Sunday, May 2, 2021

Retracing the development of the Luciferic/Ahrimanic/Ahuric/Devic model

Traditional thinking before Aristotle had virtue sets with only two members: a virtue and its opposite. The recognition of such opposites as hot/cold, big/small, brave/cowardly, etc. must be as old as thought itself. The first (implicit) steps into the realm of virtue theory came with the realization that, for many of these pairs of opposites, one member of the pair could be called a "virtue" and the other a "vice," and that virtue as such had a single unifying character. This must have been the point of all the couplets in the Book of Proverbs (and their equivalents in the Confucian literature) that take the form "The wise/righteous man does X, but the foolish/wicked man does Y" -- observations that strike us as obvious and trite today but must have represented an emerging awareness that all these different qualities we now call "virtues" were characteristic of a particular sort of man; and their opposites, of another sort.

Aristotle's key insight was that each virtue has two corresponding vices -- a vice of deficiency and a vice of excess, with the virtue conceptualized as a mean between the two. This table of Aristotelian virtue sets is adapted from Hugh Tredennick's appendix to his revision of J. A. K. Thomson's translation of The Nicomachean Ethics. I have numbered the sets for ease of reference.


But Aristotle's insight was incomplete in two ways. First, it lost sight of the unifying "types of men" recognized by Solomon and Confucius. That is, it paints a coherent picture of the virtuous man -- the sage or "superior man" of Confucius, the wise and righteous man of Proverbs -- but not of the vicious man, the wicked, the fool. Or, rather, of the two different kinds of wicked fools that would seem to be implied by the Aristotelian theory. Aristotelian virtue is a single coherent whole, but vice-of-deficiency and vice-of-excess are not. For example, a quick glance at the chart above shows that rashness and shyness are both listed as vices of excess. Obviously, there is no human archetype to which this list of vices corresponds.

If we are able to pick one vice from each set based on how well it fits, though, without regard for whether it is classified as a "deficiency" or an "excess," we can in fact create two coherent lists characterizing two different types of bad men. Aristotle never noticed this. Nietzsche got part of the way there in his Genealogy of Morals, where he distinguished between Gut-und-Böse morality and Gut-und-Schlecht morality, but he failed to realize that his Böse ("evil") and Schlecht ("bad") really were two different ways of being bad -- both bad -- and that good was something else entirely. For Nietzsche, there were really only two sorts of men: the sort called evil by those who opposed them, and the sort called bad; each of course called himself good. For Nietzsche, you had to choose between calling Böse good (as Nietzsche himself attempted to do) and calling Schlecht good (as he accused Christians of doing). Nietzsche recognized the unity of Böse and the unity of Schlecht, and in this way was more advanced than Aristotle -- but he lost sight of virtue itself!

It fell to Rudolf Steiner to unify the insights of Aristotle and Nietzsche. Like Aristotle, he recognized virtue (as typified by the Christ) as a middle way between two sorts of vice. But rather than characterizing these as "deficiency" and "excess," he classified the vices into two coherent types of evil: Luciferic (Nietzsche's Böse) and Ahrimanic (Nietzsche's Schlecht). This was a major step forward.

Coming back to Aristotle, though, I said that his insight was incomplete in two ways. Look back at the first virtue set on our table. The virtue is courage, its deficiency is cowardice, and its excess is rashness. So far so good. Now look at the second set. The virtue is temperance, its deficiency is insensibility, and its excess is licentiousness -- wait, what? Surely these are backwards! Licentiousness (eating, drinking, and being merry) is not an "excess" of temperance but a lack of it. One might call a rash fool "too brave," but no one would ever call a glutton or drunkard "too temperate"! It is the other vice, insensibility (measuring out one's life with coffee spoons), that we would call an excess of temperance.

I'm not sure if this mistake (and the similar one in set 7, where irascibility is called an excess of patience) is Aristotle's own or Treddenick's, and I don't really feel like poring over the Ethics to find out, but that's not really the point. The point is how very easy it is to make this sort of mistake when thinking about virtue within the Aristotelian framework. Licentiousness very obviously is an excess of something -- just not an excess of temperance. Licentiousness is a deficiency of temperance and an excess of something else; insensibility is an excess of temperance and a deficiency of something else. And this "something else," this complementary virtue to temperance (we could call it "enjoyment" or something), is what is missing from Aristotle's model.

A proper virtue set has four members: two complementary vices (as in Aristotle), and two complementary virtues. This was discovered and published on the Junior Ganymede blog by the anonymous blogger who chooses to be known only by the letter G. Here is his model as applied to the first of Aristotle's virtue sets -- filling in the missing virtue of prudence.


However, G, like Aristotle, considered each virtue set in isolation, failing to notice that by looking at many such sets one could identify two coherent types of evil and two coherent types of good. In the set shown above, for example, rashness is clearly Böse/Luciferic, and cowardice is Schlecht/Ahrimanic; and a similar classification is possible for every single Ganymede virtue set. Steiner had already provided names for these two types of evil, but it fell to me to coin names for the two types of good: Ahuric and Devic.


Only later did I realize the correspondence between Ahuric/Devic and male/female. By simply exploring these models of good and evil, without thinking of sexual identity at all, I had inadvertently arrived at a possible explanation for the eternal nature of sexual identity -- the necessity that good be expressed in two complementary forms rather than in a single asexual Supergod.

3 comments:

Otto said...

Supergod (Janus) isn't necessarily asexual though, but hermaphroditic.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Supergod is a monotheistic concept and has nothing to do with Roman “gods-of” like Janus.

Otto said...

Janus is just my preferred name for Supergod, developed in complete theological isolation. (Besides being the "god of doors/time", Janus happens to be the supreme being in the *pre*-ancient Roman pantheon.)

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