Bibliotherapy

Antiochus Of Ascalon And His Notion Of Self-Love

Platonic Academy-House of Siminius Stephanus_Pompéi.

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Today’s sharing from the Blue House of HYGEIA are extracts from Georgia Tsouni’s seminal study, ‘Antiochus and Peripatetic Ethics’, Cambridge University Press_2019. Pages 118, 119, 120. The vital notion of self-love as natural and intrinsic condition for development and harmony between body, soul and mind, is developed with references to Cicero’s ‘On Ends’ (De Finibus) and the ‘Nicomachean Ethic’ of Aristotle.

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‘Although self-love constitutes according to the Antiochean spokesperson a psychological principle rooted in nature, which is accessible to the senses and cannot be seriously doubted by anyone. Piso goes on at ‘On Ends’ 5.27 to offer arguments (rationes) that justify it philosophically as well. The defense of self-love in the Antiochean theory rests primarily on its role as the necessary motivational force for every impulse which is (analytically) directed at something perceived as good for the organism. This conclusion is advocated by means of two reductio arguments at ‘On Ends’ 5.28. The relevant passage reads as follow:

“But how could one conceive or imagine (intellegi aut cogitare) that there is some animal which hates itself? In fact (in that case) two contrary things would happen at the same time (res concurrent contrariae). For, given that an animal is hostile towards itself, such an impulse would deliberately (consulto) start drawing something harmful to it, but because it would be doing it for its own sake (quoniam id sua causa faciet), it would be loving and hating itself at the same time (et oderit se et simul diligent), which is impossible. Furthermore, necessarily someone who is hostile towards oneself would think of goods as evils and evils as goods and would avoid what should be sought while seeking what should be avoided, something which without doubt would make life impossible ( quae sine dubio vitae eversio)”

Cicero, ‘On End’ 5.28.

The main argument of Piso on this point could be reconstructed in the following way:

Premise 1: An Animal which hates itself knowingly (consulto) has an impulse for things harmful to itself.

Premise 2: Every animal acts for its own sake (id sua causa faciet).

Premise 3: (follow from premise 2) Every animal in acting seeks what is beneficial to itself, that is (in the case of human beings) what conduces to its own happiness (implied premise).

Premise 4: Seeking what is beneficial to oneself is equivalent to loving oneself.

Premise 5: in the case of acts of self-hate an animal both loves and hates itself.

Premise 6: But loving and hating oneself at the same time is a logical contradiction.

Conclusion: Therefore, self-hate is impossible.

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‘The notion of Antiochean self-love may be associated not only with (narrowly understood) self-interested action, or merely with the preservation of one’s bodily integrity, but also spans virtuous action; for love of the self may be also understood as the desire to fulfil the potential of one’s soul, as a part of oneself, and even that of the highest part of one’s soul, namely nous. Indeed, Antiochus suggests that children who act merely on the basis of self-love without a clear understanding of their nature strive not only for a good state of their body but also for the exercise of their mental faculties-by e.g. showing an interest in learning and social activities (see especially ‘On Ends’ 5.42-43), something which for Antiochus shows that they possess ‘seeds of virtues’, which ‘flourish’ under the influence of reason.’

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‘A conception of an ‘elevated’ self-love relating to the human telos (supreme end of man’s endeavor) is supported by passages in the ‘Nicomachean Ethics’, where Aristotle expounds on the relationship the virtuous person enjoys with himself. For example, at ‘Nicomachean Ethics 9.1166a 13-14 the good person is said to be ‘of one mind with himself and to desire the same things for the sake of himself, i.e. for the sake of the best part in oneself, which is reason. Thus, the spoudaios (great man) ‘wishes himself to live and to be preserved, but he wishes this for his rational part more than for any other part of his soul.

Aristotle devotes a whole chapter to virtuous self-love in ‘Nicomachean Ethic’ 9.8 The chapter begins with the exposition of an aporia (a philosophical puzzle or a seemingly insoluble impasse in an inquiry. It can also denote the state of being perplexed, or at a loss, at such a puzzle or impasse) with regard to ‘whether one ought to love oneself or someone else most of all’. What immediately follows is the challenge that Aristotle counters in the rest of the chapter: Self-lovers are denounced as though self-love were something shameful, since they seem to act with regard to their own interest. The good person instead acts, according to that position, for the sake of the fine (kalon) and for his friend’s sake, disregarding his own interests.’

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‘Aristotle’s strategy in the remainder of the chapter consists in differentiating the self-love appearing in the ‘many’, and which is justly reproachable, from the self-love which the virtuous person experiences and which, far from being reproachable, is the most commendable. This is achieved by showing, contrary to his dialectical opponents, that the good person can act for the sake of the fine but without at the same time disregarding his own interests.

The differentiation between the two types of self-love rests on the different objects of desire pursued in the ‘popular’ and the ‘elevated’ type, as also on the psychology of the person who experiences it. Thus, whereas the base self-lover desires things like money, honors and bodily pleasures by gratifying his appetites and in general his passions and the non-rational part of the soul, the ‘real’ self-lover by contrast is led to action by obeying the reasoning part of his soul, accomplishing just and virtuous actions. This person ‘awards himself what is finest and best of all and gratifies the most controlling part of himself (the reasoning part) obeying it in everything.’

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‘Aristotle concludes that the good person should be a self-lover, since he will both help himself and benefit others by doing fine actions. In this way, the text achieves to differentiate clearly between this type of self-love and common selfishness.’

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