An Honourable, Paganus, Cultured, Way of Life

A pdf file of parts 1 & 2 of this article is available here – overview-myatt-philosophy.pdf
David Myatt

David Myatt


An Overview of David Myatt’s Philosophy of Pathei-Mathos

Part Two: Humility, Empathy, and Pathei-Mathos

The prevailing character of David Myatt’s philosophy of pathei-mathos is evident in one of his most recent essays, for he writes:

“What I have previously described as the ‘philosophy of pathei-mathos’ and the ‘way of pathei-mathos’ is simply my own weltanschauung, a weltanschauung developed over some years as a result of my own pathei-mathos. Thus, and despite whatever veracity it may or may not possess, it is only the personal insight of one very fallible individual, a fallibility proven by my decades of selfishness and by my decades of reprehensible extremism both political and religious. Furthermore, and according to my admittedly limited understanding and limited knowledge, this philosophy does not – in essence – express anything new. For I feel (and I use the word ‘feel’ intentionally) that I have only re-expressed what so many others, over millennia, have expressed as result of (i) their own pathei- mathos and/or (ii) their experiences/insights and/or (iii) their particular philosophical musings.

Indeed, the more I reflect upon my (perhaps pretentiously entitled) ‘philosophy of pathei-mathos’ the more I reminded of so many things…” {1}

The character is that of a person who, aware and accepting of their past mistakes, is presenting the conclusions of many years of personal contemplation about such metaphysical and personal matters as interest them, which conclusions they qualify with a proviso of fallibility. The ethos of Myatt’s philosophy is therefore both in tone and in content redolent of the mystic, but of a mystic who – perhaps because of his extremist past – is well aware of the causes and consequences of suffering:

“For me, there is a knowing of how limited and fallible my knowledge and understanding are, combined with an intangible intimation of some-thing possibly existing which is so abstruse that any and all attempts – at least by me – to meld it into words, and thus form and confine it into some idea or ideas, would miss or distort its essence. An intimation of what terms such as ‘acausal’ and ‘numinous’ (and even θεός/θεοί) do little to describe, hinting as such terms do of externalities – of an ‘out there’ – whereas this some-thing is an intrinsic part of us, connecting us to all life, human, terran, and otherwise, and thus reveals our φύσις – our relation to beings and Being – behind the appearance that is our conception of our separate self. An intimation thus of our brief causality of mortal life being only one momentary microcosmic presencing of that-which we it seems have a faculty to apprehend, and a that-which which lives-on both before and after our brief moment of apprehended causal life.

Yet this some-thing that I sense is no mystical divinity of a supra-personal love to be saught individually and which, if found or gifted to us, eremitically removes us from the mortal pains and joys of life. Suffering, and the pain so caused, are real; and if we ourselves are unafflicted, others are not and may never be so unafflicted if we humans do not or cannot fundamentally change.” {2}

It is therefore not surprising, given this mysticism, that humility is one of the personal virtues of Myatt’s philosophy. Of humility, Myatt writes that he is using the term

“in a spiritual context to refer to that gentleness, that modest demeanour, that understanding, which derives from an appreciation of the numinous and also from one’s own admitted uncertainty of knowing and one’s acknowledgement of past mistakes. An uncertainty of knowing, an acknowledgement of mistakes, that often derive from πάθει μάθος.

Humility is thus the natural human balance that offsets the unbalance of hubris (ὕβρις) – the balance that offsets the unbalance of pride and arrogance, and the balance that offsets the unbalance of that certainty of knowing which is one basis for extremism, for extremist beliefs, for fanaticism and intolerance. That is, humility is a manifestation of the natural balance of Life; a restoration of ἁρμονίη, of δίκη, of σωφρονεῖν – of those qualities and virtues – that hubris and extremism, that ἔρις and πόλεμος, undermine, distance us from, and replace.” {3}

This passage is notable for two reasons. First, for the fact that the virtue of humility is – along with the other personal moral qualities of Myatt’s philosophy – the result of that ‘acausal knowing’ that Myatt considers both pathei-mathos and empathy can provide; and second, for his use of ancient Greek terminology, a usage which hints that his mysticism – his philosophy – is influenced by, or is a modern manifestation of, an ancient paganism rather than part of the Christian mystical and contemplative traditions.

Myatt himself acknowledges this pagan influence:

“The philosophy of pathei-mathos is the result of my own pathei-mathos, my own learning from diverse – sometimes outré, sometimes radical and often practical – ways of life and experiences over some four decades; of my subsequent reasoned analysis, over a period of several years, of those ways and those experiences; of certain personal intuitions, spread over several decades, regarding the numinous; of an interior process of personal and moral reflexion, lasting several years and deriving from a personal tragedy; and of my life-long study and appreciation of Hellenic culture, an appreciation that led me to translate works by Sappho, Sophocles, Aeschylus and Homer, and involved me in a detailed consideration of the weltanschauung of individuals such as Heraclitus (insofar as such weltanschauungen are known from recorded sayings and surviving books).

Given this appreciation, and as the name suggests, the philosophy of πάθει μάθος has certain connexions to Hellenic culture and I tend therefore to use certain Greek words in order to try and elucidate my meaning and/or to express certain philosophical principles regarded as important in – and for an understanding of – this philosophy; a usage of words which I have endeavoured to explain as and where necessary, sometimes by quoting passages from Hellenic literature or other works and by providing translations of such passages. For it would be correct to assume that the ethos of this philosophy is somewhat indebted to and yet – and importantly – is also a development of the ethos of Hellenic culture; an indebtedness obvious in notions such as δίκη, πάθει μάθος, avoidance of ὕβρις, and references to Heraclitus, Aeschylus, and others, and a development manifest in notions such as empathy and the importance attached to the virtue of compassion.” {4}

Acausal Knowing and Pathei Mathos

In a recent précis of his philosophy Myatt enumerates the three fundamentals of his epistemology:

” a. The primacy of pathei-mathos: of a personal pathei-mathos being one of the primary means whereby we can come to know the true φύσις (physis) of Being, of beings, and of our own being; a knowing beyond ‘abstractions’, beyond the concealment implicit in manufactured opposites, by ipseity (the separation-of-otherness), and by denotatum.

b. Adding the ‘acausal knowing’ revealed by the (muliebral) faculty of empathy to the conventional, and causal (and somewhat masculous), knowing of science and logical philosophical speculation, with the proviso that what such ‘acausal knowing’ reveals is (i) of φύσις, the relation between beings, and between beings and Being, and thus of ‘the separation-of-otherness’, and (ii) the personal and numinous nature of such knowing in the immediacy-of-the-moment, and which empathic knowing thus cannot be abstracted out from that ‘living moment’ via denotatum: by (words written or spoken), or be named or described or expressed (become fixed or ‘known’) by any dogma or any -ism or any -ology, be such -isms or -ologies conventionally understood as political, religious, ideological, or social.

c. Describing a human, and world-wide and ancestral, ‘culture of pathei-mathos’, and which culture of pathei-mathos could form part of Studia Humanitatis and thus of that education that enables we human beings to better understand our own φύσις.” {1}

Thus, for Myatt, knowledge and understanding of Reality – of beings and Being, and of our own relation to beings and Being – requires us to use or develop our faculty of empathy (of sympatheia with other living beings, human and otherwise) as well as both studying and appreciating our ‘aeonic’ human culture of pathei-mathos and learning via our own experiences, suffering, and grief (our own pathei-mathos). The latter of which – that is, pathei-mathos – naturally not only cultivates a certain personal humility but also means that we cannot hope to know and understand Reality – we cannot discover wisdom – unless and until we ourselves have a certain experience of the vicissitudes of life.

Given (i) that the acausal knowing that empathy reveals,

“is a direct and personal – an individual – revealing of beings and Being which does not depend on denoting or naming or causality or the assumption of a primal cause, and which knowing, being individual in φύσις and concerned with living beings, cannot be abstracted out from the living personal moment of the perceiveration. Thus, such a perceiveration – in respect of other human beings – does not and cannot involve and does not and cannot lead to any of the following: (i) any personal claim regarding possessing ‘the truth’ about some-thing; (ii) no ‘correct way or praxis’ or dogma or ideology which are assumed or believed to be applicable to anyone else; (iii) no understanding of or assumption of knowledge about others on the basis of assigning those others to some category or to some abstract form. Instead, there is only an intuition of the moment concerning one’s own φύσις and thus a wordless individual revealing of – a numinous knowing concerning – one’s own being and of one’s own relation to Being and to other living beings” {5}

and given (ii) the necessity of (a) pathei-mathos and (b) studying and learning from our aeonic human culture of pathei-mathos, and (ii) given the personal virtues – such as compassion, humility, and a personal honour – that are engendered by such acausal knowing {6}, such a study, and such a pathei-mathos, then it is my view that Myatt’s whole philosophy can be summarized as a guide to living in an honourable, and a particular type of pagan, way.

For, of the knowing and understanding that empathy and pathei-mathos reveal, Myatt writes:

“Empathy is, and has been, the natural basis for a tradition which informs us, and reminds us – through Art, literature, myths, legends, the accumulated πάθει μάθος of individuals, and often through a religious-type awareness – of the need for a balance, for ἁρμονίη, achieved by not going beyond the numinous limits.

As a used and a developed faculty, the perception that empathy provides is of undivided ψυχή and of the emanations of ψυχή, of our place in the Cosmic Perspective: of how we are a connexion to other life; of how we are but one mortal fallible emanation of Life; of how we affect or can affect the well-being – the very being, ψυχή – of other mortals and other life; and how other mortals and other living beings interact with us and can affect us, in a good or a harmful way.

Empathy thus involves a translocation of ourselves and thus a knowing-of another living-being as that living-being is, without presumptions and sans all ideations, all projections. In a simple way, empathy involves a numinous sympathy with another living-being; a becoming – for a causal moment or moments – of that other-being, so that we know, can feel, can understand, the suffering or the joy of that living-being. In such moments, there is no distinction made between them and us – there is only the flow of life; only the presencing and the ultimate unity of Life itself.”  {4}

“The numinous sympathy – συμπάθεια (sympatheia, benignity) – with another living being that empathy provides naturally inclines us to treat other living beings as we ourselves would wish to be treated: with fairness, compassion, honour, and dignity. It also inclines us not to judge those whom we do not know; those beyond the purveu – beyond the range of – our faculty of empathy.” {6}

For, regarding personal honour, Myatt writes that it:

“presences the virtues of fairness, tolerance, compassion, humility, and εὐταξία – as (i) a natural intuitive (wordless) expression of the numinous (‘the good’, δίκη, συμπάθεια) and (ii) of both what the culture of pathei-mathos and the acausal-knowing of empathy reveal we should do (or incline us toward doing) in the immediacy of the personal moment when personally confronted by what is unfair, unjust, and extreme […]

Such honour – by its and our φύσις – is and can only ever be personal, and thus cannot be extracted out from the  ‘living moment’ and our participation in the moment; for it only through such things as a personal study of the culture of pathei-mathos and the development of the faculty of empathy that a person who does not naturally possess the instinct for δίκη can develope what is essentially ‘the human faculty of honour’, and which faculty is often appreciated and/or discovered via our own personal pathei-mathos.” {1}

For, regarding paganism, Myatt – quoting Cicero – writes that, correctly understood (that is, in the classical sense), it is:

“An apprehension of the complete unity (a cosmic order, κόσμος, mundus) beyond the apparent parts of that unity, together with the perceiveration that we mortals – albeit a mere and fallible part of the unity – have been gifted with our existence so that we may perceive and understand this unity, and, having so perceived, may ourselves seek to be whole, and thus become as balanced (perfectus), as harmonious, as the unity itself.”  {7}

An Honourable, Paganus, And Cultured, Way of Life

What Myatt has developed in his philosophy of pathei-mathos is, essentially, a contemporary mystical ‘paganus’ philosophy in the classical tradition, and thus one which dispenses with all the unnecessary accretions, and misunderstandings, of the past century that have become attached to ‘modern paganism’. For at the heart of Myatt’s individualistic paganism are the virtues of personal honour, of learning, of education, of culture, of self-restraint [εὐταξία] and of duty, for:

“this paganus natural balance implied an acceptance by the individual of certain communal responsibilities and duties; of such responsibilities and duties, and their cultivation, as a natural and necessary part of our existence as mortals.” {7}

Which is why Myatt’s paganus philosophy emphasises wu-wei {8}, and tolerance; and why it is (i) concerned, not with politics or reforming society through some -ism or -ology or via some revolution violent or otherwise, but rather with the individual – with their interior life, with their personal interaction with others, with the numinosity of love {9}, with honourable living – and (ii) concerned with the individual agreeing to Ἀπόδοτε οὖν τὰ Καίσαρος Καίσαρι καὶ τὰ τοῦ Θεοῦ τῷ Θεῷ {10}.


“There is no desire and no need to use any confrontational means to directly challenge and confront the authority of existing States since numinous reform and change is personal, individual, non-political, and not organized beyond a limited local [communal] level of people personally known. That is, it is of and involves individuals who are personally known to each other working together based on the understanding that it is inner, personal, change – in individuals, of their nature, their character – that is is the ethical, the numinous, way to solve such personal and social problems as exist and arise. That such inner change of necessity comes before any striving for outer change by whatever means, whether such means be termed or classified as political, social, economic, religious. That the only effective, long-lasting, change and reform is understood as the one that evolves human beings and thus changes what, in them, predisposes them, or inclines them toward, doing or what urges them to do, what is dishonourable, undignified, unfair, and uncompassionate.

In practice, this evolution means, in the individual, the cultivation and use of the faculty of empathy, and acquiring the personal virtues of compassion, honour, and love. Which means the inner reformation of individuals, as individuals.

Hence the basis for numinous social change and reform is aiding, helping, assisting individuals in a direct and personal manner, and in practical ways, with such help, assistance, and aid arising because we personally know or are personally concerned about or involved with those individuals or the situations those individuals find themselves in. In brief, being compassionate, empathic, understanding, sensitive, kind, and showing by personal example.” {11}

In effect, therefore, Myatt’s philosophy, with its specific (if not unique) epistemology, and its virtues such as that of a personal honour, leads 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.” {12}

For it is living in such an honourable way, with such an understanding, that can provide the individual with opportunities to experience, and thence learn from, of the vicissitudes of life because such a way of honourable living means – as I mentioned in Part One – the person being prepared in the immediacy of the moment, and when confronted by someone or some group being dishonourable, to do what is honourable in defence of themselves or others even if that means their own death.

Given that living in such an honourable way with such an understanding was, for thousands of years, the essence of paganism, Myatt is be commended for developing a contemporary mystical paganus philosophy.

R. Parker


{1} The Way Of Pathei-Mathos – A Précis. 2014. The essay is included in One Vagabond In Exile From The Gods: Some Personal and Metaphysical Musings. ISBN 978-1502396105

{2} A Vagabond In Exile From The Gods. 2014. The essay is included in the 2014 compilation whose title is taken from the title of that essay: One Vagabond In Exile From The Gods: Some Personal and Metaphysical Musings.

{3} Pathei-Mathos – A Path To Humility. 2012.

{4} The Way of Pathei-Mathos – A Philosophical Compendium. 2012. The essay is included in The Numinous Way of Pathei-Mathos. 2013, ISBN 978-1484096642

It is obvious from Myatt’s writings about his philosophy of pathei-mathos that by the term ‘Hellenic culture’ he means the culture of ancient Greece. He thus – perhaps pedantically, perhaps idiosyncratically – eschews the relatively modern division of ancient Greek culture into a ‘classical’ period and a ‘Hellenistic’ period.

{5} Toward Understand The Acausal, 2014. The essay is included in One Vagabond In Exile From The Gods: Some Personal and Metaphysical Musings.

{6} Conspectus of The Philosophy of Pathei-Mathos. 2012. The essay is included in Myatt’s The Numinous Way of Pathei-Mathos.

{7} Education And The Culture Of Pathei-Mathos, 2014. The essay is included in One Vagabond In Exile From The Gods: Some Personal and Metaphysical Musings.

{8} In his Vocabulary of the Philosophy of Pathei-Mathos, published in 2012, and included as an ‘appendix of terms’ in his book The Numinous Way of Pathei-Mathos, Myatt writes:

“Wu-wei is a Taoist term used in The Way of Pathei-Mathos to refer to a personal ‘letting-be’ deriving from a feeling, a knowing, that an essential part of wisdom is cultivation of an interior personal balance and which cultivation requires acceptance that one must work with, or employ, things according to their nature, their φύσις, for to do otherwise is incorrect, and inclines us toward, or is, being excessive – that is, toward the error, the unbalance, that is hubris, an error often manifest in personal arrogance, excessive personal pride, and insolence – that is, a disrespect for the numinous.

In practice, the knowledge, the understanding, the intuition, the insight that is wu-wei is a knowledge, an understanding, that can be acquired from empathy, πάθει μάθος, and by a knowing of and an appreciation of the numinous. This knowledge and understanding is of wholeness, and that life, things/beings, change, flow, exist, in certain natural ways which we human beings cannot change however hard we might try; that such a hardness of human trying, a belief in such hardness, is unwise, un-natural, upsets the natural balance and can cause misfortune/suffering for us and/or for others, now or in the future. Thus success lies in discovering the inner nature (the physis) of things/beings/ourselves and gently, naturally, slowly, working with this inner nature, not striving against it.”

{9} Myatt ends his autobiography, Myngath, by writing that “a shared, a loyal, love between two people is the most beautiful, the most numinous, the most valuable thing of all.”

{10} Myatt approvingly quotes this saying – attributed to Jesus of Nazareth – in his 2013 essay Questions of Good, Evil, Honour, and God. The essay is included in Religion, Empathy, and Pathei-Mathos, ISBN 978-1484097984

{11} Society, Politics, Social Reform, and Pathei-Mathos, in The Numinous Way of Pathei-Mathos. 2013, ISBN 978-1484096642

{12} Questions of Good, Evil, Honour, and God. 2013. The essay is included in Religion, Empathy, and Pathei-Mathos, ISBN 978-1484097984

cc  R. Parker 2014
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