Posted by: Dr Churchill | July 24, 2021

Personhood…

What is a person but their character?

Is anyone’s character delineated?

Are their traits sketched?

Are they presumed to be strictly unified?

Great characters are described in history, in biographies as well as in novels and in children’s stories. From Homer, to the Bible, to Omar Khayam and Hesop to Dickens, these figures appear in divine proportion, in victory & defeat, in cautionary tales, in exemplary novels and in popular hagiography. They present narratives of types of lives to be imitated, avoided or escaped.

Often times, the “selves” are possessors of their properties, the individual leaders of the stories are centers of integrity, and their rights are inalienable.

Presences are descendants of souls, and they are evoked rather than presented, to be found in novels and school books alike.

Its a big job because to know what sort of character a person is, is to know what sort of life is best suited to bring out his potentialities and functions… Not all characters are suited to the same sorts of lives: there is no ideal type for them all… If one tries to force the life of a bargainer on the character of a philosopher, one is likely to encounter trouble, sorrow, and the sort of evil that comes from mismatching life and temperament.

Characters formed within one society and living in circumstances where their dispositions are no longer needed — characters in time of great social change — are likely to be tragic. Their virtues lie useless or even foiled; they are no longer recognized for what they are; their motives and actions are misunderstood.

The magnanimous man in a petty bourgeois society is seen as a vain fool; the energetic and industrious man in a society that prizes elegance above energy is seen as a bustling boor; the meditative person in an expansive society is seen as melancholic… Two individuals of the same character will fare differently in different polities, not because their characters will change through their experiences (though different aspects will become dominant or recessive) but simply because a good fit of character and society can conduce to well-being and happiness, while a bad fit produces misery and rejection.

Throughout our lives, we come to inhabit the various layers of identity, often interpolating between them and constantly changing within each one of them or in totality for who we are is the sum of our intentions, our capacities for choice and our combined DNA/RNA memories and our wilful actions speeding us towards claiming our Destiny — rather than the total configuration of traits which we erroneously thought in the past that they define the person.

And yet somehow, despite this ever-shifting seedbed of personhood, we manage to think of ourselves as concrete selves — “our selves” being the supreme fallacy of personhood.

Hardly any perplexity of human existence is more fascinating than the continuity of personal identity — the question of what makes you today, and your childhood self, as well as the mature exiting self, the “same” person, despite a lifetime of change, from your parent’s sperm and egg, to your living embryonic cells and fast forward to your current values, beliefs and aspirations.

Because indeed, all human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished.

Yet it is the very genes of our Soul, that define us, like a pattern drawn on a tightly stretched leather parchment above a ceramic vessel with an apex shaped like a cymbal. You go ahead and thumb just one part of it, strike just one allegiance, the whole drum will “sound” as the whole person will react. And yet we are increasingly pressured to parcel ourselves out in various social contexts, lacerating the parchment of our identity in the process and are forced to perceive that we are just the portion of the leather parchment struck — instead of understanding that we are nothing short of the whole apparatus making the sound…

Today, as the multitude of humanity no longer composes an inner wholeness but is being wrested out of us fragment by fragment, what does it really mean to be a person?

To be a person is to be a “character” that is to maintain a few qualities, nourish them to excess and support them as a scaffolding until they become habits and thus rise up and come to dominate and dictate all others. Indeed, a character is delineated and thus generally delimited. To “have character” is to have reliable qualities, to hold tightly to them through the temptations to swerve and change. A person of character is neither bribed nor corrupted; he stands fast, is steadfast.

And how many types of personhood do we each contain?

A whole Society of persons and characters are contained within each one of us at every moment, and we are constantly changing at will…

Dynamic personhood is the essence of being… To know what sort of character a person is, is to know what sort of personal life is best suited to bring out his potentialities and functions…

Not all persons are suited to the same sorts of lives: there is no ideal type for them all…

As an example, if one tries to force the life of a bargainer on the character of a philosopher, one is likely to encounter trouble, sorrow, and the sort of evil that comes from mismatching life and temperament.

Characters formed within one society as persons living in circumstances where their dispositions are no longer needed, as usually characters in time of great social change — are likely to be tragic heroes. Their virtues may be found wasted, their valor may become useless, and their reputation soiled as their Goodwill actions are foiled. Indeed, they are no longer recognized for what they are; their motives and actions are misunderstood and their personhood erased, martyred or become a non-person in a negating society.

Same as the magnanimous man in a petty bourgeois society is seen as a vain fool; the energetic and industrious man in a society that prizes elegance above energy is seen as a bustling boor; the meditative person in an expansive society is seen as melancholic…

And today we see that two individuals of the same character will fare rather differently in different polities, not because their characters will change through their experiences, though different aspects will become dominant or recessive, but simply because a good fit of character and society can conduce to well-being and happiness, while a bad fit produces misery and rejection.

Two millennia ago, in earlier and perhaps easier times for the truth telling prophets and the friends of wisdom — ancient Greek philosophers came to tussle with this puzzlement, and the great Greek historian and writer Plutarch examined it more lucidly than anyone before or since.

According to Plutarch’s Life of Theseus, the ship Theseus used on his return from Minoan Crete to Athens was kept in the Athenian harbor as a memorial for several centuries.

“The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their place…”

The ship had to be maintained in a seaworthy state, for, in return for Theseus’s successful mission, the Athenians had pledged to honor Apollo every year henceforth. Thus, the Athenians sent a religious mission to the island of Delos (one of Apollo’s most sacred sanctuaries) on the Athenian state galley—the ship itself—to pay their fealty to the god. To preserve the purity of the occasion, no executions were permitted between the time when the religious ceremony began to when the ship returned from Delos, which took several weeks.

To preserve the ship, any wood that wore out or rotted was replaced; it was thus unclear to philosophers how much of the original ship remained, giving rise to the philosophical question of whether it should be considered “the same” ship or not. Such philosophical questions about the nature of identity are sometimes referred to as the “Ship of Theseus” paradox.

Regardless of these issues, the Athenians preserved the ship. They believed that Theseus had been an actual, historical figure and the ship gave them a tangible connection to their divine provenance.

In a brilliant thought experiment known as The Ship of Theseus, or Theseus’s paradox, outlined in his biographical masterwork “Plutarch’s Lives” the author Plutarch asks: “If the ship on which Theseus sailed has been so heavily repaired and nearly every part replaced, is it still the same ship — and, if not, at what point did it stop being the same ship?”

The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned from their enslavement as hostages for sacrifice to the monstrous Minotaur as a tribute to the Cretan king was the infamy that Theseus set out to remedy. And as things turned out — the Cretan king “lost” because it was his daughter that Theseus wooed, romanced and deflowered — as he sailed aways victorious towards the whoring Dionysian island of Naxos and Apollo’s temples of vestal virgins, to sow their wild oats and celebrate their victory on their way back towards Athens.

Yet, their stout sailing vessel, was an ancient trireme that had been consistently and fully repaired and all of her timbers had been replaced for the shipwright had to have a strong foundation that would support her heavy masts and her powerful unfurled sails, and the thirty oarsmen manning the oars and straining at their stanchions.

Now, because this famous ship was preserved by the Athenians for several hundred years, and was overhauled, rebuilt and relaunched every year since the time of Theseus to the time of Demetrius Phalereus — they had taken away all the old wooden planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timbers in their place, insomuch that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical and philosophically rational question of things that get changed, get repaired or simply grow…

Naturally the different philosophical schools are divided along lines of thought that support permanence and impermanence; with one school of thought the Stoics teaching that the ship remained the same regardless, while the other school of the Sophist philosophers contending that it was not the same ship at all due to so much change.

In this story all the characters are public persons, even their private lives can have universal form, general significance. The dramatic character, writ large, can represent for everyman what only later came to be thought of as the inner life of some; it can portray the myth, the conflicts, reversals and discoveries of each person, each polis…

And as we said earlier in this essay: “To be a character is to maintain a few qualities, nourish them to excess until they dominate and dictate all others. A character is delineated and thus generally delimited. To “have character” is to have reliable qualities, to hold tightly to them through the temptations to swerve and change. A person of character is neither bribed nor corrupted — he stands fast, ergo, he is steadfast.”

And those are the greatest qualities for Leadership and for Authentic Living today in as mucha s they have been for Millenia past..

But the genesis myth of the New Leader and the reality of the ancient story along with the essence of the character, and the moral of the tale, remains unchanged; or rather unchanged to this day…

The Minotaur And The Labyrinth Of Crete

The Minotaur was the son of Pasiphae, wife of King Minos of Crete.

Minotaur, half man - half bull
Minotaur, half man – half bull

Queen Pasiphae slept with a bull sent by Zeus, and gave birth to Minotaur, a creature half man – half bull. King Minos was embarrassed, but did not want to kill the Minotaur, so he hid the monster in the Labyrinth constructed by Daedalus at the Minoan Palace of Knossos.

According to the myth, Minos was imprisoning his enemies in the Labyrinth so that the Minotaur could eat them. The labyrinth was such a complicated construction that no one could ever find the way out alive.

Son of Minos, Androgeus, went to Athens to participate to the Panathenaic Games, but he was killed during the Marathon by the bull that impregnated his mother Pasiphae. Minos was infuriated, and demanded Aegeus the king of Athens to send seven men and women every year to the Minotaur to advert the plague caused by the death of Androgeus.

The third year, Theseus, son of King of Athens, Aegeus, decided to be one of the seven young men that would go to Crete, in order to kill the Minotaur and end the human sacrifices to the monster. King Aegeus tried to make him change his mind but Theseus was determined to slay the Minotaur.

Theseus promised his father King Aegeus, that he would put up white sails coming back from Crete, allowing him to know in advance that he was coming back alive. The boat would return with the black sails unfurled in the wind, if Theseus was killed.

Theseus And The Minotaur

Theseus kills the Minotaur
Theseus kills the Minotaur

Theseus and his crew of Athenian youth sailed straight South with a following wind and thus arrived swiftly to the Minoan Crete, whereby he announced to King Minos of Crete, that he was going to kill the Minotaur monster, but King Minos knew that even if he did manage to kill the Minotaur — Theseus would never be able to exit the Labyrinth designed for just such a purpose.

Yet, Theseus met and charmed Princess Ariadne, daughter of King Minos, who fell madly in love with him and decided to help Theseus and his crew slay the monster.

She gave him a thread and told him to unravel it as he would penetrate deeper and deeper into the Labyrinth, so that he knows the way out when he kills the monster.

Theseus followed her suggestion and entered the labyrinth with the thread. Theseus managed to kill the Minotaur and save the Athenians, and with Ariadne’s thread he managed to retrace his way out.

Theseus took Princess Ariadne with him and left Crete sailing happily back to Athens.

Theseus’ ship stopped at Naxos for some R&R and the Athenians had a long celebration dedicated to Theseus and Ariadne. After long hours of feasting and drinking, Ariadne fell asleep on the shore and didn’t enter the boat that sailed to Athens. Theseus figured out that Ariadne was not with them when it was too late to return with the prevailing winds pushing them away — and he was so upset that he forgot the promise made to his father and did not change the sails.

A different version of the myth mentions that Theseus deliberately left Ariadne and her sister on Naxos because the Goddess Athena counseled him to return to Athens unmarried so that he can become the King…

As the story unfolds — indeed his “father” King Aegeus was waiting at Cape Sounion to see the return of his son and determine whether he was alive or not, by the colour of the puffing sails of the incoming ship…

But, when he saw the ship’s black sails from afar — he presumed that his son and heir was dead and hwaite dropped himself to ing rocks below the promontory of Sounion and the frothy waters, committing suicide due to his despair at losing his son…

Yet, Theseus was not “lost” but perhaps a little too eagerly “forgetful” and all too happy to assume the mantle of leadership of Athens — but that is another story altogether.

Since then, this sea is called the Aegean Sea and it is the greatest body of water to sail through — full of myth, full of wonder and full of the magic of storied islands, ferociously changeable winds and virtuous storms.

Yours,

Dr Churchill

PS:

In philosophy, identity, from Latin: identitas (“sameness”), is the relation each thing bears only to itself. And apparently, human beings are just the sort of organisms that interpret and modify their agency through their conception of themselves…

So, this is a complicated biological fact about us, and thus worth examining in detail and at length from now forward.

In the metaphysics of identity, the ship of Theseus is a thought experiment that raises the question of whether an object that has had all of its components replaced remains fundamentally the same object. The concept is one of the oldest in Western philosophy, having been discussed by Heraclitus and Plato by c. 500–400 BC.

PPS:

Sailing the wine dark Aegean sea has always been my best place for inspiration and deep though as it is also my passion and this is the best place in the world to do this, so if anyone wishes to sail with me this Summer — let me know.


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