A 13 year old boy was brought before Aristotle to become his student. Already proving to be intelligent and eager to learn, Aristotle found it easy to inspire this child to love literature. He taught this child how to fortify arguments in a debate and how to present them. He taught this child how to intellectually justify the need for self-control and self-denial. He placed high emphasis on the need for honor so the young man would see its importance in the life of a ruler. This child absorbed these lessons and more. But one of the lessons that Aristotle placed in the heart of his student that would eventually impact the whole world was that of taking Dominion of Human Nature.
Though ethnocentric at its root, an ideology was instilled in the young man which became the framework for his method of rule. Aristotle taught him barbaric people are controlled by impulse to satisfy every base desire. Therefore he should rule his nation as a honorable leader and become a despot to the barbarians of the world. With these and many other lessons, Alexander the Great would go on to conquer the known world before age 33.
Because of how humanity has evolved socially, its current view of “barbarianism” would deem Aristotle’s lessons as intolerance at the least. (Perhaps even tyrannical at worst) Literally, Aristotle put it into the heart of Alexander the Great that uncivilized people should be treated as beasts. Aristotle viewed barbarians as people who were incapable of restraint. And yet we must also recognize today, if restraints are cast off and every appetite was allowed to be indulged society itself would crumble in anarchy. Barbarianism is alive and well today; its manifestations appearing in the form of horrible crimes such as murder, rape, and robbery. It also manifests through means less consequential but severe nonetheless. Individual indulgences gratified with complete disregard for its impact on others. An attitude prevailing that says “I will do whatever I want and whenever I want”. This is not the mind set of rational civilization; this is the mind set of barbarianism.
Aristotle expanded his view of human nature from what he had been taught at one time by Plato. Plato divided the natures of humanity into two principle categories, one side he called Rational and the other he called Animal. “We are good when reason rules and bad when we are dominated by our desires” He presented a dichotomy of human reason and animal instincts to pursue wants. He concluded that “self-mastery” would always be paradoxical because to master one’s self would also mean to equally be subject to one’s self.
I believe Aristotle took this concept and placed it in a paradigm of society where mankind cannot prosper as an authority to himself. Containment of nature would be the product of education and societal expectation. In closing, I want to expound upon the origin of this commentary’s title which also happens to be the inspiration for writing it. It comes from something that I read Hsün-tzu (Art of War) say regarding civilized humanity:
“Fire and water possess energy but are without life. Grass and trees have life but no intelligence. Birds and beasts have intelligence but no sense of duty. Man possesses energy, life, intelligence, and, in addition, a sense of duty. Therefore he is the noblest being on earth. He is not as strong as the ox, nor as swift as the horse, and yet he makes the ox and the horse work for him. Why? Because he is able to organize himself in society and they are not.”
Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés