Democracy – At the Essence of Who We Are; Courage, Kindness

Dionysus and Silenus by Lysippus

Plato and Aristotle, Detail: Raphael: School of Athens

Intellectual ideas, attitudes and philosophies, fashion and passion are at the heart of the evolution of humankind, which is reflected in the arts, both visual and performance.

Much of western philosophy finds its basis in the teachings of the big three geniuses of antiquity… Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. We can’t really begin any study of the western world without talking about them. They are at the essence of who we are as a society; having helped found the system we live by; democracy – literally, the rule of the people.

Socrates (470 – 399 BC) didn’t write books; he asked probing, sometimes humiliating questions of his peers and became renowned for his considered contribution to the field of ethics, which you can access Online.


Raphael: School of Athens depicts the pagan world presented as a gathering of the greatest minds of antiquity. In the centre Plato points upward next to his pupil, Aristotle who points to the earth. Euclid (Greek Mathematician) lower right, is expounding a geometrical proof with compasses. Diogenes (Greek Philosopher & Moralist) is on the steps. Heraclitus (Greek Philosopher; On Nature rests his chin to write on a block of stone, while Pythaogorus, the Philosopher, sage and mathematician – who studied musical intervals, relations of numbers, theorems etc., sits surrounded by his disciples in the left foreground.’

Plato (c428-347 BC) a student of Socrates and the teacher of Aristotle, made us think about our approach to the many challenges of life. He believed in a heavenly realm of greater reality consisting in forms, ideals and ideas; equality, justice and humanity.  His crowning achievement was a treatise (The Republic) about the ideal society.

Sunset-and-Classical-Columns-WOWAristotle (384-322 BC) counselled happiness as the goal of life. Four centuries before the Christ event he noted in ancient Athens the temple buildings, sculpture and paintings reflected the individual tastes of their creators and patrons.

In his Ethics, he described magnificence as a virtue, saying that it is a form of moderation, lying somewhere between extravagance and shabbiness. He also pondered how ‘the aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance’.

Music From Antiquity

In Aristotle’s view, courage was also a virtue, however if taken to excess, it could manifest as recklessness, and, in deficiency, turn into cowardice.

Virtue, Aristotle said in his Ethics, is concerned with feelings and actions, in which the excess is wrong and the defect is blamed. The mean is praised and goes right; and both these circumstances belong to Virtue.  Virtue then is in a sense a mean state, since it certainly has an aptitude for aiming at the mean.

Archer-on-the-AcropolisAgain, one may go wrong in many different ways, but right only in one; the former is easy, the latter difficult; it’s easy to miss the mark and hard to hit it: and for these reasons, therefore, both the excess and defect belong to Vice, which is the mean state to Virtue.

Aristotle believed the greatest human endeavour was man’s ability to reason and to embrace logic. One of his better-known ideas was his conception of “The Golden Mean” or embracing the middle way, which was all about avoiding extremes.

At one end of the spectrum was excess, at the other deficiency. Balancing both at an optimum centre is all about our acting conservatively and morally.

Dying WarriorCourage for the ancient Greek was an aspect of beauty and both ancients and modernists believed in a close association in mathematics between ideas of beauty and truth.

They believed beauty: was all about symmetry, proportion, and harmony and so as an aesthetic is present in so many disciplines, including literature, music and all aspects of design.

Cupid blindfolding beauty

Cupid blindfolding beauty

An object of love, beauty was important to life and well-being, instilled by architectural achievements, education priorities (paideia), and political ideology.

Dionysus and Silenus by LysippusThen there was kindness, which Aristotle defined as “helpfulness towards someone in need, not in return for anything, nor for the advantage of the helper himself, but for that of the person helped”

Kindness is marked by ethical characteristics; a pleasant disposition, a concern and consideration for others, a virtue that still today has great value in many cultures and religions.

Kindness, anyway you look at it, is a superpower.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2018


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