Review of Myatt’s ‘Religion, Empathy, and Pathei-Mathos’

David Myatt


A Review of Myatt’s Book ‘Religion, Empathy, and Pathei-Mathos’

In April of 2013, Myatt published Religion, Empathy, and Pathei-Mathos: Essays and Letters Regarding Spirituality, Humility, and A Learning From Grief  [ ISBN 978-1484097984 ] and which work was designed to compliment the collection of his writings about the philosophy of pathei-mathos published in his The Numinous Way of Pathei-Mathos [ ISBN 978-1484096642 ].

While this work is too obscure, too iconoclastic, and too personal, to appeal to a wide audience, it will no doubt be of some interest to those interested in the curious life, and the writings, of David Myatt.

The core, and the most interesting part, of Religion, Empathy, and Pathei-Mathos is the long five part essay Questions of Good, Evil, Honour, and God in which Myatt presents his somewhat iconoclastic understanding of how Christianity, Islam, and the modern State, view and have viewed ‘good and evil’ and how what he terms ‘the culture of pathei-mathos’ has, over centuries, presented an alternative. In presenting his case, he often provides (complete with his own translations) quotations in Ancient Greek and Arabic (and occasionally in Hebrew) as well as detailed footnotes and how he defines certain terms (such as innocence) and all of which, while relevant in an academic text, the general reader (Myatt’s probable audience) may find a distraction from the argument he presents. However, his argument, in a nutshell, is simple and twofold.

Firstly, that the understanding, and the ontology, of revealed religions such as Christianity and Islam – in respect of good and evil – is basically the same as that of the modern State, with such religions and the State making promises that if a person obeys how they define ‘good’ and ‘evil’ (in an abstract way) they may well be rewarded, with – in the case of religions – some afterlife, or – in the case of the State – with ‘life, liberty, and happiness’.

Secondly, that there is an alternative to the understanding of good and evil provided by revealed religions and by the State – and this alternative is what he calls the ‘culture of pathei-mathos ‘, writing that:

“there is in this culture of pathei-mathos a particular ethos: the tone of harmony, ἁρμονίη; of a natural balance, or rather of how certain human actions are hubris – ὕβρις – and not only disrupt this needful harmony but also cause or contribute to suffering. Of the importance, and perhaps the primacy, of human love; of how Eris is the child of Polemos and Hubris, and of how a lovelorn Polemos follows Hubris around, never requited. Of how the truths of religions and spiritual ways are, in their genesis, basically simple, always numinous, and most probably the same: guides to living in such a way that we can rediscover the natural balance, appreciate the numinous, and avoid hubris.

All of which lead to an understanding of (i) how good and bad are not ‘out there’ and cannot be manifest or assumed to be manifest in some form, by some ideation, or in ‘them’ (the others), without causing or contributing to or being the genesis of suffering, but instead are within us as individuals, a part of our nature, our character, our φύσις, and often divergently expressed; and (ii) of how, in my view at least, personal honour and not a codified law, not a jurisprudence, is the best, the most excellent, way to define and manifest this ‘good’, with honour understood, as in my philosophy of pathei-mathos, as an instinct for and an adherence to what is fair, dignified, and valourous. An honourable person is thus someone of manners, fairness, reasoned judgement, and valour; with honour being a means to live, to behave, in order to avoid committing the folly, the error, of ὕβρις; in order try and avoid causing suffering, and in order to rediscover, to acquire, ἁρμονίη, that natural balance that presences the numinous (sans denotatum and sans dogma) and thus reveals what is important about life and about being human.”

Thus, in contrast to revealed religions and the State, this culture of pathei-mathos is

“the ontology of us – we human beings – as a transient affective and effective connexion to other living beings, an emanation of the flux of Life, of ψυχή. That is, of the separation-of-otherness – of I and of ‘them’, the others – being the result of a causal-only perception, and of denotatum: of our propensity to give names to, or to describe by means of terms, that which we observe to be or that which we assume to be is different to and separate from us, whereas, as empathy reveals, ‘we’ are part of, an aspect, of ‘them’ since ‘they’ are also finite, transient, emanations of ψυχή.

There is no abstract ‘good’ and ‘evil’ here; no division or cleaving asunder of φύσις (physis). There is only us in harmony, in balance, with our nature, our φύσις, or us not in harmony with our nature as an affecting and effecting, finite, transient, mortal, aspect of Life. If we are harmony – in balance with Life, with other life – we do not cause or contribute to or are not the genesis of suffering: we do not affect Life in a harmful way, and as I have intimated elsewhere love, compassion, humility, empathy, and honour, are a possible means whereby we, in harmony with our φύσις, can avoid harming Life and its emanations, be such life our fellow human beings or the other life with which we share this planet.”


His conclusion is that:

“this alternative ontology, derived from the culture of pathei-mathos, suggests that the answer to the question regarding the meaning of our existence is simply to be that which we are. To be in balance, in harmony, with Life; the balance that is love, compassion, humility, empathy, honour, tolerance, kindness, and wu-wei.

This, by its nature, is a personal answer and a personal choice; an alternative way that compliments and is respectful of other answers, other choices, and of other ways of dealing with issues such as the suffering that afflicts others, the harm that humans do so often inflict and have for so long inflicted upon others. The personal non-judgemental way, of presumption of innocence and of wu-wei, balanced by, if required, a personal valourous, an honourable, intervention in a personal situation in the immediacy of the moment.

There is, in this alternative, no guidance required; and no-thing – such as an afterlife, or enlightenment, or liberty or happiness – to be attained. No need for dogma or too many words; no need for comparisons; no ‘just cause’ to excuse our behaviour. No mechanisms and no techniques to enable us to progress toward some-thing because there is no need or requirement to progress toward what is not there to be attained. There is only a personal living in such a way that we try to be compassionate, empathic, loving, honourable, kind, tolerant, gentle, and humble. And this is essentially the wisdom, the insight, the way of living – sans denotatum – that thousands upon thousands of people over millennia have contributed to the culture of pathei-mathos, as well as the essence of the message which many if not all spiritual ways and religions, in their genesis, perhaps saught to reveal: the message of the health of love and of our need, as fallible beings often inclined toward the unbalance of hubris, for humility.”

This work, therefore, does indeed complement his writings about his philosophy of pathei-mathos, serving as it does to illuminate that philosophy in a manner his more abstruse writings do not, particularly as Questions of Good, Evil, Honour, and God is framed by more personal musings in which he reflects upon questions such as expiation, his own diverse and strange past, and whether or not we are:

“fated, under Sun, to squabble and bicker and hate and kill and destroy and exploit this planet and its life until we, a failed species, leave only dead detritic traces of our hubris?

Or will we, or some of us, betake ourselves away to colonize faraway non-terran places, taking with us our unreformed paradoxical φύσις to perchance again despoil, destroy, as some of our kind once betook themselves away to forever change parts of this speck of blue reflected starlight which gave us this fortunity of Life?”

A reading of both Religion, Empathy, and Pathei-Mathos and The Numinous Way of Pathei-Mathos not only reveals Myatt’s erudition but also – whether one agrees with his conclusions or not – that his philosophy of pathei-mathos is an original, and possibly an outstanding, contribution to philosophy understood not as a dry academic subject but as an aid to posing and then answering fundamental questions regarding good, evil, suffering, and the meaning – if any – of our existence.

However, given Myatt’s outré past, and the many rumours and allegations about him, his philosophy and contribution will probably only be fully appreciated long after his demise.

R. Parker

Note: Given Myatt’s lifelong support of copyleft, all of the texts in Religion, Empathy, and Pathei-Mathos are available free, on the internet, in either html or pdf format (via his website or blog). The complete text of Questions of Good, Evil, Honour, and God is also available here – (pdf)

On a minor point, it is worth mentioning that Myatt in this published work – as in all his other recently published works – has idiosyncratically chosen a non-standard, and large, book size – of 215.9 mm x 279.4 mm (8.5″ x 11″). While this oversize format does make the book easy to both hold and read, due to the wide margins and large clear typeface compared with conventional printed books, it would make stocking the book on bookshop shelves problematic. Given, however, that bookshops are highly unlikely to stock any of Myatt’s works anyway – given their obscurity, Myatt’s reputation, and the general lack of public interest in both Myatt and his writings – such an idiosyncratic choice of size is understandable, especially given that it makes the work eccentrically distinct from most other modern printed books.