The Discourses Books 3 & 4

The Discourses are a collection of lessons and teachings recorded throughout the lifetime of the philosopher Epictetus (to learn how to pronounce the name, watch this video https://youtu.be/faPDHeqxOmA) . Epictetus was born a slave, and his experiences and hard upbringing had profound impacts on his teachings. Through The Discourses, Epictetus teaches his philosophy in a practical sense, explaining how it should be used in day-to-day life instead of just imagining hypotheticals. Most of the teachings in The Discourses center around how the most important things for us to focus on in life are the things that we can control, and that we are wasting our time and energy when we allow ourselves to be bothered by things that we can not control. In other words, we should not allow the things that we cannot control to cause us additional stress or hinder us from further progress. In this way, Epictetus taught methods of self-discipline partnered with ways to accept and live alongside external forces that we can not impact.

            Book III of The Discourses opens with a discussion on what makes up the possessions of excellence of a man. Epictetus sees a man that he is familiar with dressed in a much more ornate fashion than usual and challenges him on his appearance. He asks the man what he finds beauty in, for appearance does nothing to change one’s beauty, despite changing their outward appearance. Epictetus states that the beautiful are just, temperate, and moderate, and he tells the man that “so long as you neglect these things, you must be ugly, even though you contrive all you can to appear beautiful.” He then goes on to say that in order to be a wise and good man, one should practice active decision making and avoid being reactionary and careless. Doing this helps to work towards one’s desires deliberately and purposefully.

            Epictetus then delves into what it means to be good and the importance it has in relationships. He states that the soul inherently welcomes good and rejects evil, so once a person starts trying to do good things, they usually invite more good into their being. In a similar way, good things and evil things are both drawn to things similar to themselves, so people who try to do good should try to surround themselves with others who do the same. For this reason, Epictetus argues that if your own family does not do things to make you or themselves better people, you should not hesitate to cut them out. “There is no intimate relationship between me and my father, but there is between me and the good,” he states. According to his argument, you cannot control the family you are born into, but you have a say in the people that you surround yourself with, so it is better to be surrounded by good people than it is to choose to be around your family if they do not choose to be good. This shows the extremity to which Epictetus practices what he teaches about the importance of what we can control versus that which is out of our hands.

            On behaving in public, Epictetus once again presented a series of proverbs that explained how our choices impact our lives above all else. In his first example, he stated that one may behave and celebrate as they please in their own home, but if they choose to act extraneously in public, they must be willing to accept the ridicule of other people. In his own words, “Celebrate as many games as you choose in your own house… But in public do not claim more than your due, nor attempt to appropriate to yourself what belongs to all. If you do not consent to this, bear being abused.” Epictetus then provided another example, on the subject of leaving a public setting, such as work, due to an illness. He acknowledges that contracting an illness is not the fault of the ill person, but he questions why, if they knew that they were sick, they would bother coming in the first place. Epictetus argues that by coming to work sick just to leave early, energy is wasted all around; if one does not have the energy to leave bed, then they should not do so in the first place, but they should do all that they are capable of in whatever state they are in. By making the decision to use energy to leave home, only to have to then return from work early, a person wastes their day through their own choices, which they then try to blame on something out of their control. Both of these examples show Epictetus acknowledging that some factors are out of our control, but it is those choices within our control that define our quality.

            During one of his lessons, Epictetus was asked why it was that if they were living in a time of such advanced reason, they were not seeing the same advancements and progress that was seen in the past. He responded by arguing that, as a matter of fact, great progress was being made, just in different fields. The civilizations of the past had to concentrate their efforts on survival alongside nature, and so they cultivated their minds and experiences towards these fields. The men of Epictetus’ time did not have these same issues to worry about, and instead cultivated their minds towards progress in governance and quality of life. At different stages throughout history, humanity has had to choose which fields needed the most concentration, and then collectively cultivate and advance that field.

            The latter half of Book 3 of Epictetus’s Discourses includes some highly specific proverbs on how to act in certain situations, to include dealing with sickness, exercise, and multiple short chapters he titles “certain miscellaneous matters.” All of these writings take a physical example, such as illness, and then tie them into the wider theme of Epictetus’s writing, the idea that one should only worry about the things they have direct control over. Chapter 8 sees Epictetus describing the difference between what is good and what is evil. Most notably, he says that “things beyond the power of the will” can be neither good nor evil, they simply are. He gives more examples, including a ship being lost at sea or the death of a loved one.  In chapter 10, Epictetus notes that “It is not the business of a philosopher to look after these externals, neither his wine nor his oil nor his poor body, but his own ruling power.” This is as explicit as this text gets, clearly stating that one should not worry about the externals, or things out of one’s control.

Chapter 12 is about weighing desire for pleasure against stoicism and self-control. Epictetus makes the point that while it may be difficult to resist the urge to pursue pleasure that is dependent on things out of one’s control, the discipline you will gain is well worth it. This concept is what he refers to as exercise, and it is a key tenet of the message of stoicism. To understand and believe these concepts is one thing, but the most important part of the belief is that one lives it out through their actions. This is also the reason some of the chapters of The Discourses are so highly specific: Epictetus wants the reader to have an understanding of how to put these practices into action in any situation they encounter. His life story, being born into slavery before being granted his freedom and living as a philosopher, makes it understandable why a person would strive so valiantly to keep their focus on the things they have command over and why they would draw their happiness from that. A life filled with strife and grief would be infinitely more manageable if viewed through the lens of stoicism.

The Discourses of Epictetus outline how to live life happily, focusing primarily on how to align fate with desire. Chapter IV continues to present principles that Epictetus believes will lead a man (or woman) to a meaningful life where you are content and desire what fate, or God, presents you. He highlights that desire, pity, and anger can lead to our self destruction, going as far to say that we control how we let external, and internal, views and opinions affect us and that if we do let it impact us, we give those opinions, those outsiders, power over us. Ultimately, Epictetus acknowledges that we are granted freedom from God and are therefore under the contract of God; we should thus follow that path that fits us, claim what is ours, and live the comfortable life by doing things that make us happy and not letting others worry us. The Discourses provides us a guideline that attempts to ensure we understand how to live happily and contently, without corrupting our character.

Epictetus has a hard start to his life. With the way he explained his principles, the central idea is that we must not be terribly troubled by the events in our life because most of the time, they are well out of our control. In chapter one of book four, we learn that Epictetus believes in aligning our own happiness with what life has to offer. Since most things are out of our control, we have to endure the things we experience and learn to appreciate such things that aren’t always according to plan. This could be the will of fate and/or the gods. Additionally, we can see how Epictetus applies this concept to his life, as he stated, “I have placed my movements toward action in obedience to God. Is it His will that I shall have fever? It is my will also. Is it His will that I should move toward anything? It is my will also. Is it His will that I should obtain anything? It is my wish also. Does He not will? I do not wish. Is it His will that I be put to the rack? It is my will then to die; it is my will then to be put to the rack,” (Epictetus, Book 4). There are many things in life that occur which potentially are not in our favor, but what he is emphasizing is that we must search for the good in things that may be perceived as bad. This way, we can learn to be patient with an unexpected event and then proceed to create our own righteous moment.  Epictetus abides by the will of God, or life, but he also aligns his will with importance to the higher powers.

In chapter two of book 4, Epictetus shifts his focus to the other aspect of this idea: being your own person. In relation to making peace with things that are and are not in our control, we must learn who we are and accept it. We can’t follow the ways of our friends or intimates, as Epictetus believes not following this rule will ruin a person. He explains how we must try to be the best, not just a “jolly fellow,” (Epictetus, Book 4). We have to reach a point where people place obedience in us and we place obedience in them. Learning who we are and accepting our fate is what will enrich our lives. 

Chapter 3 of Book IV, outlines the concept of claiming what is our and what we should and should not exchange for things. Epictetus focuses through his chapters on a somewhat isolationist perspective, in which we should claim, control, and maintain what is ours, protect it and respect it.  Claiming what is not ours is not our God given right, and that we should not allow ourselves to feel a feeling of loss, especially when we get more then we gave, or succumb to being ungrateful as both of these feelings will do more harm than good long term, to include compromising our good nature and character.

            Chapter 4 of Book IV builds upon issues that can corrupt our character and how to avoid them. Epictetus acknowledges that we should desire a life that is peaceful and allows us contentment, but warns we must be cognizant of the fact that, “not only the desire of power and of riches makes us mean and subject to others, but even the desire of tranquility, and of leisure, and of traveling abroad, and of learning.” (Epictetus, Book IV) We place a value on objects or external entities that inherently give those things power over us as we desire them. His example is reading; reading can make you happy, but if it does not, then why subject yourself to it [sic]? We should not waste time figuring out Shakespeare famous “to be or not to be” so long as we are happy with the choice or fate we are assigned. We should not go through life searching for tranquility, as this life only leaves us constantly searching for what we may never achieve.

This hunt for internal peace is reminiscent of the Anakin Skywalker, who was on a constant search for a peaceful life and a way to protect his wife and future children, but is compromised and finds evil in the wake of his search, causing him to lose everything that he was so desperate to protect. Anakin’s failure to understand he could not control things outside his power, like foreseeing the death of his wife or the death of his enslaved mother, is something Epictetus says makes us slaves to society; trying to control everything in order to ensure our peace will drive us to insanity. We should be happy with the path provided to us, and make the best of the situation, instead of focusing on material possessions and doing everything in our power to change fate only to be consumed by our ambition.

Rise and Fall of Anakin

Chapter 5 builds off this concept that we should control what is in our control; we should not attempt to control others and therefore should not waste time fighting with others. We must speak calmly and listen, but not subject ourselves to engaging in pointless arguments. Society calls on us to hold higher standards; the golden rule of treating others how you wish to be treated is the essence of what Epictetus is getting at in this chapter. There is a bright side to every situation; if someone attacks you, do not retaliate as this corrupts your character and makes you worse then the attacker, instead be grateful you are not dead. Controlling our actions and reactions are imperative, and our society must demand this. Going back to Anakin Skywalker, mourning his mother, while understandable, leads him to massacre her killers in retaliation. Epictetus  says this is very dangerous; Anakin had no control over the killers, and therefore morning and retailing only corrupted Anakin and made him subject to dangerous thoughts and actions.

We also should be cognizant of how we let others’ opinions affect us. We should not play into others’ foolishness. No one can tell you who you are or what you are as only you control this, therefore do not be afraid of others or their opinions, they can not harm you unless you let them. Our opinion is what makes us indestructible or breaks us, and only we can decide which one it is. People can become enemies simply over differing opinions when in reality it should not matter if you and your friend have varying opinions so long as you do not let it affect you. Football fans can wage war  over an opposing fan’s comment or victory; Philly is the prime example of an entire city’s morale and environment being controlled by the Eagles game.

Losing to the Cowboys may start a riot, when in reality the outcome of the game has nothing to do with the city or the individual fan; only the team has control of that fate. Fans should have fun, but not compromise themselves over something so outside their control.

Epictetus goes as far as to say God provides us the ability to not care and be free from “check,” but that it is up to us to maintain control of our ability to not care about opinions. Epictetus ends Book IV with a few sentences concerning pity, and ties his thoughts together by stating it is up to us if we allow ourselves to pity ourselves, that being concerned over others pitying us is not our job.

Ultimately, the Discourses of Epictetus outlines how we can live our life constantly, while answering questions about everyday life that could compromise our happiness. Caring about what we control is really all we can do as an individual in a large society.

Author’s Note

Evan Sparks is a senior at Virginia Tech double majoring in History and Political Science. He hopes to get a master’s degree in education and work as an educator in the future.

Jillian Skahill is a senior at Virginia Tech majoring in Political Science. She is planning on commissioning into the US Army as a Military Police Officer, and wants to one day work for the DEA.

Graham Warren is a junior at Virginia Tech majoring in Political Science. He plans on commissioning into the United States Marine Corps and becoming a fighter pilot.

Afshan Shabbir is a senior at Virginia Tech majoring in Political Science. She plans on working as a political analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency in the near future.

Materialization of the Immaterial

Luke Chapter 14: “The Dark Enlightenment and the Anthropocene: Readings from the Book of Third Nature as Political Theology”

Timothy Luke’s chapter on the Dark Enlightenment focuses on the more specific, Accelerationist movement created by a group of individuals who refer to themselves as Neo-Reactionaries. Chapter 14 references Luke’s previous chapter in Anthropocene Alerts on Re-Reading the Unabomber manifesto. Luke draws similarities between the two referring to the common objective of both to disrupt the system and “reverse the runaway pace of change in the modern world” (273). At a more basic level, the Accelerationist movement within the Dark Enlightenment consists of those with close ties to “centered venture capitalists, cyber-liberatarian thinkers, and corporate entrepreneurs” (263). Centered in Silicon Valley, these tech moguls, in the eyes of Luke, view democracy as a deteriorating theology and one in need of reform.

The relationship between governance and capitalism is central to understanding the Dark Enlightenment period in general as those that have profited excessively from neoliberalism wish to reform the system for that exact reason. It is thus ironic that those reaping the most rewards from our current system of government wish to unearth it. Luke describes the accelerationist thought process as such:

“Immense wealth frequently is matched to liberatarian values, but today’s billionaires are deeply committed to their narrow self-interests, not unlike most robber barons during the Gilded Age before state trust busting broke up the big bank, oil, railway, and steel monopolies of that era” (266).

Kat Chrysostom in her TED talk on how to dismantle monopolies, acknowledges the limitless power that is principle to the belief system of NRx thinkers, the nickname afforded to them by Timothy Luke, centering around the notion that they are godlike. NRxers feel that they are greater than the average human and deserve to uproot the current democratic system, modeling it after a modern corporate business structure. Moreover, Accelerationists have exploited the introduction of Third Nature, the digital environment phase of human development, viewing itself as greater than any form of political governance.

Luke views the unabloggers, a slight allusion to Ted Kaczynski (the somewhat manic individual who attempted to break “the system” through a series of individual bombings, hence

the unabomber nickname), apolocolyptically stating that “For them, this societal structure of our epoch is fragile, waiting to be crashed, hacked or endlessly upgraded by them” (272). His impression obviously isn’t upbeat or positive concerning their school of thought as evident by the comparison he makes to someone that wasn’t mentally healthy and took to violence because of it. Furthermore, the accelerationist movement appears as a self-absorbed, darwinian theology in which those that are most fit are those that should rule. The epistemic and authoritarian approach characterizing the accelerationist movement is a big red flag for Timothy Luke perpetuated by the “IPO Bonanza” pursued by those who have undergone “historically uninformed, morally unfocused, and politically naive streams of STEM-centered education” (266). The movement is merely evidence of a superiority complex held by those in big tech and venture capital.

Luke (Canvas Article) “Corporate Social Responsibility: An Uneasy Merger of Sustainability and Development.”

Timothy Luke’s article about Corporate Social Responsibility discusses the beginnings of corporate social responsibility, and how these corporations use their own profit motivations to disregard the actual importance of sustainability at its core. The standards for how businesses approach sustainable measures have lowered because these businesses see sustainability as a way to profit off of the perception of society. If society sees a business portraying the use of sustainable practices within different areas in the workplace, consumers are more likely to want to purchase from that company. Many companies are doing as little as they can to still present themselves in a positive light to consumers without actually making considerable changes.

Corporations and sustainability have a unique relationship because the future of the natural environment does rely on how corporations and society approach sustainable methods in the workplace. Corporations profit off of the perceptions of the consumers. This perception goes into categories besides sustainability as well such as social justice, diversity and philanthropy. However, many of these categories could be considered less detrimental to the future of society and humans because the destruction of the environment leads to the inability for humans to function. Corporations are willing to implement new sustainable measures “as part of demonstrating a vital engagement with social responsibility” (87). The actual reality of the corporation is less important than the perception of reality of that corporation. As long as the public sees a certain company as environmentally conscientious, the company will bring in more profit. However, that company may have done very little to improve their standards of sustainability.

Luke delves into the differences between ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ sustainability. ‘Weak’ sustainability describes finding a way for society to continue the ability to “accumulate…more man-made capital” (85). ‘Strong’ sustainability on the other hand realizes that natural capital is irreplaceable by man-made capital. Luke further suggests that “Without natural capital, there is no human capital of any type, because low, declining, or no natural resources create conditions where human capital cannot be appropriated or accumulated” (85). If society is unable to create human capital due to the natural environmental conditions, humans would be unable to survive in a healthy manner or at all.

Wendy Woods describes how Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is not enough to solve the environmental problems at hand. She talks about how CSR is impactful because it is appealing to the employees and customers, but in order to further attempt to solve these issues companies should adopt Total Societal Impact (TSI). TSI is the accumulation of the different ways a corporation affects society. She mentions the supply chain within the company, manufacturing practices and distribution of goods. Woods also explains how Total Societal Impact can contribute to corporate business benefits. Luke includes a similar example in his article of how proper sustainability practices provide “…operational growth and growth-oriented benefits that help cut costs and develop new markets and products” (89).

The sustainability ‘movement’ proves the priorities of corporations remain self centered and circle around profit. Luke explained the necessity of proper attention from corporations, but these companies will need to put money motives to the side in order to improve their sustainable practices.

Stubberfield, “Chapter 3: Fictitious Materiality: An Examination of the Wyoming Conservation Exchange”

Stubberfield’s chapter on the Wyoming Conservation Exchange criticizes the political economy created by the conservation exchange and the incomplete market it creates with its “fictitious” commodities. He argues that the WCE is an instrument in neoliberal environmentalism that is purposely constructed to feed into the Megamachine. Stubberfield defines neoliberal environmentality as “extending the formation and domination of markets within synthetic environs, and the production of commodities through processes of depoliticization, individuation, monetization, and technocratic management that incentivizes the adoption of instrumental thinking relating to environment.” The WCE fits this definition because it deals in synthetic environs and produces technonatural commodities that lead buyers to think the environment can be degraded and easily recreated in another area with equal quality.

The WCE works through a credit-based system. Landowners can earn credits by improving their land to provide Greater Sage Grouse habitat. The value of these improvements is determined by a Habitat Quantification Tool. This tool works by comparing the quality of the habitat to the perceived needs of a species, in this case the Greater Sage Grouse (GRSG). The

habitat quality is then quantified using a standard metric. Property is evaluated based on the perceived use the GRSG will get from the habitat. The score is converted to functional acres and sold at auction. The habitat quality itself is hard to quantify because the habitat preferences of the GRSG vary greatly by population. Therefore, the perceived benefits to the species may not apply to the local GRSG population.

Functional acre credits can be sold as either mitigation or non-mitigation credits. Most of these credits are bought by producers of paleotechnic commodities which perpetuates the cycle of degradation and mitigation. Stubberfield argues that “the currency that courses through the WCE cannot be said to be anything more than a fictitious commodity flowing through an incomplete market detached from ground conditions or benefits to the species. That which is traded is the ability to degrade land and habitat.” Mitigation credits are required by state laws, without these laws there would be no demand. These credits are called fictitious because it is hard to quantify the real value of the land and the market is based on inconsistent values. By creating technonatural habitats and selling them to offset degradation of natural habitat, this system is not benefiting the GRSG. Instead, it is supporting Wyoming’s hydrocarbon economy and benefiting the land owners and paleotechnic commodity chains.

Student Bios:

Nicholas Hatch is a junior double majoring in Political Science and Economics who loves pretty much any sport and is an avid weight-lifter. Nicholas is incredibly passionate about the Washington Nationals and watches nearly every game during the baseball season. He is also involved heavily in The Big Event and is also a part of Phi Sigma Kappa Fraternity. A fun fact about Nicholas is that he once won $200 in a bracket challenge for The Bachelor.

Calista Heister is a sophomore majoring in Management Consulting and Analytics and minoring in Political Science from Buffalo, New York. Calista is a member of the Virginia Tech Women’s Soccer team. Her educational interests include Corporate Sustainability, Environmental Law and Corporate Environmental Management. In her free time she loves travelling, hiking, trail running, skateboarding and skiing.

Chloe Hunter-Olson is a junior majoring in Natural Resources Conservation with a concentration in Outdoor Recreation Management. Chloe is currently considering an Urban Forestry minor. She is from a small town in Western Maryland near Deep Creek Lake. She has two cats here in Blacksburg. Her interests include hiking, cooking, and travelling. Chloe is also a huge fan of roller coasters and amusement parks.

The Discourses Books 1 & 2

Discourses: Book I, Part I: Rainey Blankenship 

‘Of the things which are in our Power and not in our Power’

Epictetus begins his Discourses with a discussion of ‘Power;’ specifically, whom or what faculty possesses the capabilities of judgement. He asserts that grammatical art, music, and all other faculties are incapable of contemplating power. It is only rational faculty that is capable of examining itself, other faculties, and their power; ultimately being capable of all judgement. He then refers to our creators, the same creators who were unable to free our body’s from hindrance, but they were able to provide a small portion of power to us. This being the power of rational choice, the faculty of approving or disapproving, or the power of pursuing something or avoidance. It is this power, when used properly, that helps us to avoid hindrance. 

When things begin to drag us down that are not in our nature to control, Epictetus states that we must make the best use of the things that are in our power to control, for we are not the managers of the winds. If man must die, must be bound to chains, must be beheaded, all of which are outside of his nature of control, must he do all while lamenting? No. This is because no man, not even Zeus, can overpower or hinder man’s power of choice. 

‘How a Man on every occasion can maintain his Proper Character’

Rational faculty is tolerable, which is why man is attracted to it; irrational faculty is intolerable, causing man to be pained by it. Man has different estimates of what is appropriate to each individual person as a result, different people see rational and irrational from different perspectives. This is where discipline comes into play. Man determines what is suitable to his character by discipline. Each individual must consider what is worthy to them and what is not when making a decision, and must not act upon things that do not concern them.

Epictetus is pretty much telling people to stay in their lane. 

‘How a man should proceed from the principle of God being the father of all men to the rest’

Epictetus asserts that man should believe he is the son of God and that God is the god of all gods. He leads with an example of man discovering that Zeus is his father, that he would be so elated to uncover such truths. Why does man not feel this way about God? Is it because we neglect intelligence because the mortal man is so attached to appearances related to the flesh? Epictetus believes so, and forewarns that man must take care that they do not become engulfed in appearances.

‘Of progress or improvement’

Tranquility, happiness, the ‘good life’ is the end result of man’s progress, but what must we progress towards? Virtue. Knowledge that desiring is the wanting of good things and aversion means to sway from bad things. Improvement comes when man withdrawals from the externals and exercises these labours. Man must rise each day, train in these rules, make progress, and thank God for this progress; for it is he who gave us the mind to bear the fruits of our labours. In chapter 5, ‘Against the academics,’ Epictetus asserts that man cares more about embarrassment of the body than embarrassment of the soul.

‘Of providence’

Epictetus finds it easy for man to praise providence if they possess the faculty of seeing and a grateful disposition. Animals were not given a rational understanding of things; therefore, God only created them to be of usage. Man, on the other hand, was given the ability to see and understand appearances; therefore, man is a spectator and interpreter of God himself. Man must follow the works of God to perceive his true self and life’s purpose (to obtain the good life), and for man to act as irrational animals do is shameful.

‘Of the use of sophistical arguments, and hypothetical, and the like’

When making decisions regarding our particular life’s path, we derive our conclusions from questioning, just as sophistical and hypothetical arguments are handled. Man must learn the consequences of many things through skillful reasoning, demonstration, understanding, and avoidance of deceit. Epictetus in chapter 8, ‘That the faculties are not safe to the uninstructed,’ asserts that the faculty to develop additional skills brings about greatness. It is he who is uninstructed in the power of arguing and the faculty of persuasion that brings danger.

Discourses Book I, Part II: Jasmine Castillo-Alvarado

‘How from the Fact that we are akin to God a man may proceed to the consequences’ 

We, as individuals, are a part of a society that identifies ourselves with this larger whole. With this identification comes the process of allegiance and the creation of state leaders and structure which begin to dictate how “our intelligence is administered to the world,” (Discourses Book I). This, Epictetus argues, leads to sorrow and fear. Now, instead, one must rely on God as the “maker and father and guardian” (Discourses Book I) to rid the feeling of sorrow and fear for as kingsmen of God, one has all the purpose, truth, and self-recognizing force that should drive him to peace. 

‘Against those who eagerly seek preferment at Rome’

Epictetus recalls on a memory of a man who, when exiled declared he never wanted to work again, and instead wished to have a future of quiet and tranquility. However, as he returned to Rome the man quickly assumed the position of superintendent of corn at the request from the palace. Epictetus uses this story to argue that working physically (being active) or not physically (sleeping) does not matter, if we are asking the questions that help us think critically, we shall achieve all we need. What you do matters only if you use whatever it is you do to ask and seek higher knowledge. 

‘Of natural affection’

In chapter 11, Epictetus argues with a father who abandoned his sick daughter because he could not take the pain of seeing her unwell. The father defends his behavior by arguing that his runaway response was “natural” due to the circumstances and his affection towards his daughter. Epictetus disagrees. Affection towards family is argued to be natural and good; good is consistent with reason. To further his point, Epictetus asks the father if he would have liked to have been abandoned at a time of desperate need? No, of course not. Hence, the actions are not indeed natural or rational, but instead are motivated by individual choices. Rationality and choice are dependent on the agent’s capability to correctly examine oneself. There is great harm in not knowing the criterion that distinguishes good and bad, therefore, one must be cognizant of our opinions and thoughts in order to act according to the rational (Discourses Book I). Nothing can make us not do or do anything. Our actions are dependent upon our own opinions and our will. 

‘Of Contentment’ 

Bobby McFerrin and Epictetus would get along just fine.

Epictetus in chapter twelve states that although “we do not have [the power to change the constitution of things], we ought to accept and remember that things around us are what they are and by nature exist,” (Discourses Book I). Once we accept this reality we may “maintain our minds in harmony,” (Discourses Book I). Man must constantly remind himself that he is content with the freedom he now possesses through an acceptance of his mindfulness. If one chooses not to accept, his punishment is his existence as a prison within his own state, body, and mind. Epictetus adds that the Gods have blessed man with the ability to think. It is from this intelligence that in which you perceive your reality. He, Epictetus (and me) wish your reality to be worry-free and happy :). In Chapter thirteen, Epictetus furthers this argument by declaring contentment as a standard for living a life acceptable to the Gods. This acceptable life is lived with “equanimity,” is “temperately and orderly,” and just (Discourses Book I). 

‘That the deity oversees all things.’ 

God is a pretty powerful entity, Epictetus argues. God created the sun afterall, so he’s been on a power-high for a while. God is able to perceive our every move, the depths of our souls, and the make up of our mind. This is because God is within each of us and so are our individual demons, And to this inner-God, Epictetus argues, we must swear an oath just as the soldiers did to Caesar: to “never be disobedient, never to find fault with anything that he has given, and never unwillingly to do or to suffer anything, that is necessary,” (Discourses Book I). By swearing this oath of allegiance, men swear to honour themselves before all (Discourses Book I). Men place themselves as content beings that trust the process in which soul and mind is part a greater whole. 

‘What Philosophy Promises.’

Philosophy, as an art, does not propose to secure for a man any external things (Discourses Book I). It is not a form of thinking or being that can be capitalized. Instead, philosophy is a process, for nothing great is ever produced suddenly, nor are questions ever answered so simply. To conclude Book I, Epictetus asks us to be grateful to the wonders of the way in which the world is set up. To appreciate animals’ self-sufficiency and to acknowledge the workings of God. Don’t hate, appreciate. 

Discourses Book II Part I -Michael Byers

Book 2 of Epictetus’s Discourses follow a similar trajectory of the first, as he continues examining the concepts of choice, judgement, and indifference, and man’s persistent struggle to grasp these virtues. Epictetus builds off Book 1 in his explanations of the “internals” and the “externals”, and how man should approach these different challenges.

         Epictetus first addresses the dichotomy of confidence and caution, stating that it is possible to have both characteristics, and by being cautious we can achieve true confidence (Discourses Book 2). Epictetus once again emphasizes the ultimate power of the will, stating that if bad things occur from bad exercise of the will, we must employ caution; however, in things independent of the will, we should exercise confidence, since we have no power over them except in regard to our response (Discourses Book 2). By being cautious with that which is truly dangerous or bad, we are all the more equipped to exercise confidence in what is good (Discourses Book 2). Epictetus compares man to deer that fall into the trap of the huntsman, since man chooses to be fearful of that which is independent of his will and out of his control (Discourses Book 2). By recognizing what trials are external, and what is not worth time and energy fearing, we may gain more control over the things that concern our internals, and can better control our internal reaction to external matters (Discourses Book 2).

         Further in Chapter Six, Epictetus expands on the concept of the internals and externals, as he explains the balance between our perceptions of good, evil, and indifference of the two. Epictetus posits that, rather than good and evil being external consequences of things that happen to man, man must internalize good and evil in how he responds to external occurrences (Discourses Book 2). Because everything that is external is out of our control, and independent of our will, we must show indifference to it, and instead focus on our will, the only thing we do have control over. Here he compares mankind to stalks of corn, as our ultimate fate is essentially to decline and die, such as corn eventually ripens and gets picked (Discourses Book 2). However, man spends so much time fearing death that it hinders him from fully living the life that he does have.

         Later in Book 2, Epictetus returns to this concept of showing indifference to external circumstances, particularly with man’s struggles with anxiety (Discourses Book 2). He states that man is fixated on anxieties that are external in nature, such as his upbringing, his body, his duty to Caesar, or other circumstances independent of the will. Epictetus uses the comparison of the weaver and the wool here in Chapter 13, as he states that the weaver may not be given the finest wool, but he does his best with what he is given, since he does not make the wool. In the same way should man make best with what he has, rather than be anxious about that which he cannot change.

         Book 2 of The Discourses provides several fundamental components to Epictetus’s Stoic philosophy. He emphasizes not only how important it is to determine what is external and what is internal in our lives, but also how to respond to that which is dependent or independent of our will. He persistently provides dichotomies that man must balance in order to be satisfied, fulfilled, or ultimately happy. Man must be both cautious and confident in things dependent or independent of the will. Man must also determine what he does not have power over, in order to have ultimate power over his response, his mind, and his emotions as a whole. Mastery of these tenets provided by Epictetus allows man to truly become his own master.

Discourses Book II Part II- Nick Anthony

In Chapter 8 of Book II, Epictetus examines the nature of good, the nature of God, and how one ought to conduct themselves. Epictetus notes that God is beneficial, and so is the nature of good. However, the natures of good and God do not exist in all of God’s creation; plants and irrational animals such as sheep do not possess the nature of good because they were not created by God with the faculties of comprehension and understanding (Discourses, Book II). Conversely, humans can have the nature of God in them because they were created in His image. Epictetus even questions the audience directly: “why then are you ignorant of your own noble descent?” (Discourses, Book II). By examining the internal faculties of oneself, Epictetus encourages the reader to acknowledge God’s presence within their self and act morally.

In the next chapter, however, Epictetus notes how uncommon it is for man to truly act as a “rational and mortal being.” To avoid acting as an irrational animal, he argues that we should avoid acting “gluttonously, lewdly, rashly, filthily, and inconsiderately,” (Discourses, Book II). Instead, Epictetus writes that we should aim to act modestly and with fidelity through study and practice; the latter is especially important for philosophers, he argues, as they must act in accordance with what they practice.

Epictetus uses Chapter 10 to emphasize every person’s inherent divinity. He writes that man is distinguished from other animals, and therefore no one is subservient to anyone; in fact, he writes that every person is “one of the principle parts” of the world (Discourses, Book II). Simultaneously, he encourages the audience to embrace their finite understanding of the world and operate in situations that they can perform best in. In order to fulfill one’s role as a rational being, he notes the importance of acknowledging one’s self as a child or a sibling. Being conscious of one’s talents and appreciating one’s relationships is key to not losing one’s self.

You Is Kind The Help GIF
Epictetus to anyone who would listen, 100 B.C.E.

In Chapter 11 of Book II, Epictetus discusses the inherent weaknesses of man and their relationship to the study of philosophy. Although humans come into the world with innate ideas such as the dichotomies of good and bad and beauty and ugliness, we are not born with knowledge of mathematics and science. Because most of the knowledge needed to have meaningful, educated discourse must be learned, disputes often result in emotional arguments or aporia. This dispute, Epictetus writes, is the axiom of philosophy: he defines it simply as “a perception of the disagreement, an inquiry into the cause of the disagreement,” and a general distrust of what ‘seems’ to be (Discourses, Book II).

Continuing his examination of disputations in Chapter 12, Epictetus notes how despite philosophers having shown how to “apply the art of disputation,” humans often fail to put it into practice (Discourses, Book II). He demonstrates his argument through the example of arguing with an illiterate man. Ridiculing and abusing him does not benefit either party; however, displaying to them the truth is the best way to communicate knowledge. Epictetus then discusses Socrates’ reductio ad absurdum method, which does not pose a specific argument, but rather examines other interpretations and plainly state contradictions within them to display their inaccuracy. Specifically, Epictetus admires Socrates’ ability to remain calm and never become frustrated with other peoples’ arguments.

what do you mean tyler the creator GIF
Socrates using the reductio ad absurdum argument, 400 B.C..

Epictetus then discusses the cause of anxiety and its obsolescence in one’s pursuit of acting as a rational being in Chapter 13. He mentions how a musician plays fine when they are alone but gets nervous when they are in front of a crowd. The musician is anxious, Epictetus writes, because he is concerned with things outside of his control. Epictetus uses the example of the musician to show how worrying about things one cannot change is pointless.

In Chapter 14, Epictetus responds to a Roman, Naso, and his son about the labors of learning arts. He writes that although acquiring knowledge about any art requires labor, the product that results from that labor shows its “use in the purpose for which it was made,” (Discourses, Book II). He goes on to discuss the work of the philosopher; similar to learning arts, philosophers must labor to understand both natural and acquired relations, familial relations, and the relations of a citizen. When one knows these things, they have the ability to influence the circumstances they find themselves in. To acquire such knowledge, Epictetus emphasizes the importance of learning language in order to communicate with others. Epictetus writes to those who “obstinately persist” in what they believe in Chapter 15 (Discourses, Book II). He argues that in order to confidently believe something, one has to set strong foundations that their beliefs can be based on. He then notes how hard it is to influence a fool’s mindset because their foundations are based on faulty notions about reality that are not accurate. Having definitive and accurate foundations of knowledge contributes to one’s ability to behave as a rational being.

The Instrumentalization of Nature

Luke (Ecocritique Reader), “Chapter 7: Marcuse and the Politics of Radical Ecology”

In Chapter 7, Luke explores Marcuse’s theories and influence on the New Left. Luke describes Marcuse’s criticisms of human social institutions, which he claims have negative impacts on human dimensions. Marcuse, in his writings, asserts that technology is a “form of social control and domination” (Page 143). This week’s readings highlight the theme of Instrumentalization, converting something into a tool utilized simply as a means to an end.

Here, the reading asserts that the increased use of technology has increased the human ability to have dominion over Nature. Luke argues Marcuse’s ideas on pacifying nature are more realistic than some modern ecologists. The reading underscores the importance of finding a balance in the utilization of natural resources, “since nature is a human construct in both theory and practice, truly non-anthropocentric society or post-technological economy is pure fantasy” (Page 150). This demonstrates Marcuse’s critical tone towards a more idealistic preservationist. Overall, the instrumentalization of nature is a vital component of our materialistic and modern consumer culture, it is near impossible to separate the delicate intricacies of the two.

Instrumentalism is the pragmatic view of using something as a tool or instrument to solve real problems. In the case of instrumentalism of Nature, Nature is used as the instrument to meet human consumptive needs. Natural resources are harvested for construction, food, energy, and technology. By using Nature as an instrument we are obliterating our constructions of a delineation between “nature” and “society”. Nature is at once as much a part of our production

system as we are a part of it. The instrumentalism of Nature has defined the past century. The chemical composition of Earth has been significantly altered at an unprecedented rate. Humans have harvested resources from all over the world. Ecological critics condemn this anthropocentric behavior while capitalist applaud it. The readings for the class have hinted that these forces are very delicate and intricately entwined.

Luke, Chapter 11: “On the Road to Marrakesh: A Politics of Mitigation or Mystification for Global Climate Change?”

In Chapter 11 Luke evaluates the political sphere of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. From the 1992 Rio de Janerio global summit to the 2015 Paris Accords it is clear that there is still significant discourse and disagreement over how to best combat this issue. The specifics of how to implement limits of GHGs and to what extent they need to be reduced has become a very polarizing topic. Luke claims there is still much to learn about climate change, however, once this knowledge is obtained it may be too late. Throughout the chapter, Luke talks about economic incentives and programs such as cap n trade. Will these alone be enough to curb increasing global surface temperatures and reduce GHG emissions – it is not likely. Luke’s evaluation of these policy instruments in order to combat the wicked problem of global climate change demonstrates that there is still significant disagreement about best use practices. In this context, policy instruments used to mitigate climate change are debated because they may reduce the capacity of environmental disruption, but at the compromise of real efficacy to maintain global production industries and the economy. Implementation of large scale instruments has a way of obscuring the feasibility of achieving policy goals. Sometimes the act of organizing to solve an issue can have more merit than the actual impact of any solution, which is where

mystification has been applied.

Pleistocene Park

This is a modern-day example that relates very much to our discussion of global climate change and the instrumentalization of Nature. Nitika Zimov and his father, Sergey manage Pleistocene Park in the arctic of Siberia in hopes of restoring a previous biome in order to slow the effects of global climate change. They utilize land use management in order to create a sanctuary for large mammals like bison, oxen, and even lab-grown wooly mammoths. While this may resemble something out of a sci-fi action movie, the motives are to conserve this permafrost swatch of the Arctic. This demonstrates instrumentalization because the policy and action of preserving this tundra as a sanctuary for these animals is an agent for hopefully slowing the effects of climate change on this region.

Stubberfield, “Chapter 2: Building the Laboratory: Instrumentalizing the Greater Sage-grouse in Wyoming”

Stubberfield’s chapter illustrates this concept of instrumentalization within the context of Wyoming’s Greater Sage-grouse population. The greater sage-grouse was going to be listed under the Endangered Species Act in 2010 because the bird population was declining due to habitat fragmentation and anthropogenic activity (page 59). However, this designation would also require the State to restrict development across a large portion of land (page 60). Such restrictions would have been a disruption to Wyoming’s economic dependence on extractive industries, so they used the Core Area Protection (CAP) strategy as an avenue for addressing the  

problem. This policy framework was an instrument to restructure authority over the landscape, from Federal conservation legislation to Wyoming’s own reterritorialized management zones (page 64-65). It is a way for the State to balance its financial and ecological interests by establishing a mitigation credit economy, which in turn authorizes the development of technonatural lands (page 65). Wyoming still allows 5% surface disturbance within their Primary Habitat Management Areas, and gives developers the option to restore the habitat on-site, or create a new one adjacent to their operations (page 78-79). The policy instruments used to justify production in ecologically sensitive areas still place environmental conservation within a commodified context and allows the State to elude federal land management designations.

John Todd – The Ecological Design Revolution | Bioneers

Human intervention in ecosystems, as with the Wyoming case, are not always a detriment to environmental health. Biologist, John Todd, speaks on his ecological design work which has powerfully restored various landscapes into thriving habitats, successful water filtration systems, and opportunities for social growth. The (Agricultural) Eco-Industrial Park he advocates for is a great example of instrumentalizing an existing network of businesses (or farmers) to sustain a new form of economy that is local and interdependent. Todd also explains a production process in which low value materials, for example brewery waste, are combined with an instrumentalized organic component, like quality manure, to increase the waste’s value. In a world where anything can be commodified, this seems like a good way to re-evaluate the capabilities of natural elements and their monetary yield.

Student bios:

Emma Wilson is a Junior at the Virginia Tech Honors College, studying Environmental Policy and Planning. Emma loves hiking, trail running, and playing lacrosse. Emma is passionate about spending time outdoors and environmental resource conservation! A fun fact about Emma is that she has broken both of her arms.

Amariah Williams is a senior in the Smart and Sustainable Cities program; she has a minor in landscape architecture and enjoys her positions within various Tech organizations, such as the IAWA. In her free time, she likes to decompress with a nap, activities in her sketchbook, a puzzle, or a bike ride if the weather is nice.

What is Hybridity?

For the purposes of our class, we can define ‘hybridity’ as the intersection of nature and society. We can credit Bruno Latour when arguing that the concept of hybridity is an ongoing problem for modernity because our society was constructed under the premise of separating everything that is natural from everything that is scientific. This inherent agreement is our “modern constitution” (Death, 2013, p.123). Below are the five contradictions that the modern constitution makes when trying to separate society from nature. 

The Modern Constitution {Editor’s Note: The following provides a good list of conceptual commitments found in The Modern Constitution. The points marked ‘a’ are demonstrations of the conceptual commitments of it. Hybridity challenges the Modern Constitution by questioning and providing examples that contradict or complicate the neat conceptual framework of modernity.}

1. Society and Nature are separate 

a. I.e. ‘We can draw a line between what we humans have constructed and what nature naturally created, and we are satisfied with that separation.’ 

2. Pre-Moderns = Nature, We = culture 

a. ‘East vs. West, Global South vs. Global North’ 

3. There is no God 

a. ‘Removing God from logic, science, and society. ‘

4. Positivism 

a. ‘We can subject everything to objective, scientific inquiry and scrutiny. And that which we cannot, does not exist.’ 

5. Time is Linear 

a. ‘In the past, people were more ignorant and less aware than they are now.’ 

‘Society’ and ‘nature’ are related and dependent entities that are both integral parts of what we consider the modern world. Studying one without consideration of the other would be a mistake. However, it is still important to recognize other definitions of hybridity and their historical uses in constructing a relationship with a group of “others”. Edward Said, often cited as the father of postcolonial studies, argues that western epistemology (epistemology is the study of knowledge and knowing) ranks individuals and groups of people according to their closeness to nature. Under this scale, we find that the closer one is with nature, the more backwards, less civilized, and less progressive they are. This is obviously problematic because hybridity implies a mixing of western/white/civilized communities with oriental/black and brown/uncivilized communities, which is ‘unnatural’ according to its definition. 

The video above explicates the differences between Modernism, Pre-Modern, Anti-Modern, and Post-Modern epistemologies to ultimately make the claim that to differentiate between society and nature is incorrect. The narrator argues that we can’t do anything about nature’s laws, yet we are completely free from it with limitless possibilities. Additionally, he argues that we are individuals free to live in a free society, yet we are limited by the requirement that we do obey its laws. Modernism paints us as being outside of nature, yet we erected a science that shows how we are at its mercy. Similarly, modernism persists to tell us that the only thing separating us from animals are our laws, but we are also individuals free to do as we please. These different perspectives contradict one another and our problem here is that we only represent one of them at any given time. Modernity really just means taking a stance based on a purified yet specialized perspective. 

What is Arcology to the Anthropocene? 

Luke in Chapter 10 of Anthropocene Alerts, opens up with a discussion of the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene is the era that human intervention is the primary cause of environmental degradation. Luke focuses on in the first section, human overconsumption from the proliferation of urbanization and agrarianization. Luke mentions, “the advent of intensive citification and agrarianization in a few human communities from 11,000 to 4,000 years ago also coincides with the first major leap in the rates of atmospheric greenhouse gassing, not matched until the past decade” (Luke, 2019, p.210). The large waste created through citification and urbanization leads Luke to arcology as a solution. Moreover, Luke continues with the idea of arcology. 

Luke examines the two arcology perspectives of Soleri and Mumford. Arcology is the idea to create a self-sustainable society that creates minimal waste. Mumford’s idea of arcology is much like modern day. Luke paraphrases, “The embedded reproduction of cities as artificial networks of human habitats rests upon enduring material formations as habitats to store and distribute the huge reserves of food energy farmed by citified human and nonhuman beings” (Luke, 2019, p.211). Mumford’s perspective can be seen in practice like suburbs or cities as they are connected group habitats working in a system. However, this idea of arcology fuels the Anthropocene. Soleri’s perspective would be done by including all aspects of life, including education, recreational, agriculture, economic, and domestic, contained in a single complex that has a minimal profile. Luke states, “Wringing all of the excess energy, materials, labor, and information out of this abuse of energy materials, labor in wasted space became the main aspiration for his ideal arcologies” (Luke, 2019, p.212). Soleri’s perspective in theory is attainable by containing everything in a single complex at a minimum to assure the minimal amount of waste from urbanization. 

This clip demonstrates the effects of an arcological civilization from Soleri’s perspectives. The idea of living in this type of life seems almost like science fiction or dystopian society. It provides a few examples of arcology already in place in the modern day. The two societies they show are far from being complete but in theory would follow the sustainable goals of arcology. The video also gives an example of Shanghai Tower in China that is an arcology already in use. The tower shows the ability of advancements in clean energy with its low profile structural sound skin and energy producing turbines at the top. 

In Chapter 10 of Anthropocene Alerts, Luke explores the implications of our creation of the new epoch noting, “the invention and popularization of the Anthropocene as a chronotope for the current crisis, then, is politically significant. It redirects a scientific system of geological time measurement to run as a legitimation engine for those seeking to generate new knowledge as well as to acquire greater power to combat the crisis that “Man” supposedly causes” (Luke, 2019 p.217). The resulting change in perceived opinion the Anthropocene brings could either alarm the human population as a physiological scare tactic for legitimizing the environmental catastrophes we create or it could simply normalize the drastic environmental changes as defining tipping points in geologic history. 

In recent geologic time, from 1763 to 2013, “Man” is characterized in the Anthropocene in which his, “destructive power expresses deep ecology of hard anthropocentrism to shelter what little life remains in this sixth great extinction event” (Luke, 2019 p.225). This philosophy is adopted to benefit those with soft biocentric views who care about the “remnants of creation”. Thus, creating a paradox of recognizing the intrinsic value of other “less powerful” biotic creatures while humans act as the enterprise that permanently exterminates the future of other beings. 

The lyrics in Bon Iver’s song “Holocene” connect personal growth and relationships to themes such as realized human insignificance and destruction of the world around us. The video includes imagery of a young child, all alone amongst an environ that has been forever changed by the very species whose time on Earth has been a drop in the bucket in geologic time. A nod to the title of the song is referenced in the setting of the video, as Iceland is a landscape that has experienced glacial retreat during the Holocene and will continue to change drastically during the Anthropocene. 

Luke reinforces that Earth System Science, as a knowledge formation does not do nearly enough to hinder large anthropogenic environmental change. “ESS elites manage the patchwork adaptations of human and nonhuman life to spreading ecological catastrophe by refining sustainable degradation” (Luke, 2019 p.226). The paramount need for extensive reorganization of anthropocenian geophysical actions brings the question of choosing to rapidly adopt extensive efforts of geoengineering. This push for more intense efforts of geoengineering can be attributed to the smaller environments that have been adapted to create “new natures” or “technonatures”. As a greater amount of landscapes and enviorns have been changed by technonaturalism, humans can see the power that they hold in changing geophysical sphere to meet their needs and alter the environment to reach a specific ecological goal. Negative effects of anthropogenic climate change could lead to the ideological justification of experimental large-scale geoengineering to mitigate greenhouse gas effects on all planetary spheres. 

What is technonature? 

For the purpose of this class, ‘technonature’ is defined as a process that is primarily concerned with the continued reproduction of civilization through the expansion of technological infrastructure and continuance of commodity production. “Geotechnic expansion necessitates the generation of frontiers through the identification of components of reality critical in the maintenance of productive and consumptive patterns that lie at the heart of civilizational reproduction” (Stubberfield, 2019, p.35). The term itself implies that it is a hybrid ontology that recognizes the material entanglement of human, and non-human agencies involved in the co-production of environments. “The concept is built from scholarship in political ecology that recognizes the historical co-evolution of humanity through technological enrollment of organic systems in the expansion of second nature ecosystems formed through industrial activity” (Stubberfield,2019,p.24-25). This explains that we are incorporating technology into our lives by integrating it into nature and how we perceive it. 

“There is no need to view global change as a revenge of nature, nor is it possible to say that humans are entirely the mandarins of their planetary environment” (Stubberfield,2019, p.37). There are many factors that go into global change and we as humans are not the only factor because there are changes everyday within the planetary-scale machine. The said machine is termed as the ‘Megamachine’ and it is made up of “ historical material and psychic imbrications of the organic and synthetic” (Stubberfield, 2019, p.37). Since there are so many things that go into climate change and in the world in general this term seats the risks of climate catastrophe in technonatural systems. Generating technonature are ‘environmentalities’ that are “socio-techno-environmental process that organizes the relationships of living, and nonliving through the production of knowledge/power regimes such that they create administrable environs” (Stubberfield, 2019, p.53). This core process helps set a conduct that administers technonatural milieux. 

This video shows how technology has made an impact not only on nature, but the environment as well. Using less resources will help us lessen our impact with global warming, and using this kind of technology will help us to feed more people all around the world. However, capitalist economics may provide a stumbling block for both. The narrator talks about how if someone who works for the farm has access to the internet they are able to see and track how things are going at the farm. This increases managerial power over the flow of things that go into high tech agricultural production. The production of commodities is improved and accelerated by using this technology. The term ‘technonature’ can be used here due to how production is increased through the Internet of Things, and how the impacts on ‘the environment’ are displaced through the use of technology to ‘maximize efficiency’ concerning resources. This video does a great job explaining how technology and nature recombine through new technologies to create commodities at a more efficient rate, and how it can lessen the impacts on the environment, thus, setting an example for the future. However, it’s separation of Nature and Society as distinct spheres of action is complicated through an understanding of hybridity, and technonature. Specifically, a commodity is always already a hybrid as it is a combination of “natural” resources with labor and technology. The video above shows that information and data are inscribed in the food produced through a reorganization of production thus exhibiting a change in relationships between ‘nature’ and ‘society’ as an environmental strategy based in consumption. The technology above, through its deployment within a technological system of agricultural production is connected to the growth of global megamachinery as “the natural” is drawn into “the technological” as an environmentality connected to global agribusiness.

Bios 

Laura Gonzalez 

Laura is a senior in International Public Policy with a double major in Spanish. She is originally from Puerto Rico but has lived in Virginia for the past 10 years. Laura will be starting law school in the Fall of 2021 with plans to practice immigration law and reform policy. Her passions include community service and outreach, and civil rights advocacy. 

Carol Fears 

Carol is a senior in Agribusiness Management and is graduating in December. She was born and raised in Halifax, Virginia. Her plans after graduation are to apply to graduate school, and to find a job that incorporates helping people along with being involved in agriculture. Her passions include agriculture, sports, and helping others. 

Rose Freeman 

Rose is a junior studying Environmental Policy and Planning with a minor in Environmental Science. She is from Ashburn, Virginia and is passionate about environmental justice and energy geopolitics. Rose is involved with Students for Sustainable Practice at Virginia Tech and in her free time she enjoys being in nature with friends, dancing, and practicing yoga. 

Evan Furtner 

Evan is a senior studying National Security and Foreign Affairs with a minor in Italian. He is from Leesburg, Virginia but also spends much of his summers in Texas. Evan with his major originally wanted to work in the intelligence community but now hopes to attend law school next fall. Evan likes to go fishing, watch movies, study Italian culture, and anything to do with snow.

On Sophistical Refutations by Aristotle

Section I – Katie Leeper 

Fallacy is a deceptive, misleading or false argument. Refutation is the act of rejecting a statement or argument by providing a logical counter-argument or proof. Section 1 of Sophistical Refutations by Aristotle is divided into ten parts from part 1 – 10. Each part of section 1 guides the reader to understand sophistical refutations – what appear to be refutations but are really fallacies instead. Aristotle wrote On Sophistical Refutations against the sophists – image-makers in the sense of a false-representer of knowledge. Aristotle highlighted how some people seem to be beautiful and physically fit while others embellish themselves to look as such. Similarly, Aristotle highlighted how some inanimate objects may really be silver and gold while others merely seem to be such. For example, litharge or tin resembles silver and yellow metal looks gold. Aristotle argued that it is the same for reasoning and refutation – some are genuine and apparent while others seem to be but are not real. He highlighted how the sophists believe it is better to seem to be wise than to be wise without seeming to be because the sophist is one who makes money from an apparent but unreal wisdom based in the circulation of image. Aristotle then discussed how many kinds there are of sophistical arguments, how many in number are the elements of which this faculty is composed and how many branches there happen to be of this inquiry. Aristotle highlighted how there are four classes of arguments in dialogue – didactic, dialectical, examination-arguments & contentious arguments. Didactic arguments are those that reason from the principles appropriate to each subject and not from the opinions held by the answerer. 

Dialectical arguments are those that reason from premises generally accepted. Examination-arguments are those that reason from premises which are accepted by the answerer and which any one who pretends to possess knowledge of the subject is bound to know-in what manner. Contentious arguments are those that reason or appear to reason to a conclusion from premises that appear to be generally accepted but are not so. Aristotle proceeded to speak of the arguments used in competitions and contests – number, refutation, fallacy, paradox, solecism & repetition. Aristotle argued that there are two styles of refutation – those that depend on the language used and those that are independent of language. 

Aristotle highlighted the ways of producing the false appearance of an argument which depend on language – ambiguity, amphiboly, combination, division of words, accent & form of expression. Aristotle argued there are three varieties of these ambiguities and amphibolies – when either the expression or the name has strictly more than one meaning, when by custom we use them so & when words that have a simple sense taken alone have more than one meaning in combination. While refutations depend upon language drawn from these common-place rules, fallacies are independent of language. Aristotle highlighted the seven kinds of fallacies – that which depends upon Accident, the use of an expression absolutely or not absolutely but with some qualification of respect or place, or time or relation, that which depends upon ignorance of what ‘refutation’ is, that which depends upon the consequent, that which depends upon assuming the original conclusion, stating as cause what is not the cause & the making of more than one question into one. Aristotle argued that it is absurd to discuss Refutation without first discussing proof – for a refutation is a proof so that one ought to discuss proof as well before describing false refutation. Aristotle highlighted how false refutation is a merely apparent proof of the contradictory of a thesis and the reason of the falsity will be either in the proof or in the contradiction – sometimes both if the refutation be merely apparent. 

Section 2 – Peytyn Lofland 

Section 2 of Sophistical Refutations by Aristotle is divided into nine parts from part 11 – 20. Each part of section 2 guides the reader to understand the different forms of arguments that can be made, who makes these arguments, the varying factors & characteristics of these arguments, and how one should respond and solve these arguments. 

Key- words and concepts to take from this reading: contentious, dialectical, sophistical, reasoning, examination, amatuer vs. professional, conformity, refutation, paradox, fallacy, questioner vs. answerer, argument, opinion, common-place, term – definition, relativity, double-meaning, solecism, inflection, speed, ambiguity, concealment, amphiboly, connections, distinction, yes/no questions, confutation, use of “granted,” and “it seems,” consequent refutation, division & combination of words, false-meaning, demolishment, and contrary concepts & contradictions.

Yes/No Questions – Examinations: 

Section 2 begins with drawing the distinction between who would be asking a yes/no question. This question would be posed by one who is giving an examination, and this individual is said to be the professional, or well-versed, of this particular subject. It is said that it would be common to assume that the one being given the examination is going to be “ignorant,” or an amatuer, within this distinct field of study. Furthermore, Aristotle states that it is also believed that dialectical reasoning is the only proper form of examination; however, there are misleadings in this assumption. These misleadings refer to the common principles that do not “conform properly,” but instead, generally apply to the topic at hand. 

The Contentious vs. The Sophistical Reasoner: 

He goes on to explain the difference between contentious and sophistical reasoners. Contentious reasoners are explained to be one who will work endlessly for victory; therefore, they will take as many opportunities and advantages they possibly can to further themselves. Sophistical reasoners, on the other hand, use wisdom to make a reputation of themselves while also earning a living. This is explained and supported by the knowledge that the art of sophistry is the use of false images circulated as wisdom to make money. Therefore, these two reasoners argue the same arguments; however, have different motives and modes of application. The example used to explain application & conclusion of arguments made by reasoners is the example of geometry. A contentious reasoner is going to find the solution for a singular and specific subject such as the use of figures specifically for geometric use; whereas, a sophistical reasoner is going to apply his findings and solutions to not only geometry, but to many topics across the board. 

Dialectical Arguments + General vs. Specific Principles: 

A third form of argument is dialectical, this argument is not concerned with any definite being, it does not show anything, and does not fall under the same principles. It is further explained that dialectic forms are also modes of examination because a man may possess an examination; however, he has no knowledge of the subject at hand. An examination can be given on anything & everything and does not belong to a specific grouping; therefore, there is no definite being or subject being represented. Dialectic arguments are utilized by everyone as everyone believes, even if an “ignorant pretender,” that they are educated in a specific topic and with every specific topic comes some form of “trial.” This is important because it shows how each concept has general principles that amateurs and professionals are knowledgeable on, and then there are specific principles that only professionals may understand. These principles create debates or refutations. 

Formulation of Questions: 

Following the first part of Section 2, the proceeding parts explain how questions should be formulated and framed in respect to refutations, fallacies, and paradoxical findings. Aristotle highlights the many ways in which an answerer can unintentionally create a fallacy in his own opinions and beliefs: 

Framing the Question: The first of these routes is how a question is framed by the questioner, if a question is framed broadly, then a fallacy is more likely to occur as most people are more likely to make mistakes in a more general than specific conversation. 

Posing More Than One Question: A second path that can be taken is if the questioner poses more than one question at a time, this leaves the answerer to only answering with his opinion which may lead to a fallacy or paradox as well. 

The Use of Yes/ No Questions: Third, yes/no questions lead answerers off the original subject and question at hand into another subject that the questioner may be able to lead an attack with. Aristotle explains that the third direction in this list is harder in present times because most people may ask how it relates to the subject of their original debate. 

Additional directions are to not pose a controversial question initially and to lead with a process of inquiry and general questions and use of the sophistic rule meaning to draw the answerer into a field of subject matter that they lack the knowledge to make factual and reasonable arguments for. When posing paradoxical statements, you must look at the group of philosophers that they belong to. Then ask if their doctrine is paradoxical to most people and in the solution to the refutation would be to point out that the paradox does not come from the argument itself as this is what the answerer would want. This trickles down to the rule to always argue from what you believe your “opponent’s wishes and professed opinions” may be. However, it is common that people will not say their actual wishes and instead may say what they perceive will look best to the majority of people. Therefore, the opponent must be led into stating his perceived opinions about what people believe and value. This will then lay a paradox on the table as it allows for a contradiction to be made by the other participating party. 

Paradoxical Subjects of Conversation – Nature & Law 

Aristotle states that the subject matter that maintains an open opportunity for paradoxical statements is the subject of the standards of Nature & Law. The belief being that nature and law are opposites and when justice is thrown into the mix, it is positive in the name of law, but negative for nature. This belief is paradoxical in itself and can be fought with alternatives and contrary beliefs by any which way. Additionally, the answer by which people respond to questions may pose controversial issues such as the example of the standard of law being accepted by the majority while the standards of nature & truth are accepted and used by philosophers. 

Common-Place Subject Arguments: 

Aristotle points out that when debating common-place subjects, it can be vital to the solution of the argument to draw out paradoxical opinions from the opposing side. 

Relative Terms – Redundancy: 

Following this, there is an explanation of relative terms and redundancy in arguments that create fallacy, i.e. the use of a double expression where the speaker believes that two words, since they are the “same,” they then mean the “same” thing when in reality they may not. The second being the use of words that create redundancy in their meanings such as “odd” – meaning “‘a number containing a middle’,” and “‘odd number’’” – meaning “‘a number containing a middle number.’” An additional example of this fallacy is “‘shub nose’,” “‘shubness’” meaning – “‘concavity of the nose;’” therefore, “‘shub nose,’” would mean “‘concave-nose-nose.’” Use & Meaning of Words- Creating Fallacy: 

Part 14 extends on how play of words creates fallacy in debates through “solecism,” or a grammatical error in one’s speech or writing. This is supported by masculine vs. feminine vs. neutral words, such as “he” (masculine), “she” (feminine), and “this” (neuter). Solecism depends on the word “this,” as it is also dependent on the inflection of one’s argument and point they are trying to make. Therefore, “this” is commonly used for many forms of inflection as it could signify many “he” or “him,” / “she” or “her,” / “it.” This fallacy helps further explain how the meanings of “is” and “being” are different based on one’s improper or proper use of inflection in their speech. 

Speed & Anger Resources: 

Part 15 touches on two different resources when dealing with refutations. These resources are speed and the elementary rule to produce anger in order to gain the upper hand in contentious arguments. On the subject of speed, Aristotle states “when people are left behind, they look ahead less.” Additionally, in part 16 of the section, it is claimed that speed is enhanced through training and when one does not train, then they will not be versed in the use of speed to make arguments quickly. They will make the connection and understand the point; however, will not be quick enough to apply the understanding to the debate. The second resource of the play on agitation and anger is founded in that “man cannot properly take care of himself” when afflicted with agitation. In order to accomplish this, Aristotle supports foul play and being shameless while doing so because this then makes the opponent guarded and on his toes or agitated for the argument.

Concept of Concealment: 

Additionally, the concept of concealment is encouraged. Concealment is used to deceive which is ideal for contentious arguments taking place. In order to not make an answer of one’s opinions and wishes apparent, one should pose a question negatively and with it’s contrary accompanying it; “when it is obscure what answer one wants, then people are less refractory[, or stubborn].” Additional ways to create fallacies in the opponent’s arguments are to create a strong appearance of final proposition, lay down a paradox to grant a view or not, examine discrepancies of the answerer or who he mimics his beliefs after + break down his argument, and to take positions in an argument that are not clearly stated. 

Addressing Answers, Solutions, What is Required, & Why These Are Useful: The remaining parts of Section 2 cover the address of answers, solutions, what is required of them, and why these forms of arguments are useful. First, the usefulness of these arguments comes from three reasons: overarchingly: in the name of philosophy, and sub-reasonings being: (1) advancing one’s understanding of how a concept or term can be viewed/used in many ways; (2) these arguments are useful for personal research; (3) allowance for furthering one’s reputation in the name of whether they are knowledgeable and educated or not knowledgeable and uneducated. 

Amphiboly & Ambiguity: 

Part 17 explains the concept of amphiboly and ambiguity in terms of fallacy. A general rule of thumb for contentious arguing is to treat the opposing side “as if” they are being refuted, but do not actually refute them. The point behind this rule is to “dispel the appearance of their case,” to which Aristotle warns his reader to not fear being refuted; however, fear the potential of seeming to be refuted. In the case of ambiguity and amphiboly, they can be used to conceal refutation which then makes it hard to distinguish the truth in the debate. The key in terms of ambiguity and amphiboly is to not draw your own distinction in terms of the other side’s use of ambiguous terms and definitions. 

Fallacies of Amphiboly & Ambiguity: 

To draw a distinction of your own and apply it to a conversation of ambiguity will create an uncertain refutation as it may become unclear who is wrong in this case. Instead, the questioner should attempt to distinguish the other’s explanation “adequately” through a yes/no question as “one cannot affirm and deny at once.” However, a word of caution states to not pose this question without making the distinction first. “Granting the question” first allows for a conclusion to be drawn about one’s opinions when that opinion is not actually there, this then allows for paradox. The issue of posing two questions into one creates fallacy too, when a double meaning is present in conversation then the question becomes not one, but two. A simple answer will not be enough in this case as it will be seen as ambiguous and will lead to the “death of the discussion.” Additionally, yes/no answers to double-edged questions is also ambiguous and not an actual answer. Use of the responses “granted,” and “it seems…” in conversation whether it is paradoxical or not is urged in order to avoid seeming to refute or be paradoxical in your own terms. Consequent refutation depends on unclear premises; if a statement is made that “if one is true, then so is the other,” or “if one is true, then the other is false,” and it is asked that one chooses the truthful one, they should choose the smaller of the two because larger premises mean for harder conclusions. Lastly in this part, if one does not admit their view then this is a falsehood based on majority opinion. It becomes unclear, when an opinion is divided into two, where (1) which of the two pieces is meant as the maxim and which is meant as a doctrinal statement, and (2), whenever the opinion is divided, the terminology may be easily altered. This creates an uncertainty in which premise holds truth – it becomes apparent that the opponent is not creating a falsehood due to their own confusion which makes the position “irrefutable.”

Falsehoods, Double Meanings, Demolition v. Distinction, Ambiguity & Amphiboly (cont), & Combinations & Divisions: 

In the concluding parts of this section of Aristotle’s Sophistical Refutations, parts 18-20, Aristotle touches on falsehoods & double meanings, solutions of demolition or distinction, solving ambiguity & amphiboly (continued), and the importance of combinations and divisions of words. 

Solving Falsehoods + False Conclusions – Demolition / 

Destruction: 

The statement that false meaning has a double meaning is reliant on either the proof or apparent proof of a false conclusion or the correction of a false conclusion. False conclusions can be solved in two ways: (1) demolition of one of the premises – the conclusion; therefore, is untrue, & (2) demolition of the premise that is untrue because the conclusion is true. Generally, in order to solve an argument, it is necessary to (1) see if the opposite side of the argument is reasonable or unreasonable; (2) is their conclusion true or false?; (3) dependent on if the conclusion is true or false, the solution should be found to be either: demolition or distinction. 

Ambiguity – Double Meaning Fallacy and Solving with Combination / Division of Words: Due to ambiguity, a conclusion may also have a double meaning; therefore, a contradiction must be drawn for refutation. However, do not immediately shoot down a double-edged premise; instead reply with ambiguity. Finally, in part 20, the explanation of combination and division of term’s importance is explained. The repeating of words and meanings in one’s conclusion is a fallacy, as stated before in terms of redundancy. This repetition is then dependent on the process of division and combination; however, an expression that depends on division of terms does not equal ambiguity. In conclusion of this part, not all solutions to the debate depend on the structure and framing of one’s questions being posed as some answers to questions are naturally difficult to draw conclusions from. 

Section 3 – Sam Kemp 

In Section 3, Aristotle addresses the different kinds of fallacies. In Part 21, he addresses the fallacy of accent, where the meaning of a sentence may be changed depending upon the increased accentuation of a word. For instance, in the sentence “I didn’t invite Janice to the house yesterday,” the emphasis on “yesterday” implies that the speaker invited Janice to the house on a different day. The same sentence “I didn’t invite Janice to the house yesterday,” implies that the speaker didn’t invite Janice over, but someone else did. In this case, there can be some ambiguity as to what someone is saying in an argument if emphasis is placed on particular words. 

Aristotle brings up another fallacy in Part 22, the fallacies that “depend on the identical expressions of things that are not identical”. In this case, Aristotle means that when one uses multiple definitions of the same word in order to form an argument. As touched on in Section 2, in these cases, expressions can be ambiguous and arguments can be manipulated to appear deductively valid while they are not sound—To review, an argument is valid when it is structured so that the conclusion must follow necessarily from the premises, while a sound argument is valid and all of its premises are true. 

Aristotle provides the example of defining the word “see” differently in the context of saying “to see” and “to have seen”. Another example of using an identical expression in different ways would be to say: (P1) The flowers are light (in terms of weight) (P2) Light things cannot be dark (in terms of color) (C) Therefore, flowers cannot be light (in terms of color). In this argument, two definitions of the same expression “light” are used. While the argument looks to be valid on the outset, “light” in weight and “light” in color are not the same. 

Further, Aristotle sees that there are fallacies of argument where one may apply what only applies to the part of a thing to the whole. As Aristotle puts it, for instance, if someone has 10 die, and they lose one of them, it would sound misleading to make the argument that the person had “lost 10 die”. While they may no longer have 10 die, they only lost one. An example of this fallacy that might make more sense would be to say, “If Jim stands up at the concert, he can see the stage better. 

Therefore, if everyone in the audience stands up they can all see the stage better.” While the argument applies to the individual (Jim), it does not mean that it is true of the whole (the audience). Conversely, if something is true of the whole, that does not mean that it is true of one of its parts. For instance, simply because a piano can play a variety of notes, one key on the piano cannot play all of those notes. 

In Part 23, Aristotle details how to counter an argument of ambiguity or point out a fallacy. He finds that if the sophist uses an ambiguous term, you can solve it by using the opposite term: “e.g. if you find yourself calling something inanimate, despite your previous denial that it was so, show in what sense it is alive.” Aristotle then transitions in Part 24 to another fallacy, or an argument that “depends on accident”. These arguments may be valid, but they are not sound. In this instance, an exception to the rule may be ignored. An example might be the argument that (P1) Birds can fly (P2) Carl the penguin is a bird (C) Therefore, Carl can fly. While the premise that “birds can fly” is a rule of thumb, there are obvious exceptions to the rule. Penguins cannot fly, so this argument ignores the exception to the rule. Additionally, one cannot use the exception to the rule to argue that it applies to the whole. 

Aristotle continues that while an argument may contain premises that follow logically, sometimes a conclusion may be reached that does not follow from the given premises. In this case, the argument cannot be valid because the conclusion is not relevant to the argument presented in the first place. These arguments fail to address the question being asked. Eg. if someone asks, “Are non-citizens allowed to vote?” The response “Non-citizens should be allowed to vote,” does not answer the question being posed. 

In Part 27, Aristotle discusses the problem of “begging and assuming the original point to be proved” or begging the question. In this instance, the conclusion to an argument is simply assumed to be true, and it is not supported by any independent premises. This error leads to a type of circular reasoning where there is no real support of the conclusion. An example of this

type of argument would be “Smoking a Juul can kill you because Juuls are deadly.” In this instance the conclusion is assumed to be true, and the premise is simply another way of writing the conclusion. Part 28 outlines the argument for affirming a conclusion through the consequent. In this instance, simply because one argument is valid, that does not mean that the converse of that argument is valid. The argument “There was a storm over the baseball field, therefore the game got cancelled,” is deductively sound, but the converse “The game got cancelled, therefore there was a storm,” would not be. After all, the game could have gotten cancelled for reasons other than a storm. In some arguments, the negation of the antecedent and the consequent would not necessarily be sound either: if one were to say “If Jim lives in a dorm, therefore he lives within walking distance to class.” We could not change this to say “If Jim doesn’t live in a dorm, therefore he doesn’t live within walking distance to class.” After all, Jim could still live in an off campus apartment that is within walking distance. 

 Finally, Aristotle points out that while it may not always be illegal in arguments, one way that individuals will often manipulate an argument is through asking several questions at once, or complex questions. One could possibly propose one question that has many presuppositions within it. For example the question: “How many children does bigfoot have?” supposes that bigfoot exists and that he has children. Complex questions can be difficult to argue against, because one may have to pick apart each one of its presuppositions before answering it. 

Aristotle concludes that an understanding of the fallacies that he provides would be useful if your opponent commits one in a debate. The best way to combat these fallacies of logic is to point them out and make your opponent recognize the paradoxes that their argument creates. Aristotle then takes aim at how the art of argument has been taught in the past, and finds that the best way to move forward is through logic. 

Aristotle’s Sophistical Refutations is a work that is essential to grasp in the realm of philosophy. The principles of sound logic can be applied to arguments on almost any subject. This work was pivotal in setting the groundwork for the future study of logic, and many of the fallacies that Aristotle points out are rules of modern propositional logic. In the context of this course, it gives us a better framework for understanding the structure of arguments in the authors that we address and provides a knowledge of how to refute arguments that fall short of logical reasoning. Through recognition of different kinds of arguments, and an understanding of deductive principles outlined by Aristotle, one may see arguments more like a math problem that can be picked apart and refuted based on its illogical structure.

Written by Katie Leeper, Peytyn Lofland & Sam Kemp 

Katie Leeper is a senior at Virginia Tech double majoring in Political Science and Multimedia Journalism. She hopes to work as a political commentator one day. 

Peytyn Lofland is a junior at Virginia Tech majoring in Political Science with a concentration in National Security. She hopes to either work for a federal agency in data analytics or to pursue a degree in law following graduation at Tech. 

Sam Kemp is a Junior at Virginia Tech double majoring in PPE and Political Science. He hopes to live abroad and work as an environmental lawyer in the future.

Aristotle: Revolution and Political Decay

Authors: Emily Rodriguez, Genovi Rattan-Jones, Matt Saville, Morgan Salvato

Book V

Prepare yourself readers, we are going to learn about revolutions and how to prevent them in Book V of Politics by Aristotle.

Aristotle examines the imperfect aspects of government within democracy and oligarchy and discusses their instability. Oligarchs stem from unequal societies who believe that the few are fit to rule over the majority. Democracies stem from believing that everyone is equal. Aristotle believes that oligarchies and democracies are imperfect because both can be corrupted by its leaders. This corruption would then lead to a revolution in order to bring change. The revolution starts “whenever their (parties) share in the government does not accord with their preconceived ideas, stir up revolution”. If there is disagreement within a government, then there will be people who want to change things to suit their own needs. Aristotle states that there are two ways change can happen in a government. One way is changing the constitution (government) into another form, such as democracy to oligarchy. The other way is not affecting the constitution but changing parts of it or the rulers. So, one way is starting from scratch while the other is fixing what is broken with the system. Aristotle believed equality is made up of two parts, numerical and proportional. Numerical equality looks at the equality in number or size whereas, proportional equality is the equality of ratios. Democracy is safer and less prone to revolutions than an oligarchy. Aristotle explains this by saying “A government which is composed of the middle class more nearly approximates to democracy than to oligarchy, and is the safest of the imperfect forms of government”. Aristotle believes a democracy is better than an  

oligarchy. People will not rebel if they feel that they are equal in a society or state. When there is less chance of a revolution occurring, the government system is secured, and the citizens are content with their lives.

People can start revolutions for a multitude of reasons. These include disagreements of profit and honor, insolence, fear, excessive predominance, contempt, or if there is a disproportionate increase in some part of the state. When corrupt and greedy politicians go against the constitution, they do so at the expense of the people. Instead of helping the people, the politicians are only helping themselves. History has shown, time and time again, people react negatively when politicians are only interested in helping themselves. “Revolutions also break out when opposite parties, e.g., the rich and the people, are equally balanced, and there is little or no middle class; for, if either party were manifestly superior, the other would not risk an attack upon them”. This is odd because one would think that if everyone was equal, then there would be no conflict. This is not the case.

Democracies can have revolutions due to incompetent rulers. This would lead to the nobles or the masses to overthrow the leaders. If the leader in a democracy was a general, the government would then turn into a tyrannical government. In oligarchies, revolutions can occur due to oppressing the people or when there is a personal rivalry between the oligarchs. This is expected because even among the rich, the greedy will still try to have the most among each other. Revolutions in aristocracies occur similarly to oligarchies where only a few share in the honors of the state. The majority of people believe that they are as good as their rulers. Deviating from justice also aids in starting a revolution.

Aristotle then explains how to preserve the constitution and stop revolutions, as this will

stop the people from gathering with pitchforks and torches. If we know what causes the revolution, then we know what can stop them. as Aristotle says, “Opposites produce opposites, and destruction is the opposite of preservation”. Instead of being a corrupt leader, be a good leader. Instead of favoring one group, treat every group in the state equally. Obedience to the law is important, especially with the small matters. Take care of the little things, and the big things will take care of themselves. The state should guard against the beginning of change. Another important tool is shortening the terms of offices in order to prevent families from running them and decrease the chance of tyranny. Finally, politicians cannot make money while in office. This is really important. People will be very ticked off if they find out that politicians are stealing public money.

Qualifications to hold office are necessary. These are loyalty to the constitution, greatest administrative capacity, and virtue and kindness appropriate to the kind of government. It is important to teach these qualifications to children, as well as education of the government in general, in order to instill in them the tendency to follow laws and then be less likely to revolt. Aristotle also critiques the extreme form of democracy’s definition of freedom which conflicts with the interests of the state. He states, “men should not think it slavery to live according to the rule of the constitution; for it is their salvation”. True democracy is unjust because what one thinks is good for him may not be good for the state or other citizens. There needs to be structure and compromises in order for a government to last.

In monarchies the royal rule is aristocracy, whereas tyranny is oligarchy and democracy in their most extreme forms. A tyrant seeks out his own pleasures while a king seeks noble goals. Monarchies are usually overthrown by disgraceful behavior, fear, contempt, ambition, and desire for profit. A monarchy could also be destroyed from the outside by a superior regime or from the  

inside when the rulers are in conflict. Kings are appointed from the wealthy class due to their own or their family’s excellence in virtue. A tyrant is elected in order to protect the people from the nobles and prevent the people from being injured. Kings should not say that they are kings for a non-noble reason, such as King Arthur from the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In the movie, King Arthur explains that he was chosen to be king of Britain by receiving Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake. This is a comedy movie, but it showcases how incompetent King Arthur is as a monarch. A monarch should be king for being virtuous and upholding the rule of law, not because he was given a magic sword.

A peasant’s response was the reaction any sane person would have.

In order for a monarchy to be preserved, the ruler’s authority needs to be limited. For a tyrannical monarchy; potential rivals must be eliminated. The tyrant should be awed but not feared and must also not sleep with a lot of women or consume too much alcohol. Paying attention to the gods and honoring good citizens are also requirements. In order to prevent a revolution in a monarchy, a king must be respectful and treat his citizens equally.

King Arthur from Monty Python and the Holy Grail is an example of what not to do as a king.

Book VI

In Book VI, Aristotle clearly presents his critique on both democracy and oligarchy. He believes there is a contradiction between true freedom and the freedom represented in democracy. His issue with this is not with the freedom of the individual, but that there are two

translations one could take away from this concept of liberty. If liberty means anyone can do whatever they want to pursue their own happiness, this may interfere with another’s happiness and quality of life by potentially creating hostility and chaos through revolution in the city. Conversely, liberty can mean for all to rule and be ruled. By that standard, this means every individual is equal; something Aristotle was not ashamed to disagree with. The threat of equality in Aristotle’s eyes was that it meant that the poor would be better represented in a democracy than the rich because they are more in number. He did not like the idea that justice was in the hands of the majority over other, more qualified individuals.

Democracy is not completely wrong, it’s just not quite right.

On the other hand, Aristotle did not think the privileged alone should judge, as in an oligarchy, because that too was an injustice for the city. He believed that there needed to be a healthy dose of both democracy and oligarchy. The ideal government resembled a community of pastoral people, with a wealthy ruling class holding political office. The farmers and herdsmen should be able to select their officials and go about their agricultural business peacefully and mostly uninvolved in politics. Looking at a democracy like Athens in his day, Aristotle detested the fact that any shopkeeper or laborer held equal part in justice and eligibility to run for office. The idea of a pastoral community was ideal for him because this meant there would not be a centralized location everyone would gather and participate in politics as there was in a big city-state democracy like Athens. Not everyone was qualified to participate in government.

Aristotle did not think that the wealthy rulers should be inconsiderate with the poor, but rather establish and maintain a relationship of admiration and trust between the two. He

encouraged the wealthy to do charitable acts for the poor to gain admiration. The poor could also hold lower political offices.

Essentially, Aristotle conceived that the wealthy are more capable than the poor to guide a city virtuously into success and happiness. The poor should be generally taken care of and guided by the wealthy to ensure happiness, as it is just for everyone to be able to pursue happiness. He did not like the idea that happiness was determined by anyone who wanted to contribute to politics, but that the state was guided by a wealthy and educated class of individuals to preserve freedom for all; freedom as the right to individual happiness.

Wealthy citizens in Aristotle’s ideal city to the poor (probably).

Book VII

In Book VII of Politics, Aristotle speaks on how to live a virtuous life, how to rule a city, and how to train reason and habit in citizens.

Beginning with Part I, Aristotle dives into the concept of three classes of goods that one needs to live a happy life; external goods, goods of the body, and goods of the soul. He states that external goods do not cause all happiness, and are limited. While these goods are limited, they are still vital for people to be able to live a happy life. Aristotle describes a life of happiness as one of virtue and wisdom, in which the participant is driven by virtuous and wise action, “the best life is that of virtue, when virtue has external goods enough for the performance of good actions” (Book VII).

“Happy” by Pharrell Williams

Part II begins with asking the question, “is the happiness of the individual the same as that of the state?”. Aristotle finds these two concepts to be the same; “For those who hold that the well-being of the individual consists in his wealth, also think that riches make the happiness of the whole state, and those who value most highly the life of a tyrant deem that city the happiest which rules over the greatest number; while they who approve an individual for his virtue say that the more virtuous a city is, the happier it is”. He believes that the government functions at its best when man can act virtuously and happily.

Part III speaks on the specifics of practicing a life of virtue. Aristotle argues that some think that the life of a freeman and a statesman differ, and that the life of a freeman is the ‘best of all’. He also claims that some believe that the life of a statesman is the best, but argues that “the actions of a ruler cannot really be honorable, unless he is as much superior to other men as a husband is to a wife, or a father to his children, or a master to his slave” (Book VII). The life of true virtue is that of the active life, and if “happiness is assumed to be virtuous activity, the active life will be the best, both for every city collectively, and for individuals” (Book VII). This aligns with the concept of utilitarianism, in which actions are deemed right if they benefit the majority; this is taught to Eleanor in The Good Place. Jason, the loveable idiot, was the one that explained it perfectly. Jason talked about how his friend Donkey Doug was going to get married and move away with a woman so Jason and his dance crew framed the woman for theft in order for Donkey Doug to not leave the dance crew. Donkey Doug was their best dancer which meant if he stayed, everyone would be happy.

Here is Chidi teaching Eleanor. Insert picture 6

In Part IV-VI, he begins to delve into his arguments on how to properly run a city, and the conditions of such. Aristotle states that the conditions of a perfect state are having a certain number and character of citizens, that size and character of the country must be decided, and the amount of needs are supplied properly to sustain life. In the military aspect; a state must have military authorities, be difficult for enemies to access but easy for inhabitants to, easily seen in order to be easily protected, situated between the land and sea, and placed upon good soil. He believes that a city and territory should be connected to the sea to properly defend themselves and also trade.

Parts VII, VIII, IX and X speak on the character of the citizens of the city; and that ideally they should have spirit, intelligence, skill and be inventive. There must be; food, arts, and arms in a city, revenue for internal and external needs, care of religion, and power to decide what is in the public interest. Aristotle finds that the citizens must be involved in politics in some shape or form; “in the state which is best governed and possesses men who are just absolutely, and not merely relatively to the principle of the constitution, the citizens must not lead the life of mechanics or tradesmen, for such a life is ignoble, and inimical to virtue. Neither must they be husbandmen, since leisure is necessary both for the development of virtue and the performance of political duties” (Book VII). Citizens will also be divided into warriors and councilors, and these classes are made to be separated.

Part XI-XII speaks on the layout of the city in a physical sense. It will be open to both the land and sea, and to the whole country as far as possible. The city must lie to the east, while also sheltered from the north wind. There must be an abundance of springs and fountains in the city to provide for the citizens. The city is recommended to be laid in squares, in a grid-like layout, with private houses. The walls are to be divided by guardhouses and towers. The young will fight and  

the old shall remain in magistrates.

Parts XIII-XV focus on the manner of the citizens in the city. Aristotle states that, “there are three things which make men good and virtuous; these are nature, habit, rational principle” (Book VII). Qualities of man are altered by habit, and their biological qualities can be turned by habit to be either good or bad. Man only, has a rational principle, and must be taught by both habit and instruction. “The soul of man is divided into two parts, one of which has a rational principle in itself, and the other, not having a rational principle in itself, is able to obey such a principle” (Book VII), and principle is also divided into two. “The whole of life is further divided into two parts, business and leisure, war and peace, and of actions some aim at what is necessary and useful, and some at what is honorable” (Book VII). They must exist in both virtues of leisure, and the end of war. Once the necessities of life are supplied, many may live as such.

Parts XVI-XVII then focus on the rearing of children, beginning with marriage. The ages of the parents must be considered, when the child shall succeed the parents, and how the legislator must mold the frames of the child. Aristotle states that “women should marry when they are about eighteen years of age, and men at seven and thirty [37]” (Book VII), which allows for the child to succeed the father early in life. The child’s constitution should be inured to labor, but not exhausted. Deformed children will not be permitted to live. After being born, children are to be reared in order to expand on their bodily strength. As a baby, they will be treated with care, and once hitting at the age of five, are told stories of heroes. He mentions the idea that “There are two periods of life with reference to which education has to be divided, from seven to the age of puberty, and onwards to the age of one and twenty [21]”. The rearing of a child is key in fostering a life in which they can live virtuously and participate properly in their city.

Book VIII

Book VIII serves to discuss the importance of education in the role of the state and personal well-being. Aristotle believes that one’s character is deeply influenced by the educational system in which they grew up. Aristotle stresses that “the legislator should direct his attention above all to the education of youth” which shows the significant impact education has on the city’s youth. Since an individual should not be concerned with their own distresses but rather the states, they must be educated in a public manner. There exists only a singular end for the city as a whole, which is prosperity, that all citizens must strive for. Aristotle then focuses on the different aspects of knowledge. Youths shall not concern themselves with learning skills meant to serve others. Instead, one should learn enough to satisfy their mind and no more.

Education should be public so that each citizen is receiving the same teachings, which promotes the city as a whole.

Education can be broken down into four key categories. The first being reading and writing which is “useful for the purposes of life in a variety of ways” and allows other sorts of knowledge to be acquired through them. Gymnastics is the second aspect of learning; however, it is the first to be taught. Aristotle emphasizes that “Men ought not to labor at the same time with their minds and with their bodies […] the labor of the body impedes the mind, and the labor of the mind and body.” Thus, learning how to control your body is essential in learning how to control your mind. It is important to note that there is a physical limit to the pursuit of

gymnastics. Gymnastics must not take precedence over other educational subjects for “Parents who devote their children to gymnastics while they neglect their necessary education, in reality, vulgarize them”. However, courage, a valuable emotion, is brought about when educated in gymnastics. The third branch of education is music, which is important in the restful aspects of life. Drawing is the fourth and final branch that provides utility in having the capability to form “a more correct judgment of the works of artists”. Education of useful and necessary aspects of life provides the citizen the ability to manage the household, make money, acquire knowledge, and participate in political life. Whereas reading, writing, and drawing provide clear connections for success, music deals with intellectual enjoyment in leisure.

Music, the third branch of education, is contentious because there is a strict line between educating yourself and pleasing the masses. The main consideration is leisure and Aristotle believes that “we should be able, not only to work well but to use leisure well.” Leisure itself provides pleasure and enjoyment of life which are not experienced by the lower classes but rather by those who have leisure. Music became a part of Aristotle’s ideal educational dimensions not because of its utility or necessity but for “intellectual enjoyment in leisure”. “Innocent pleasures are not only in harmony with the perfect end of life, but they also provide relaxation”. Rhythm and melody have a character of rest, motion, and emotional ties. Understanding harmony in music helps young citizens recognize and strive for harmony in their souls. Music has the power to form character and therefore, children should be taught music but “only until they are able to feel delight in noble melodies and rhythms, and not merely in that common part of music in which every slave or child and even some animals find pleasure.” Aristotle omits instruments that require great skill, like the flute or harp, from education because they are “intended only to give pleasure to the hearer, and require extraordinary skill of hand.”

This distinction ties back to the idea that youths must not concern themselves with skills meant to serve others. Music shall not be pursued as a profession because professional musicians must play a “lower sort of music before an audience of a lower type” because music corresponds with the minds of the audience. Aristotle believes that if one is of a lower class and not a freeman, they will not understand the melodies that the freeman will understand. Since a performer must adapt music to the audience, they are studying a skill only to be used to please others and therefore the performer is unable to be an end in himself. Aristotle believes leisure provides relief and provides a way that a life of good quality can be obtained.

As men begin to grow old, Aristotle believes they should practice the gentler modes and melodies which is “suited to children of tender age, and possesses the elements both of order and of education”. Therefore, Aristotle concludes, “it is clear that education should be based upon three principles- the mean, the possible, and the becoming.” to provide an ideal system of education of the youth. A system that combines teaching what is useful, teaching moral goodness, and teaching pure knowledge for its own sake helps create a well-educated and virtuous citizen. This citizen will also, in turn, contribute to the overall goal of the prosperity of the city as a whole.

Society and the Environment

Society and the Environment

How have our perceptions of the environment evolved over time?

When we think of primal societies, we think of people who relied on their immediate environment for daily survival for fruits and berries, caves for shelter, and a reverence for the forces of nature. Paradigmatically, when we look at the current state of society, what we see is a species that is still reliant on its environment and yet insists on continuing practices that degrade it. What we see is a species that has so drastically altered its environment that it has become a threat to all other species on the planet. What we see is a species that continues to rely on fossil fuels despite the knowledge of its effects on the atmosphere, to build dams and highways and fisheries even if that means a death sentence for migratory fish and wildlife, a tendency that Joseph Schumpeter terms ‘creative destruction’ (Luke*, 801).

Conservation ideologies and movements have been on the rise for the past few decades as a result of the growing realization that Earth’s resources are not as abundant and limitless as they once seemed. However, the roots of this desire for conservation vastly stem from anthropocentric utility and consumerism whereby a resource thought to be of greater economic importance is said to have a greater intrinsic value. 

In order to truly move away from our exploitation of nature instead of placing temporary bandages on our ecological problems, there needs to be a radical shift in how we think of ecology itself from a shallow perspective that views humans as separate from nature and as the ‘crown of creation’ towards a deeper ecological understanding that recognizes the intrinsic value and right of all things to live and blossom regardless of their value to humans, based on the foundations of earth wisdom and ecological consciousness (Luke, 866). This is quite a challenge given the human desire to dominate and control nature and all her aspects, but self-realization and biocentric equality, as described by Devall and Sessions, are the keys to achieving a sense of deep ecology (Luke, 884). For this reason, the theory of technonaturalization can be applicable to how society may interact with the environment going forward. “Technonaturalization displays the construction of synthetic ecosystems related to the reproduction of machines and capital by showing how the organic becomes enrolled in civilizational life-support networks that partially form the global environment” (Stubberfield, 1). The human desire to dominate and control nature is once again exhibited here in order to manage the environment. 

The process of creating, administering, and governing these synthetic environments are ways for humans to be able to achieve the sense of self-realization, which is not only learning the fact or truth about something but also applying this knowledge in a substantive form. This does not simply deal with the minutiae of everyday life, but it also applies to a larger scale to maintain the environment “populated and supported by humans, machines, and capital” (Stubberfield, 2). CAP is a demonstration of Watts and Peluso’s description of resource complexes in regards to the Greater Sage-grouse. CAP works to ‘foster’ the safety of the Sage Grouse population, yet in doing so thwarts this very goal by valuing economic growth over biodiversity.  This example illustrates how economic and political goals are deeply intertwined in environmental endeavors.  These ulterior motives assess endangered species with little importance in comparison to human political desires.  

The problem with dealing with territories is that if a species is listed as endangered, then there would be the need for strict policing across a certain part of that state’s territory, which was the case in the situation of the grouse. This would also be a threat to the state’s economy, and for this reason, “the Wyoming CAP is theorized as a necessary evolution in wildlife management technology”, and also “provided the regulatory and technological bedrock for establishing the Wyoming Conservation Exchange” (Stubberfield, 2), which is “concerned with producing workforces of private landowners by financially framing relationships to territory and sage-grouse populations by turning representations of sage-grouse habitat into economic incentives” (Stubberfield, 3). The problem with this is that like many other technologically based approaches to nature’s conservation, it depends on the continued destruction and disturbance of the natural environment to remain economically viable. Because of this, the focus has shifted and once again it has become a challenge for humans to let go of their own desire to dominate and control nature.

Not only do we see how the human species attempts to dominate nature in Stubberfield’s research on the Sage Grouse, but we also see this exemplified throughout Death’s Chapter 19 ‘Resource Violence’ in which Michael Watts and Nancy Peluso illustrate how governments reify nature as an object of government ownership as exemplified by the economic and political ventures in the Indonesian forests and the Niger Delta Oil Fields. Stubberfield’s research detailing the relationship between the CAP and the Sage-grouse population is a manifestation of Watts and Peluso’s resource complex.  We reify nature to support greater political-economic desires rather than the immediate habitat itself. 

The environment is viewed as an object of ownership and power that serves as a means to an end rather than an end itself.  Because humans view the environment as a realm to be dominated, specific territories or resources such as the Indonesian forests become symbols of national identity and the state.  Subsequently, these locations become domains of state power with armed forces protecting the so-called nationalized space.  

This heavy occupation of land exemplifies land commodification.  Watts and Peluso have deemed this commodification and land management the ‘Resource Complex’ (Watts & Peluso, 194).  As these two authors have defined the term, the resource complex discovers how relations among resource access, management, violence, finance, and democracy function and stabilize.  This complex is widely shaped by neoliberalism, state power, and capitalism (Watts & Peluso, 196).  

Each of this week’s readings compliment one another and culminate into a larger discussion regarding how humans parasitically commodify and reify the environment and its resources.  In doing so, humans have come to value political dominance, economic surplus, and capitalistic ventures over ecodiversity, human safety, and conservation.  Unfortunately, as Luke described, we do not foresee an end in sight especially since the conversation and responsibility has shifted from that of unified government actions to that of individual, morally conscious acts that will attempt to shape humanity.  Very obviously, we lack any form of a suitable transition period.  

https://corescholar.libraries.wright.edu/neoliberalism_seminar/2013/April5/1/

*Luke citations based on e-copy of Anthropocene Alerts

Bios:

Carey Oakes

Carey Oakes is a senior studying International Relations and German.  Her grandfather worked on Capitol Hill as Director of Public Policy for the NRPA and laid the groundwork for her interest in politics and its relationship with the environment.  She currently writes for Remake, a website that discusses the environmental plights of the fashion industry.  

Karan Mirpuri

Karan Mirpuri is a senior studying Political Science with a concentration in Law. He was raised in NOVA, and has started developing more of an interest in nature after taking some classes at Virginia Tech that have to deal with the environment and the issues that it faces.

Reganne Milano

Reganne Milano is a Junior studying International Public Policy. She is also getting a degree in Multimedia Journalism with a minor in Spanish. Her interest in international government sparked from growing up in the D.C. area where she became aware of the overlap between international politics and the environment in highschool. Reganne is currently the SRA for Newman at Virginia Tech and enjoys hiking, watering her many, many plants, and editing for Silhouette. 

Urvi Patel Urvi Patel is a Junior majoring in Environmental Policy and Planning. She was born in India and raised in Uganda and therefore has firsthand experience with developmental challenges in ‘third-world’ countries which is what sparked her interest in political advocacy and environmental justice. Urvi is currently an Economics Tutor with the Student Success Center and enjoys hiking, cooking, and hanging out with her cat.

“Natural Space” as Social Technology

Who is Edward Abbey and why does he matter? 

In Chapter 8: “A Harsh and Hostile Land: Edward Abbey’s Politics and the Great American Desert”, Luke dives into the life of Edward Abbey and his influence on American Environmentalism. Abbey was the author of many books inspired by the environment, specifically the desert in the Southwest of the United States. In his books, both fiction and non-fiction, Abbey utilized an aesthetic vision of the desert, describing the raw beauty of the wilderness he found there when he traveled West from his home in Pennsylvania. His works are of great popularity, and his descriptions of the desert have motivated many to join environmental causes such as the Earth Liberation Front, amongst others. He has also inspired much contemporary American environmental thought, although many misinterpret who Abbey was and what, exactly, he was writing. He is often mistaken as an antimodernist, but in reality, he was more of an altermodernist who seeks the improvement of modernity through the improvement of humanity. 

Abbey was an anarchist who found solace in the nothingness of the desert, where there was nothing but himself and the open wilderness. This is what inspired one of his most popular novels, Desert Solitaire, an autobiographical account of his time in the Moab, Utah as a park ranger. For most of his life, Abbey was not a resident of the desert, and still had ties to industrial culture. However, he got to experience desert life later on in his life. In spite of his ties to the environment and the fact that many of his cult followers consider him to be so, Abbey did not consider himself an environmentalist. Instead, he considered himself to be a humanist, and let his opinions and critiques on human behavior peek through his descriptions of nature.

In the next section of the chapter, Luke explores the concept of space and how it relates to Abbey and the desert. He argues that space should not be accepted as an eternal unknown that is separate from human action but rather an important part of it. Humans shape space, and space shapes humans. In this way, space is social. There is no true, authentic space, only spaces that have been developed. Therefore, there is no such thing as an untouched wilderness because the effects of human behavior can be seen everywhere. The importance of space in environmentality is made clear when Luke states, “To focus on the environment…is to preoccupy oneself with the specific spaces and all the particular aspects..associated with their social practices” (Luke 165). He also discusses how there exists an indistinguishability between mental space and physical space. Space is also political, as individuals are expected to perform in specific ways and to have a level of competence in a social space. Abbey got political in his writings, although they may be hidden to some who read his books. He warned of destruction of the environment through urban revolution, but his writing has two meanings. Although he writes of the wilderness at the end of the road, he is critiquing what lies at the beginning: urbanization and industrialization. He celebrates the absolute space of the desert; a timeless essential organic being. To Abbey, the desert is where lived, perceived, and conceived come together within a spatial practice (Luke 172). 

In the following section of the chapter, Luke turns a focus towards politics, ethics, and aesthetics. Abbey had an impact on politics, even if that wasn’t his attempted result from writing. Such impacts included inspiring “eco-terrorists”, individuals fueled by fierce desire to protect the environment that commit crimes for the sake of combatting urban development. The government has flagged such individuals as highly dangerous terrorists that seek to harm the “American way

of life”: industrial tourism and suburbia. Abbey also had a theoretical political impact through his contrasting of rural vs. industrial spaces. He emphasized that his work is not a celebration of the environment but a warning about it, and a critique of the tragedies occurring to the American wilderness. Abbey found meaning in the untouched wilderness, which is clear when he stated, “I come more and more to the conclusion that wilderness in America or anywhere else, is the only thing left that is worth saving” (Luke 176). He stressed that his love for the wilderness stems from his humanist views and not from an environmentalist or naturalist standpoint, as he believes that nature is a necessary escape from the stresses of human life and the test against death in the desert is one of the most noble tests of all. 

A point that Luke emphasized in this chapter was that Abbey was not the environmental hero that many make him out to be. In fact, the liberal environmentalists that embrace him to this day would not have actually liked him if he was still alive. He didn’t care for feminism, gun control, Mexicans, or academia; he was not a great person. He simply was a man who wrote books about the desert. He rooted his views of liberty with the wilderness and the desert because of his anarchist views – there was no greater liberty than that of the wild. New nature writers fail to capture the political observations that Abbey did because they are the naturalists that he was not. Abbey recognized the ties between industry and the control of humanity, which is clear when Luke states “Industrial products, industrial processes, and industrial production, he realizes, form a complex system of conducting conduct by managing fear, insecurity, and desire” (Luke 183). In order to combat the American economic and political order that controls industrialization, Abbey made a call for monkeywrenching, or nonviolent disobedience, as an ecodefense.

I have attached three links: each correspond to parts of an interview done with Edward Abbey on PBS in 1982 called Abbey’s Road. He describes his views on himself, his works, and the environment. Getting to hear his perspective from the man himself is very interesting.

Abbey’s Road – Part 1
Abbey’s Road – Part 2
Abbey’s Road – Part 3

Nature Writing as Self-Technology 

This section of the blog post is focused on the Darier reading “Nature Writing as Self-Technology”. Connecting to the theme of this week’s readings, this particular reading focuses on how humans impact nature in varieties of ways. The reading focuses on the abnormalities that technology, within ourselves, poses on our bodies as well as the environment as a whole. There are many ideas brought up about whether these emotions and feelings are sinful towards the environment. 

What is the “wilderness retreat” concept and why is it important? 

Liberation of modern day luxuries. According to William Cronon, “…we are not subjects of modern culture”. Because we are not formed to be accepting of the modern way of living, we are expected to desire to be in touch with nature (Darier 172). Foulcalt says that the “wilderness is a place free from man’s schemes of mastery, a place where nature is following its own will”

(Darier 176). With today’s modern society, people are constantly subjected to unnecessary pressures and expectations. Especially with the use of social media, millennials and other young people are held to tight societal standards. 

Ted Talk Below!: 

I have attached a video about what being in touch with nature can do for a person. The speaker in this video, Lennard Duijvestijn, does a phenomenal job at describing why leaving society (even for a short period of time) is good for everyone. 

What is nature writing? 

Nature writing is a “distinct form of testimony in which the subject bears witness to mutuality between the subject and self-willing nature” (Darier 173) . According to Lawrence Buell, nature writing is considered to be “nature’s genre”. In this case, the term ‘nature’ refers to the environment outside of modern culture. Many people, including the above mentioned Edward Abbey, may believe that because the world has physically been touched by humans everywhere, there is no more “true nature” left. I would disagree with this because even though there are virtually no places left untouched, the feeling of being in an untouched environment is still prevalent anytime you go out in nature. When you leave the hustle and bustle of suburban life, you “become a true subject of nature’s will” (Darier 174). The biggest misinterpretation of nature writing is the way nature is perceived. Foulcault believes nature is a mental escape, whereas Rawlings tends to focus on the more wild side of nature (absence of material structures).

What is posthumanism? 

All of this week’s readings have required contemplation of the human relationship with nature and their environment, a core aspect of posthumanist thought. There is not one widely accepted definition of posthumanism, in fact, some critical thinkers like John Cairns use the term posthumanism in a literal sense meaning after humans (Death 177). This interpretation is far from the most popular, and for that reason we will focus on posthumanism as it relates to the relationship between humans and the non-human. Posthumanism “[challenges] the notion of human exceptionalism” (Death 175) and anthropocentrism. Posthumanism veers from the beliefs of many religions that humans are in some way “special or chosen species” and towards the idea that humans have moral responsibility not only to other humans, but also across species barriers. 

I’ve linked a video to a song by cyberpunk artist Grimes titled, “Be a Body”. Cyberpunk is a genre commonly known for its post-human themes. Grimes takes a different approach of exploring posthumanism by contemplating what it means to be human in many of her songs. Her view on posthumanism is heavily shaped by the idea of technology isolating us from our bodies and human nature. See if you can pick up any parallels between this song and some of Darier’s points about escaping technology and getting back to nature. All and all an interesting perspective coming from the partner of AI guru, Elon Musk! 

What is complexity theory and how does it relate to posthumanism?

 When I first read the words “complexity theory” I was immediately disheartened by the positioning of “complex” and “theory” together in a sentence. Complexity theory is not, however, quite as daunting as it seems. The essence of complexity thinking is that systems are both open and interconnected. This idea lays the framework for the posthumanist approach focused on in the Death reading. It serves as a counter argument to humanocentric views “by stressing the interconnected and overlapping character of human and non-human systems.” (Death 180) The idea that nothing occurs in isolation is a central concept of complexity thinking. 

Contemplating posthumanism through complexity thinking effectively opens up a conversation between posthumanism and critical environmental politics. Breaking through the species barrier and thinking of actions within human systems as interconnected with all other natural systems could lead to breakthroughs on how all decisions are made. Posthumanist thought brings humans closer to living “‘of nature’ rather than ‘in nature’.”(Death 175) 

Complexity theory relates closely with Abbey and Darier’s rejection of the existence of “untouched nature”. Seeing the first two authors grapple with the human experience allows Death’s insights on posthumanism to bring all three readings from this week full circle. Perspectives on nature, or more specifically, how we write about nature has a monumental role in shaping how humans interact with nature.

Authors: 

Cricket Spillane 

Christa “Cricket” Spillane is a senior from Middleburg, Virginia studying International Relations with minors in Peace Studies and Violence Prevention, Leadership and Social Change, and Spanish. Her interests lie in the realm of human rights, most specifically gender equity, gun control, and the fight against human trafficking. When she’s not busy running Campus Cookies in Blacksburg, you can find her with her pets streaming video games on Twitch. 

Regan Westwood 

Regan Westwood is a senior studying Environmental Policy and Planning, and Smart and Sustainable Cities from Potomac, MD. She is also a first year student in the accelerated Masters in Urban and Regional Planning program. Her academic interests include urban agriculture, environmental justice, and stormwater management. Most of her free time is consumed by her position as a captain of the Virginia Tech Diving Team, but when she is throwing herself off of a 10 meter platform you can find her biking or reading. 

Spencer Tuttle 

Hi Hokies! My name is Spencer Tuttle; I am a sophomore majoring in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics X Public Health, minoring in Ecological Cities. I am from Staunton, Virginia. In high school, I was on the cross country, indoor/outdoor track, swim, and soccer teams. I am currently on the VT Women’s Rowing Team, so you can find me on Claytor Lake any day of the week! When I’m not rowing at Claytor, I am most likely kayaking at Claytor (my kayak is red and

named Ruby). My favorite part about being a Hokie, aside from living in the New River Valley, is that VT fosters a community that has something for everyone. 

References 

Bowerbank, S. (1999). “Nature as Self-Technology.” In Darier, Eric ed. Discourses of the

 Environment. Blackwell Publishers. 

Stephen Hobden. “Posthumanism” Chap. 18 in Death, Carl ed. Critical Environmental Politics. New York: Routledge Press, 2013. 

Luke, Timothy W. “Chapter 8: A Harsh and Hostile Land: Edward Abbey’s Politics and the Great American Desert.” Anthropocene Alerts Critical Theory of the Contemporary as Ecocritique. Candor: Telos, 2020. Print.

The State, Communities, and the Family

Aristotle: The Politics “Books I-IV”

Book I

Aristotle was a philosopher in Ancient Greece that studied under another famous philosopher that you may have heard of, Plato. Aristotle wrote Politics in 350 B.C.E to cover the role that politics plays in society and how the political community can help fulfill the life of a citizen, hoping to steer people away from lives of barbarism and isolation.

Book I begins with Aristotle explaining that every state is a community that has been established in order to achieve what they believe to be good. Within these communities exists those who hold power, such as statesmen, kings, householders, and masters, who each have rule over others. “For example, the ruler over a few is called a master; over more, the manager of a household; over a still larger number, a statesman or king, as if there were no difference between a great household and a small state” (Politics, Book 1). 

Since the family is created by nature to supply for everyday wants, several families who unite together in order to aim at something more than these everyday needs creates the first society, a village. Aristotle then describes the most natural form of a village, a group entirely of family filled with children and grandchildren, which is why some states were successfully ruled by kings who were elders of the family. After several villages are formed and are each self-sufficient and prosperous, a state is formed, helping to continue the creation of the bare necessities and the pursuance of what is good. 

Aristotle uses this logic to say that the state is a creation of nature, making man a political animal. Those without a state are “a bad man or above humanity; he is like the ‘Tribeless, lawless, hearthless one,’ whom Homer denounces- the natural outcast is forthwith a lover of war; he may be compared to an isolated piece at draughts.” Aristotle elaborates on man being naturally political when he states that man is the only being that has been gifted with speech, as he is able to decide what is just and what is unjust, along with being the only one who has a sense of good and evil. 

Above, country music artist Willie Nelson uses his talents and gift of speech to urge other members of the state to engage in political participation.

Aristotle claims that the state is prior to the individual, since “the individual, when isolated, is not self-sufficing; and therefore he is like a part in relation to the whole. But he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god: he is no part of a state.” Aristotle seems to appreciate the state for providing a means of preventing barbarism and establishing order amongst individuals. According to him, if you do not align with the state or are somehow self-sufficient, you are either other worldly, or a savage. This shows us some of his personal beliefs as well, as most of this text is reflective of what we now call communitarianism, which highlights the importance of the individual and the importance of families within society. 

TV series Rick and Morty displays how those without a state or state stability are barbaric.

In the next section, Aristotle describes the multiple relationships within the household, including master-slave, husband-wife, and father-child. He then describes the relationship between master and slave to be natural, stating that some are born to rule and others are meant to be ruled. The relationship between a master and a slave is compared to the soul and the body, with the soul/master being the rational and commanding and the body/slave being only capable of unskilled duties. Aristotle views slaves as the way that households and property owners achieve their means of living, but he does not believe that all forms of it are just. Those that are enslaved through war and those who are not not slaves by nature are not meant to be enslaved. This gives us a glimpse of what Aristotle thought about the rights of all people, since he thinks that there are tiers to society and that not everyone is born into the same rights and privileges as others. Some parties feel that the rule of a master over a slave is contrary to nature, since the difference between who is a slave and who is free is determined by law, not by nature. Thus, slavery is unjust because of its interference with nature. 

With the relationship between husband-wife and father-child, the husband rules over both despite the wife and child being naturally free, since the husband is “fitter for command than the female, just as the elder and full-grown is superior to the younger and more immature.” Aristotle then states that the rule that a father has over his children is royal, while the rule over a wife is a constitutional way of rule. 

Lastly, Aristotle discusses a different part of the household, acquiring wealth. Different people have different ways of doing so, including farmers, statesmen, soldiers, etc., but there are different types of wealth acquisition. Natural acquisition is the acquiring of basic needs like food, water, shelter, and other things that are required to live and run a household, while unnatural acquisition would be getting wealth for the sake of being wealthy. Aristotle advises against unnatural acquisition, since some are led to believe that getting wealth is the only objective of managing a household.

But It's Honest Work - Meming Wiki

Book II

The purpose that Book II serves is to consider what form of political community is best. Aristotle provides three alternatives that members of a state must have: all things in common, nothing in common, and some things in common and some not. He notes that for individuals of a state to have absolutely nothing in common is impossible stating, “for the constitution is a community, and must at any rate have a common place- one city will be in one place, and the citizens are those who share in that one city” (Politics, Book II). He basically states that no matter what, people who share a community will have at least something in common, as you cannot live in the same community without an ounce of unity.

Aristotle takes into account the argument of Socrates that states, “that the greater the unity of the state the better” (Politics, Book II) in order to describe the necessity of the state. Aristotle certainly does not agree with the argument Socrates has put forward in regards to unity, but he analyzes it anyways. Aristotle contemplates the idea of a state and its nature of plurality, noting that it is possible that it could be too unified that it is no longer a state, and begins to show the process of unification by presenting the order it follows: from state, to family (which is perceived to be more unified than the state), to individual. He does warn that it is not the goal to attain such unity as the individual though, as it can serve to ruin the state. He backs this up by arguing that a state is not only made up of so many kinds of men, but of unique, far from similar ones. He further explains this argument by comparing a state filled with similar individuals to a military allegiance. For a military organization, similarity is important as all members of such a group are set on a common goal which is that of mutual protection, but a state does not have just one end goal and it relies on different perspectives in order to advance.

High School Music finale song that emphasizes the importance of togetherness. It shows how things can get done effectively if everyone just works together as one unit.

Defined as what is the salvation of states, Aristotle introduces the principle of compensation. He states that regardless of the equal standards that are set for individuals, this principle must be maintained. This principle focuses on ruling as an order of succession that sees an end goal of everyone having the chance to govern. As it is obvious, not everyone can govern at the same time, so changing who’s in charge must operate on some sort of schedule or designated time in order to keep it equal for everyone. An example provided that illustrates this principle is that of shoemakers and carpenters. Under this plan of governance, the same people will not remain shoemakers and carpenters their entire life, but will instead be given an opportunity to govern and contribute to the state in additional ways. To conclude his premise among this principle, it is stated that regardless of position within a society, all individuals should be treated equally. But, as everyone is given the chance to rule there is going to be variety amongst the different rulers. This is good as similarity is not the goal at hand and Aristotle warns that, “the extreme unification of the state is clearly not good..” (Politics, Book II). There is no self-sufficiency among extreme unification as different perspectives will not be accounted for under such circumstances.

Aristotle further examines the argument Socrates provides about unity in order to examine the role of women, children, and property within the state. Socrates provides another sign of perfect unity here that stems from the fact, “of all men saying ‘mine’ and ‘not mine’ at the same instant of time” (Politics, Book II). Aristotle notes that the word ‘all’ is ambiguous due to the fact that if they follow this sort of perfect unity that Socrates provides, man will claim each person as their own wife or son or each other’s property as their own. Aristotle dismisses Socrates once again by stating that if all individuals call the same thing ‘mine’, there is no real unity at play. Focusing on the idea of human nature, this type of unity will not actually work because if everything is everyone’s to have, the selfish nature of man will override the common good. Aristotle also mentions the idea of increased crime and diminishing affection due to such unity as it serves to decrease the importance of familial bonds and if everyone owns each other, the importance of family will not stop people from committing a crime, nor will it help people mingle amongst each other in hope of creating offspring.

No one:

Socrates:

Circling back to the argument that Socrates gives, Aristotle does agree that unity is key, but he also states that, “Property should be in a certain sense common, but, as a general rule, private…” (Politics, Book II). He also pushes the idea that things can and should be common in a state, but where he differs from Socrates is that complete unity is not the way to go. Private property can spawn common use of property through voluntarily sharing. Other philosophers such as Plato and Phaleas also attempted to resolve the issue of property, but Aristotle is firm with the idea that property can be private, but also have a common use.

Lastly, Aristotle dives into different regimes and how they were carried out. He mentions the attempt of the first non-statesman to envision a government, Hippodamus, who believed the citizens should be divided into three parts (the artisans, husbandmen, and armed defenders of the state) while also dividing the land itself into three parts (sacred, public, and private). Hippodamus also talked of a law that honored individuals who discovered anything that would be of benefit to the state. Aristotle’s issue with what Hippodamus proposed is that dividing citizens is not effective at all and that honoring those who discover useful information that benefits the state is something that, “…cannot safely be enacted by law, for it may encourage informers, and perhaps even lead to political commotions” (Politics, Book II). Aristotle then moves on to the Spartan regime that presents women as owning a large amount of land but comes with its problems, the Cretan regime that is similar but also has its problems, and the Carthaginians that have neither had any rebellions or any tyrannical ruler. Aristotle ends Book II speaking of Solon who is said to have, “…put an end to the exclusiveness of the oligarchy, emancipated the people, established the ancient Athenian democracy, and harmonized the different elements of the state” (Politics, Book II). This is important, as Aristotle states, as what Solon contributed turned into the democracy that has flourished over time.

Book III

Book III of Aristotle’s Politics discusses several very important concepts that relate to the city-state and its citizens.  Firstly, Aristotle dives into the true nature of citizenship and how this plays into how citizenship impacts those living in a city.  By Aristotle’s definition of citizenship, a citizen must meet more requirements than simply being a resident of a city.  In addition to this limitation, an individual living under a democracy must also contribute to the serving of justice and hold public office in order to be granted citizenship as Aristotle defines it.  In his words, “the citizen whom we are seeking to define is a citizen in the strictest sense.”  This definition of citizenship is significant as it allows the reader to be exposed to a concept that heavily intertwines with the Platonic concepts of the state and the impacts of the individual on governance of the state.

The other main concept introduced by Aristotle in Book III of Politics is the six varying forms of governance through constitutions.  Amongst these six forms, three are deemed ‘just’ and three that are unjust. The three unjust forms are related to kingship, aristocracy, and constitutional government. With the kingship, kingship that is meant to fulfill the interests and desires of the king is known as tyranny. Next, an aristocracy that is aimed toward suiting the needs of the wealthy is known as an oligarchy. Finally, a constitutional government that is meant to serve the interest of the poor is known as a democracy.

Book IV

Book 4 begins with the discussion of parts to wholes. In order to understand and discern different constitutions one must first be able to understand them as parts. Now in this context Aristotle does not use the term constitution in the manner that we know it today. He is not talking about “We the People,” instead he is discussing the formation of different forms of governments for a given city-state or state as a whole. His justification of political philosophy sheds insight into his inability to decisively name the ‘best regime’. This may also be because he recognizes that the best regime only exists in theory filled with ideal scenarios. 

Source: https://funnyjunk.com/I+love+this+show/yLfDMlY/

Aristotle proposes 6 questions to be discussed throughout Book 4: [1]What is the best constitution in an ideal situation without obstacles; [2]Which constitution is most appropriate for which states; [3]Which constitution is best given certain assumptions, furthermore a statesman must consider how a constitution will stand once in place and how it will survive; [4]Which constitution is most appropriate for all city-states and not just best but also possible, practical, and attainable; [5] How many kinds of constitutions are there, just as there is not one form of democracy there is not just one form of constitution; [6]Which laws are best and/or appropriate for each type of constitution  because the laws should be made to fit the constitution not the other way around. 

Thus far, three correct forms of constitution have been previously established: Kingship, Aristocracy, and Polity. These are the ideal forms presented, however they each have deviances. From Kingship come tyranny, from aristocracy comes oligarchy, and from polity comes democracy. Aristotle goes on to attempt to rank these constitutions, although presents several different deviations of thought seeming unable to truly rank in a decisive manner. He stated that tyranny is the most bad, oligarchy is slightly less bad, and democracy is the least bad of the three. This preference for referring to the order in terms of “baddness” instead of “betterness” is done to avoid comparing different forms in an unfair manner. These constitutions tend to be established on the virtue that is furnished with resources.

Yet again, Aristotle sets more discussion points on the topic of constitutions: [1] How many varieties of constitutions are there; which he begins to discuss in that there are many types because each city state is made up of many parts. He goes into these parts further by separating the rich from the poor from the middle class. He also states that there are two main types of regimes: Democracy and Oligarchy (note that he excludes kingship/tyranny here). [2] Which kind is most attainable and which is most choiceworthy; [3] How may one go about establishing a given constitution; and finally [4] The ways in which constitutions are destroyed.

Throughout the entirety of this book, Aristotle continues to define differences between the different types of regimes, which allows the reader to fully understand how the similar regimes are in fact different. The cataloging also allows the reader to connect which types of laws follow given regimes. As stated previously the two main types of regimes to be discussed are Oligarchies and Democracies. Oligarchies are regimes in which the wealthy rule. Democracy in its truest form is a regime ruled by the majority, or freemen. The majority in this context tends to be inherently poor, which separates a democracy from an oligarchy. He rules that the best and most attainable regime is polity, the precursor of democracy. Polity in this sense is a mixed regime in that it combines elements of oligarchic laws and democratic laws to create mixed offices by election to transcend divisions of rich and poor. 

In the last several chapters of Book 4, Aristotle focuses on the importance of the “middling element,” which is equivalent to what we know as the middle class. The middle class or middling element are essential to a stable government because the class does not envy the rich or seek power because they are concretely set right in the middle. They do not seek to oppress the poor because they have nothing to gain, so a large middle class is a stabilizing element for a strong government regime. 

Authors:

Kristina Zillic

Kristina Zillic is a junior studying Political Science with a focus in National Security and Foreign Affairs and a minor in German. She is passionate about gender issues and reproductive rights. She hopes to move to Germany soon after graduation to continue her studies and possibly work for the State department making use of her language skills. 

Keyonna Washington

Keyonna Washington is a senior studying Political Science, Criminology, Sociology, and a minor in Peace Studies and Violence Prevention. After school, she hopes to continue on to Law School and obtain a job shortly after.

Peyton Wilmer

Peyton Wilmer is a senior studying Political Science with a concentration on National Security and Foreign Affairs and a minor in War & Society. After school, he hopes to work in security in the federal government or in policy around public education and the environment.

Ashton Williams

Ashton Williams is a senior studying Political Science with a concentration in National Security with a minor in Leadership Studies from the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets and Air Force ROTC. After graduation, he hopes to train and become an RPA (remotely-piloted aircraft) pilot in the Air Force.