idea that we are free and self-determined; and that meaning comes from within us.

Much more "ultimate" philosophies that have come from Europe are the kind of "metaphilosophies" like by Derrida and Wittgenstein and Lyotard and Levi-Strauss (to name a few) that break down all of philosophy itself based on language or logic or "metanarrative" paradigms, etc.

Quote:
I think that you may be in a minority position of saying that we are biologically determined etc.
Wow, Pyth that's a pretty tough misreading of what I've said. You might want to take a look back at what I've written, but it's hard to go on elaborating my position if you think that's what I mean.

My contention is simply that there are psychologically innate impulses within us, and compassion in the most generic sense is innate. We also can innately feel happy, sad, bereaved, comforted, amused, frightened, lonely, etc. And empathy (which compassion is merely an expression of) is ALSO innate -- and since we're social animals it's necessary.

Whether or not its basis is biological is immaterial to this discussion, because just as a pure phenomenon it's true that human beings feel and express compassion, and they do so long before their minds are capable of abstraction and reason. And a biological predisposition to that feeling is absolutely not the same thing as determinism, which would imply that an individual does not have conscious control over a particular situation. That is not, has never been, and will never be my position.

Thus, it's not merely a question of whether compassion right / wrong / neutral / good / bad. It's a question of what role it serves for us and how it's best applied and understood.

As for your comments about medicine and psychiatry, I have a lot of disagreements with you about that but I think it's food for a different thread. I'll leave it with the comment that clinical psychiatry is MUCH different than the social psychology of healthy people, the latter of which is what is germane to this thread. It doesn't really serve this discussion to bring all these disparate elements into it.

Incidentally you should check out a very interesting textbook by Irwin Yalom called Existential Psychotherapy. He's a professor of psychiatry at Stanford Medical School and is a real authority on therapy, including group therapy. Therapy IS still a major part of psychiatry, especially in the inpatient setting.
 
Arjen
 
Reply Sun 29 Jun, 2008 10:05 am
@Pythagorean,
Pyth, I am having a bit of a headache so I will read the article at a later time. At that time I will try to point out the points in the article that are incorrect. I know they are incorrect because I know Nietzsche's works. At no point does Nietzsche state that compassion is wrong, nor does he say that one should not feel compassion, nor help others. He merely points out that human compassion has been used to serve as a means of dominating people by groups of people who are simply put holding others back. These people dominate only because others allow them to. One way (an important one) are the aesthetical ideals of 'compassion' and 'guilt'.

Perhaps this will be enough for you, but most likely not. There are a lot of people who read Nietzsche as someone who would support Nazi ideals. That is about a hundred degrees off with Fredrich. His sister Elisabeth though has used his works in a way Nietzsche would be repulsed at. She wrote 'Wille zur Macht' and she quite positively had Nazi ideals. I hope no one here will be mislead by his sister, for it is very beneficial to malignant people for this picture to be superimposed on Nietzsche's work.
 
BrightNoon
 
Reply Tue 26 Aug, 2008 07:31 pm
@Arjen,
Nietzsche's point was not that one should do ill to others, but that one should not be constrained by an artificial humility, which taught that the interests of all others should be considered above one's own: i.e., judeo-christian morality, pessimism, the will to death. He proposes an alternative which has no oblgiatory charity, no humility, no shame, no guilt, but potentially kindness, assistance and a great deal of benevolence, balanced by only justified* aggression.

*agression of the sort typified by the homeric greeks, about honor, about revenge, about fair competition and conquest, and not about cruelty, sadism, etc.

A lack of sacrosanct humanitarian values does not ensure horror and inhumane treatment. The nature of human relations become, as they once were in prehistory, a matter of individual actions and choices.
 
iconoclast
 
Reply Wed 27 Aug, 2008 01:02 am
@BrightNoon,
Some reflections on the post. First, the title of the article is:

Quote:
How an Emotion Became a Virtue –
it took some help from Rousseau and Montesquieu

By Clifford Orwin


I think it's important, when employing a whole article as a basis for discussion like this, to at the very leat include, but really give prominence to the author's title and name. Using Neitzche's quote as a title - and given pythagorean's pre-amble, I found confused my reading of the article. Finding no justification for the assertion:

Quote:
Philosophically, it's very surprising to think that compassion may lead to pornography and free sex and other things in modern life that are debased. So I ask you this controversial question: Is compassion wrong?


I hit the link, and still found no justification for this assertion - or indeed, the argument that 'lower men wallow in pity as swine do in mud.' The following is what I thought once I'd disentangled these prejudicial remarks from my reading of the article.

The article sets up the ancients as the paragons of virtue - and then conceptualizes the evolution of man in these terms, but that's the wrong way around, as Aedes indicates:

Quote:
My contention is simply that there are psychologically innate impulses within us, and compassion in the most generic sense is innate. We also can innately feel happy, sad, bereaved, comforted, amused, frightened, lonely, etc. And empathy (which compassion is merely an expression of) is ALSO innate -- and since we're social animals it's necessary.


Thus, Aedes identifiies the dishonesty (too strong a word) in Orwin's argument, (for Orwin addresses it, if somewhat obliquely):

Quote:
Some writers have offered a “sociological” explanation for this: compassion emerged with the modern market system and the larger and more homogenous public it created, which also led to a broadening of the scope of fellow-feeling. This was to some extent also the view of such thoughtful contemporary observers as Montesquieu. Yet compassion did not simply emerge (if indeed it even emerged primarily) as a result of the spontaneous play of social forces. It represented an intellectual project undertaken by a large handful of the greatest minds of the day. They may be said not merely to have discovered or promoted what we have since come to know as compassion but actually to have invented it.


And herein lies the essential contradiction. If compassion was invented by Montesquieu et. al., how could the Ancients have:

Quote:
recognized its power and therefore its utility in political life, but doubted its reasonableness and therefore its justice. It figures in Plato’s Republic primarily as a threat to justice (cf. Republic 415c, 606a–c)


Now we see the importance of citing the author - that we might avoid him in future.

:Not-Impressed:

iconoclast.
 
nameless
 
Reply Fri 29 Aug, 2008 02:24 pm
@Pythagorean,
Pythagorean;17191 wrote:
"Lower men wallow in pity as swine do in mud, their pity for others being the same as their pity for themselves. Thus spake Nietzsche... How the emotion became a virtue."

Here is an philosophically stimulating article which says that compassion is not as worthy a thing for us to have as we have been led to believe.

First, a definition of 'compassion' with which I resonate;
"Compassion means that we recognize their need for their present condition, and give them our love and understanding."


Quote:
My question is: is compassion really for low life's alone?

No, as I have defined it, it is for all life.
And as far as the crassly egoic judgementalism of calling another critter a 'low life', there can be no 'compassion' existing in that 'mindset'. 'Compassion' transcends egoic identity.

Quote:
It's a strong philosophical argument that makes me wonder whether I am wrong to feel compassion or pity as I do.

As Compassion is non egoic, 'pity' is all ego!
"Oooohhh, that poor person isn't as smart/pretty/rich/healthy... as I am!! I'm so much better than them! They can be (almost!) as great/healthy/rich.. as I am if I only deign to 'help' them, from my 'heights', my 'superior position'".

Quote:
I hope it is enough to stir active philosophical discussion on the nature of pity and human compassion

There's the difference, as I see it, as I have offered.
I would offer, as relevent, that 'Charity' is most often a similar ego wank (related to 'pity' and 'judgement').
I understand 'charity' as simply not taking more than your share. That naturally leaves resources for others.

Quote:
or what are the truest virtues to have.

Those who think that they have virtues, have none. True virtues are those seen in others.
You are as you are.
'Humility', is often seen as the greatest of all (the father of) virtues. It is definitive evidence of the lack of 'humility' to think that you are (or 'try' to be) 'humble'.
'Compassion' (and it's son 'charity') is the flower that grows well in 'humble' soil.
Peace
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Sat 28 Nov, 2009 10:24 pm
@Pythagorean,
Nietzsche was dripping with pity and compassion, which is why he was such a moralist. He attacked the law (abstract moral law) in the name of its essence (life, power, health). Just as Jesus attacked the law of Moses in the name of its essence (love).

Calling yourself an immoralist and then spending half your pages accusing humanity of inferior behavior/ thought......Hmmm.

It was Spengler who made me realize that Nietzsche was a moralist. And then it seemed obvious.

Nietzsche in 4 words: No pain, no gain. Sounds like Dad.
 
Sidus
 
Reply Wed 24 Feb, 2010 07:33 pm
@Pythagorean,
People who drip with compassion are not moralist, they're hyper-emotional. Actually, anyone I've ever known who did things in the name of compassion felt very good about himself---and expected everyone else to feel the same. Compassion is an emotion, it comes from your gut, it makes it impossible to be virtuous, in the true meaning of virtue. Never trust anything that comes from your gut.

The opposite of compassion is not cruelty.
 
 

 
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