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Sophrosyne: The Escape from Senseless Violence


 
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Obedience to what Professor Whitehead has called the unenforceable, that to which no force can compel, the Athenian accepted as the basic condition of freedom for men living together, obedience to kindness and compassion and unselfishness and all the long list of qualities without which life would be intolerable except to a hermit in a desert. The limits to action established by law were a mere nothing compared to the limits established by a man's free choice.
- Edith Hamilton, The Echo of Greece

I take to heart the "except to a hermit in the desert" phrase. Nevertheless, this passage captures a spirit of freedom, of an essential goodness to human nature and culture, that I believe we have lost sight of. The imperative is to recover "the unenforceable" within ourselves. To that end, I am striving for greater discipline and balance in my own life.

For a great number of reasons, I am attracted to "things in threes". There is a fundamental simplicity, a philosophical purity, an aesthetic pleasure, an elegant (beauty + power) harmony, to things in threes.

Spirit / Mind / Body - the structure of the Memory Cathedral
Thesis / Anti-thesis / Synthesis - Hegel's map
Just / Good / Beautiful - teleological harmony in Plato
Past / Present / Future - Sartre's despair, forlornness and despair
Yin / Yang / Tao - aspects of I-Ching trigrams
Purity / Simplicity / Grace - idiosyncratic triad. Desert / Mountain / Ocean
Flesh / Bone / Blood - the blood is new here, rises out of the bone, flows through the flesh

The capacity to embrace two polarities, opposites, and then also locate the whole that embraces both, is like an exhaled breath of satisfaction in my mind.

Previously, I detailed certain physical disciplines for my body. It is without any doubt, the basis any philosophy. The foundation of all philosophy and religion. Framing these physical disciplines are those of the Mind and the Spirit.

The Great Platonic Day exhibits this structure:

Spirit - 3 h
Mind - 3 h
Body - 3 h

Society - 3 h

Sleep - 6 h
Food - 3 h
Transitions - 3 h

Emphasis here on the essential Platonic nature of this program. It's the Ideal Form for the day. It is the skeleton around which the various interruptions, distractions, sidetracks all collect. 
"The Platonic idealist is the man by nature so wedded to perfection that he sees in everything not the reality but the faultless ideal which the reality misses and suggests..."
- George Santayana, Egotism In German Philosophy
Here is the danger of living according to a set of Ideals that is out of step with the society at large. There is argument that no one is more egotistical than the Hemit in the Desert. I understand this all too well. However, the Desert that I have emerged from is one in which there was no perfection at all. And now, searching for structure (also penetration into the core of my problem and potential solution), I turn to the Greeks, to the roots of Western thinking and culture - to the locus of our mutually understood values.

What is imperative is to establish a sphere of discipline, of self-control, within which I can exercise and celebrate my freedom. Thus, the Platonic Day. Thus, these frames. These mediations and fragmentary notes.
This conception of what freedom means dawned upon the Greeks. The quality they valued most - the Greek word is sophrosyne (σωφροσύνη) - cannot be expressed by any single English word. It is oftenest translated by self-control, but it meant more than that. It was the spirit behind the two great Delphic sayings, "Know thyself" and "Nothing in excess." Arrogance, insolent self-assertion, was of all qualities most detested by the Greeks. Sophrosyne was the exact opposite. It had its nature, as Aristotle would say, in the excellent and it meant accepting the bounds of excellence laid down for human nature, restraining impulses to unrestricted freedom, shunning excess, obeying the inner laws of harmony and proportion. This was the virtue the Greeks esteemed beyond all others not because they were moderate lovers of the golden mean, but because their spontaneity and ever-changing variety and ardent energy of life had to have the strong control of a disciplined spirit or end in senseless violence.
- Edith Hamilton, The Echo of Greece 
I often wonder about the resolve - sophrosyne - of Ulysses in the heart of the siren's songs....
What pulled him out of Circe's arms.... What kept him directed back towards Ithaca...


 
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