The Problem of Not Opening the Dictionary

An anonymous reader writes in with some questions, which I will manfully attempt to answer. If I seem short, it is because of time is short, not that a fuller answer is not possible.
I cannot reproduce here the whole body of his comments, especially since he is quoting my comments to which he responds: I will merely try to answer his interrogatories in order. 

  1. How is the desire (appetite?) for freedom different in quality from the desire (appetite) for food or physical sustenance?
One is noble and the other is base. One we share with animals, the other is particular to human beings. I am using the word desire in this sentence as a parallel to the Plato’s “thymos”, that spirited part of the soul which communicates between the reason and the mere appetites.
  1. How would you respond to the notion that we all *do* live merely to seek “pleasure,” whereby pleasure is defined as that which we believe and/or perceive to be desirable?
If the definition of pleasure is broadened to encompass all human action, the definition is a purely formal one: pleasure is defined as that which the aims at the removal of a felt uneasiness. Anything that is the final cause of action is called pleasure, no matter what it is.
This economists’ definition must be carefully distinguished from the use of the word in common speech. An economist would say we go to the dentist for pleasure, or pay our taxes, or forgive those who trespass against us. In common speech we distinguish between those things done for an immediate pleasure, and those unpleasant things done for sake of an ultimate or final pleasure, and also between those things done for the sake of the good because it is good, whether it pleases or not. A man who throws himself on a featherbed when no one is looking, and a man who throws himself on a hand grenade to save his mates, according to this economists definition, are not acting from different motives. Normal people would draw a clear distinction between featherbedding and self-sacrifice.
In general, you can define a word any way you wish, so long as you supply another word to refer to whatever distinction your definition is covering up.
I note again this question is based on a mere confusion of definitions: calling altruism pleasure-seeking because the word pleasure is so broadly defined as to be meaningless.
  1. Would anyone take an action which he sincerely believed would result in permanent displeasure, or even reduction in potential pleasure?
If you define pleasure as the economist does (see above) the question has no meaning. If you are using pleasure in the ordinary sense of the word, the answer is yes, all the time. A brave woman I know was in a difficult and dangerous labor, and told the doctor that if the choice came down to saving the baby or saving her self, to save the baby. I know parents who make sacrifices for children and soldiers who make sacrifices for their flag. 
  1. Would the Christian cosmology be persuasive if it was suggested that one *should*  engage in actions for the benefit of others which would ultimately damn one’s soul to hell?
The problem with the question is that Christians hold the source of all good: God is Love. So, your question comes out like a nonsense question if you try to use Christian assumptions to answer it: if Love were Hate, would it still be Beloved?
For any lesser god or created being, the answer I think is easier. The worshippers of Odin believed that, come Ragnarok, the brave Einheinjahr would face the monsters and giants in a fatal struggle, and they, and the beautiful gods, and all the world, were doomed to certain destruction. Those were noble men, concerned with the right, not with what pleased them. Certainly some religions propose that one should do what is good and right, whether it is rewarded in this life or the next or not.
I can only speak for myself: when you love someone, you love him, whether you are damned to hell for it or not.
  1. (speaking of the selflessness of soldiers) Don’t they do this because not being part of the group would be bad for them as individuals?
In a formal sense only: if we lived in a universe, or were such creatures, that there was no advantage to acting as a group, there would be no soldiers, and soldiering would neither be selfish nor selfless because it would not exist at all.
But we live in a universe where there are advantages to acting as a group, and, in some cases, this is the only way to survive. So while can while argue that in a formal sense it is better for each Marine individually to act as one of a group, in the normal sense of the words as we use them in ordinary speech, the Marines live and die for the Corps.
Even if it did not benefit him as an individual, a soldier stands in the breach for the honor of the regiment. Asking about his individual survival is like asking about his paycheck: yes, soldiers get paid, and yes they like to get paid, but no, it is not reasonable to say that they shed their blood and slog through mud for the sake of the paycheck. That is not their purpose.
Here we see the product of poor attention to definitions. The first question asked if pleasure was the source of all action. This question then poses that even the sacrifices of soldiers are made for pleasure’s sake, and the question is misleading. I would almost call it a lie, because we are using a word in the opposite of its normal meaning.
  1. What is the reason for introducing this degree of moral dualism into what otherwise seems to be a holistic system that benefits *both* the heroes in it *as well as* their superiors and inferiors?
Because, without morals, the ranks would break. Each man would look to his own life, and throw his shield away, and flee.
Someone has to stand in the breach. The benefits are obviously not distributed equally: the common good they serve continues after their sacrifice.
  1. Isn’t  the purpose of hierarchy to protect and preserve both the system and the best aspects of the individuals in it?
In peacetime, perhaps; in wartime, no.
  1. Do you  consider Achilleus unheroic since he was more concerned with his personal  honor than with the lives of his comrades?
If anything, Achilles is too heroic. Heroism is a good and necessary thing in life; it is not the highest good nor the only necessary thing.
Here again seems to be definitional confusion: we may be speaking about two different types of heroism.
  1. (speaking of massive international corporations, hegemonic superpowers,  remorseless police states ) Don’t those things help to create strength by providing resistance for the strong to overcome?
Creating a precondition which leads to an event is not the same as causing or willing the event. In any case, there are other sources of strength aside from resistance to oppression, and there are other virtues aside from strength.
The torture rack might produce unexpected fortitude in its victims, but this is not the cause for which the rack is employed.
  1. Is a hegemonic  superpower (ultimately doomed to destruction) really “stronger” than a  hero who has immortalized his own name by resisting it?
You are talking about a different kind of strength from me. Naturally I meant my comment to be read in the context in which it was placed.
And yet again, this is using the word “strength” to refer to something opposite of what I meant when I used the word.
  1. What about those whose strength is exercised to overcome themselves?
1. the quality or state of being strong; bodily or muscular power; vigor. 
2. mental power, force, or vigor. 
3. moral power, firmness, or courage. 
4. power by reason of influence, authority, resources, numbers, etc. 
5. number, as of personnel or ships in a force or body: a regiment with a strength of 3000.  
6. effective force, potency, or cogency, as of inducements or arguments: the strength of his plea.  
7. power of resisting force, strain, wear, etc. 
8. vigor of action, language, feeling, etc. 
Of these definitions, only # 3 seems to indicate a moral quality, what we might call fortitude, which is a virtue. The other are not virtuous in and of themselves.
In any case, my comments are meant to be read in the context they were written: when Nietzsche speaks of a “Will to Power” he is hardly talking about self-abnegation by submission to a greater good, or taming the passions and appetites to the framework of right reason. 
  1. (quoting me)  “In any case, if Christianity were a slave cult, we would support
     slavery, not abolish it.” That statement doesn’t make sense. If I refer
     to a political group as a “subversive sect,” does that mean that when it
     gets into power it will “support subversion instead of abolish it?”
Again, I mean my comments to be read in context. Mr. Nephilim, echoing Nietzsche, says Christians abolished slavery because we are slavish, i.e. not highborn and great enough to enslave the weak. The argument here was that Christianity abolished slavery BECAUSE it was a slave cult, defined as a group that enslaves itself to God.
My argument was that if being enslaved were regarded as a prime or the prime benefit of this way of life, this way of life would support rather than oppose it. If nothing else, getting into the habit of bowing and scraping to earthlytyrants would habituate the believer into a humble posture. Instead we have a religion that uniquely refuses to pay divine honors to earthly kings. 
  1. If an actual Christian historian of such a stature as Toynbee can recognize that Christianity had its origins as a cult popularized through the slave-conditions of the Empire, why is
     it a problem for a practicing Christian to recognize this?
It is possible that I misunderstood Mr. Nephilim’s original comment. If he meant that Christians abolished slavery in the 1800’s because Christianity spread through the Empire among slaves in the 200’s and 300’s, the chain of cause and effect is tenuous. Justin Martyr was a philosopher; Constantine was an Imperator; Saul of Tarsus was a citizen of Rome, and an elder. The salvation of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt was referenced more often during the Abolitionist movement.
In any case, I thought he meant that Christianity was a slavish and humble religion, and therefore we freed the slaves because this is a slavish thing to do, rather than a noble one. That was the position I was arguing against. I don’t see that this comment has anything to do, one way to the other, with the question at hand.
  1. “It is the Christians, not the pagans, who uplift and adore womanhood: we  have icons both to a Holy Virgin and Holy Mother (for us, one and the  same).” Do you seriously expect any ancient historian or scholar reading  this blog to take that sort of remark seriously? Even in her form as  Theotokos, the Virgin Mary is not the Great Goddess Diana of Ephesus.
I cannot make any heads or tails of this comment. I cannot fathom what it is you think I said, or what you are objecting to. I am denying that the Christians invented the venerations of virgins and respect for motherhood. The Madonna is clearly a mother-figure. I am not saying Our Lady is worshipped as a goddess, but clearly she is paid divine respect and veneration.
  1. Please explain the profuse and universally recognized tendency of such Church fathers to  revile harlots, wanton women, shameless women, and to go on endlessly  about how the woman is morally weaker than the man, corrupted by her  tendency to desire pleasure, and tainted by the sin of Eve? Not that I am  suggesting patriarchist pagan philosophers or Jews are any better.
I have lost the thread of your argument here. Certainly Church fathers reviled harlotry, wantonness, and shamelessness. This was due to a respect for purity, which, indeed is based on a respect for women as created in the image of God. Whores are fit for better things than to be whores. It is the sin, not the sinner, being condemned: I have it on good authority that the harlots and publicans will be placed in heaven before me.
As you say, the moral weakness of women was an idea current in the Roman culture, and reflected in ancient writings of East and West. Confucius says a similar thing of women. At their worst, the Christians are no worse than pagans. It is merely that they are better when they are at there best: Christians elevate some women to sainthood; and this because they were saintly, not because they were women. Our God is no respecter of persons, what you would call an equal opportunity employer.
  1. I just find it curious that you consider it important to champion Christianity in particular when challenged by a modern Thrasymachus. Wouldn’t it be easier and more effective to simply reinforce traditional arguments that  self-vs.-society and self-vs.-other dualism are doomed to result in cowardly and self-destructive behavior?
I was trying to defend both, since both had been questioned. I thought the self-destructiveness of self-centered behavior so obvious as to need nothing more than a passing mention. If you have a better stratagem for argument, by all means, employ it. I am sure Mr. Nephilim will be interested in your considered opinions.
  1. (Referring to my reference to a dictionary) Couldn’t you at  least have consulted a dictionary of philosophy and then explained why, based on philosophical tradition, Nietzsche’s reasoning was flawed, instead of suggesting we should reduce ourselves to the lowest common denominator of vulgarian dictionary references?
Obviously I am not taking Nietzsche as an authority on anything. The existential definition of “Ressentiment” is merely a case of defining a word to have a meaning it does not have, used in this case to accuse Church of professing ideas the opposite of what she professes. We Christians profess lovingkindness (so the argument goes) only because of murky psychological rationalizations covering our own weakness and shame. This is an argument not just goofy, but also cheap. It is ad Hominem: typical of Nietzsche’s blissful freedom from logic. In addition to being beyond good and evil, he is beyond valid and invalid.
In my opinion, the proper response when someone is misusing a word and misrepresenting an idea, is to use the word in its normal meaning and state the idea as it is honestly understood.
Your contempt for the dictionary is not one I share. Since most philosophical conversations are rooted in mere definitional confusion, it would be a huge waste of time not to refer to the dictionary when a word has more than one meaning. 
Indeed, the number of merely definitional confusions in which you indulge here makes your pose a remarkable one.
  1. Are you really that much of a populist?
I don’t know. Let me look:
1.         the political philosophy of the People’s party.
2.         (lowercase ) any of various, often antiestablishment or anti-intellectual political movements or philosophies that offer unorthodox solutions or policies and appeal to the common person rather than according with traditional party or partisan ideologies.
3.         (lowercase ) grass-roots democracy; working-class activism; egalitarianism.
4.         (lowercase ) representation or extolling of the common person, the working class, the underdog, etc.: populism in the arts.
Since I am a tradition-loving defender of Orthodoxy, and an intellectual, the second definition does not quite fit me. On the other hand, all Christian men scorn the world and the vanities of this world, so we can be called anti-establishment, only if one is willing to stretch the definition. Certainly I extol the common man: they are the salt of the Earth.
But the common man does not usually look in the dictionary to confirm what words mean. Intellectuals tend not to look in the dictionary, and so their words tend to degenerate into jargon and rubbish. I myself cannot imagine setting out a formal system without putting one’s definitions and common notions at the front. All legal documents set out their definitions fair and square at the front. My assumption is that a person who does not set out his definitions is either not a rigorous thinker or is attempting a slight of hand.
 At this point, my interlocutor is blunt enough to add,
  1. ” Not that I am a Nietzschen at all, by the way; I just  don’t like to see opportunities for real philosophical debate destroyed by what appears to be sophistry.”
Here he is calling the act of defining one’s terms, the thing that is central to any rigorous logic, as sophistry.
  1. Do you expect to ultiamtely be the equal of  your God? If not, it doesn’t matter how much he “exalts” you, He is still  a tyrant.
I thought I answered this quite clearly in the main text. One God becomes All-in-All questions of equality become secondary, even meaningless. The Virgin Mary was elevated from being a humble Jewish girl to being the Queen of the Angels: I doubt she regards her own son as a tyrant over her. Love does not see the world with eyes like this.
You are merely using the word “tyrant” to mean “unequal”. In my marriage my wife and I are not “equal”, but I would hardly call myself a tyrant over her. When Romeo adores Juliet, she is not a tyrant over him, even though he might be willing to do anything and everything she asks.
I adore God and seek to become godly for much the same reason I respect Logic and seek to become Logic, or love Truth and seek to become truthful. I do not even understand what it would mean to become the “equal” of truth or logic or goodness. It sounds like talking about being bigger than the Number Line. If the angels were to come and bow to me, I would tell them sharply “See thou do it not, for we are servants of one master, even God.”
I am a poet, not a magician. I seek to praise the stars in songs, to make their beauty greater. not to tear them from their places to adorn my crown of tin.
  1. (Quoting me “Do you think proud Lucifer or any of these chthonic deities will
     actually aid you? ” Since when is the Light-Bearer a “chthonic” deity?)
The Christian tradition places the Adversary in the underground regions since time beyond memory. The word used to express the name of this imp is the same as an obscure Roman deity. In any case, looking in the dictionary:
Chthonic: Of or relating to the underworld.
This is an apt description of the Lord of Hell.
Obviously, I mean my comments to be read in the context they were written. Mr. Nephilim and I were not talking about Eosphoros, the Greek deity in charge of the Morningstar.
My anonymous questioner closes his letter with a sputtering and rambling screed against Christianity, peppered with insults, and not half as good as the kind of things I used to write back when I was an atheist. Somewhere in that mass, there may be a real question lurking, which I will attempt to answer. He wants to know on what grounds I ask Mr. Nephilim to be obedient to his heavenly father?
Good question. Let me explain. There is some confusion whether Mr. Nephilim, whom we are discussing, is a Gnostic or a Satanist, or a little bit of both. Satanism is a derivative concept: unless the Satanist professes Satan to be the author of creation, the Satanist acknowledges God to be the master of this created world. He merely is in rebellion against Him. The question is what he hopes to gain by this. Mr. Nephilims express goal is to become a god and supersede the current godhead.
The logic of this is a little unclear to me. If Archimago sweeps Jehovah off His throne, won’t proud Satan just take the throne for his own? Won’t other mages be in competition for the empty throne, magicians as powerful and cunning as each other?
So the question still becomes, if you, O practitioner of the Dark Arts, seek to become as God and have the power of God, why not practice the virtues of God?
If He is not your father, on what grounds do you think you are in line to inherit His throne? If He is your father, why are your not His good and faithful son?
You will inherit the Kingdom with us, if you come with us. What? Does the prize only have value in your eyes if you steal it? Would you refuse to marry a woman who loves you only unless you rape her?
Now, I would never ask any such questions to an atheist or an agnostic, since they do not believe God and Satan exist. But here is a man who does think they exist, even if he thinks God is Iadalboath.


I have yet to meet the Gnostic whose plan to usurp the secret mastery of the universe is by being as meek and mild and Jesus Christ, mute before his accusers, and willing to perish in disgrace so that others might live. These ambitious magicians seem to think the proud shall be exulted and the meek be humbled: we Christians believe the opposite.
In any case, the magician who seeks to be enthroned as a god should pause to consider that no river rises above its fountainhead. Whatever the sources of power are from which the mage hopes to derive his magical power, he cannot be greater than: not even cloud-gathering Zeus could fight Ate, necessity, or the cold-hearted Fates. All Zeus managed to do was to end the Golden Age over which kind Saturn reigned. Neither can Odin fight the Nornir: he is still fated to perish in the jaws of Fenrir.
I don’t understand the ambition to be a god like this. Myself, if I was condemned to be a god, I would pick Prometheus, who, for all this pain, delivered good to mankind, even though no temple honors him, and no sacrifice smokes for him.