Ideology and perception of human nature

1. Both Plato and Socrates were prominent authors whose works influenced and shaped ancient Greece’s ideology and perception of human nature. A common topic of interest for both authors was the analysis of the root of human evil, which produces warfare, violence, and political unrest. According to Plato, “When come wars, and fighting, and factions, if not from the body and the body’s desires? Wars are caused by the love of money, and money has to be acquired for the sake and in the service of the body… the body is always breaking in on us, causing turmoil and confusion in our inquiries, and so upsetting us that we are prevented from seeing the truth” (Plato Excerpt B). Plato perceived warfare and political rest as an overflow of man’s bodily desires and selfish ambitions that inevitably impedes us to search after worldly pleasures, including power and wealth. Similarly, Thucydides claimed that “the cause of all these evils was love of power due to ambition and greed, which led to rivalries from which party splitting sprung” (Thucydides Excerpt B). While analyzing the causes of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides came to the conclusion that man’s inherently evil nature brings about rebellion against the law and the pursuit of uncontrolled passions. Despite this commonality, Plato and Thucydides differ in the overall focus on their work. Thucydides primarily centered his work around the Peloponnesian War and the prevention of future occurrences, outlining cold hard facts that explained the political and social implications of the war. For example, Thucydides commented on the violence of the war, explaining that “this is not revolt-revolt implies oppression; it is deliberate and wanton aggression; an attempt to ruin us by siding without bitterest enemies; a worse offense than a war undertaken on their own account on the acquisition of power” (Thucydides Excerpt A). Thucydides poured into his research on the Peloponnesian War, exploring the major personalities on each side of the conflict and examining the political origins of the clash between Sparta and Athens as his main point of focus throughout literature. On the other hand, Plato maintained a broader, more holistic focus on human nature and our relationship with reality. In the Allegory of the Cave, Plato illustrates his perception of human nature by describing a shadow of appearances that hides the world of eternal nonmaterial realities beyond. The soul is imprisoned in the body, and must be broken free into the ideal Form. He explains how men who understand the true reality of the world must take on the responsibility of bringing others into awareness. Essentially, well being, happiness, high virtue, and right moral action is the epitome of ethical practice and life (Plato Excerpt: The Theory of Ideas: The Allegory of the Cave). Ultimately, Plato and Thucydides differ in the sense that Thucydides focuses on a narrower subject, whereas Plato takes on a broader perspective of human nature in a bigger context.

2. One major component that emerged during the early period of Greek history was the focus on individualism. As opposed to the usual emphasis on wealth and power, ancient Greece began to shift its focus towards the individual’s cultivation of honor and glory. One’s reputation, respect from others, and acquired admiration served as the most coveted treasure of the time, creating a culture rooted in individual success and prominence (Herbst video, Wk 6 “Greek Epic”, 3:21). For example, ancient Greece’s highly competitive nature is reflected by its religious festivals that encompass events for athletes to earn honor and glory (Herbst video, Wk 6 “Religion and History”, 1:22). Plato also expands on this concept, describing how the spiritual component of the soul seeks to do good things to earn the favor and respect of others. In essence, many outwardly good deeds are deeply rooted in selfish ambitions to promote one’s honor and glory in a society that places such emphasis on reputation (Herbst video, Wk 6. “Plato and the Soul” 4:06). This individualistic Greek culture naturally influenced society’s moral code and the expression of art. Nudity in the public and art became more commonly accepted and praised, signifying a break between the traditional moral codes of society and transition into the individual’s freedom. Individualism was exalted as sculptures of naked men and women were intentionally shaped to depict reality over ideality, thus further celebrating the individual (WTWA Ch 5, p.192). The core value of individualism within Greek society expanded out to every other aspect of life, thus impacting and shaping society’s views on politics, the economy, social values, and religion. As we continue to learn about Greek history, we witness more and more elements of its culture that are built upon the individualistic foundation at its core.

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3. Greek culture and history shares many parallels with that of the South Asian Vedic society with regards to their interpretation and value of the individual’s soul and journey to “enlightenment”. The Greek disposition focused on humans and their place in both the universe and society, bringing rise to many prominent thinkers and philosophers who attempted to grapple with the idea of harmonious relationships and little to no political corruption/decline (WTWA Ch 5, p.197). Socrates encouraged reflection on ethics and morality, emphasizing the importance of honor and integrity as opposed to wealth and power. He preoccupied his life with the asking of questions to dismantle practical ideas or inherited beliefs in the pursuit of true knowledge and truth, concerning himself with the human experience of virtue, justice, and liberation. Socrates’ searching led to the adopted Greek understanding that not everyone can distinguish right from wrong, and that they only commit immoral actions without the intention to do so. Greek culture focused on separating appearance from reality and engaging in active introspection and contemplation within the soul, which is the spiritual immortal part of us. The body and its desires is what distracts us from the “good life” (Herbst video, Wk 6 “Socrates-Life and Death” 4:10). Plato continued to expand on this concept, breaking down the soul into three compartments – appetitive, spirited, and rational. He believed that matter is flawed and that the body must be controlled for human elevation. This particular Greek school of thought is mirrored through the South Asain Upanishads, who possessed supreme knowledge and explored questions of deep concern (Herbst video, Wk 6 “Plato and the Soul”, 5:34). Similar to the Greek mindset, Upanisads believed that the problems of humanity were found within the heart, which could only be overcome through spiritualization, internationalization, close examination of the soul, and searching for a deeper meaning and liberation. They also believed that physical desires, ego, and fears and ambitions restrict one from finding their true self, or atman, which is the holy and eternal true essence of one’s being. Only through meditation will one reach Braham, which is the ultimate unity between self and reality (Herbst video, Wk 4 “Upanishads” 3:10). The similarities between the two different cultures reveals a common emphasis on reflection and a desire to dig deeper into the human experience. Both the Greek and Vedic emphasis on the exploration of the soul and path to enlightenment, or the good life, emphasizes the cultural similarity between the two societies that shaped its deeper understanding of the individual and their place in the world.

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