Honour In The Philosophy Of Pathei-Mathos


Honour In The Philosophy Of Pathei-Mathos

Along with the faculty of empathy and pathei-mathos, central to David Myatt’s philosophy {1} is what he terms the virtue of honour, writing that

“personal honour – which presences the virtues of fairness, tolerance, compassion, humility, and εὐταξία – [is] (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.

Of how 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.” {2}

Thus, like both empathy and pathei-mathos, Myatt conceives of honour not as an abstraction {3} – not in any idealistic way – but as “an expression of our own φύσις; and a person either has this ‘faculty of honour’ or they do not.” {4} Myatt goes on to suggest that such a faculty – like the faculty of empathy – can be consciously developed; that

“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.” {2}{5}

Myatt is at pains to point out, several times, not only that honour, empathy, and pathei-mathos, are related:

“What, therefore, is the wordless knowing that empathy and pathei-mathos reveal? It is the knowing manifest in our human culture of pathei-mathos. The knowing communicated to us, for example, by art, music, literature, and manifest in the lives of those who presenced, in their living, compassion, love, and honour. Germane to this knowing is that – unlike a form [ἰδέᾳ, εἶδος] or an abstraction – it is always personal (limited in its applicability) and can only be embodied in and presenced by some-thing or by some-one which or who lives. That is, it cannot be abstracted out of the living, the personal, moment of its presencing by someone or abstracted out from its living apprehension by others in the immediacy-of-the-moment, and thus cannot become ‘an ideal’ or form the foundation for some dogma or ideology or supra-personal faith.” {6}

but also that what is revealed, known, and understood, and sometimes acted upon, is always personal; with empathy, pathei-mathos, and honour emphasizing

“the importance of living in the “immediacy of the personal, living, moment”, sans the pursuit of some ideal or of some assumed perfection; with what is ‘good’ being not some abstraction denoted by some faith, dogma, ideal, ideology, or by some collocation of words, but rather is a function of, a wordless revealing by, our personal, our individual, empathic horizon, by our pathei-mathos, and by the collected human pathei-mathos of millennia manifest as that is in the culture of pathei-mathos. Which revealing is that what-lives is more important that any ideal, than any abstraction or form, with ‘the good’ simply being that which does not cause suffering to, or which can alleviate the suffering of, what-lives, human and otherwise.

Thus the ‘meaning’ of our physis, of our living, so revealed, is just that of a certain way of living; a non-defined, non-definable, very personal way of living, only relevant to us as an individual where we – appreciating our human culture of pathei-mathos, and thus appreciative of art, music, literature, and other emanations of the numinous – incline toward not causing suffering and incline (by means of empathy, compassion, and honour) toward alleviating such suffering as we may personally encounter in the “immediacy of the personal, living, moment”. {6}

Honour In Practice

What all this amounts to, in respect of honour, is that there can be no supra-personal ‘code of honour’ or ‘code/theory of ethics’ – written or oral – which an individual seeks to uphold and live by, since honour in Myatt’s philosophy is not an ideal to be followed or aspired to. A person thus does what is honourable – in the “immediacy of the personal, living, moment” – because it is their nature, a wordless part of their way of life, to do so; to behave in such a manner that there is, in such a moment, a natural balancing of Life itself, since the personal virtue of honour is

“a practical, a living, manifestation of our understanding and appreciation of the numinous; of how to live, to behave, as empathy intimates we can or should in order to avoid committing the folly, the error, of ὕβρις [hubris], in order not to cause suffering, and in order to re-present, to acquire, ἁρμονίη [balance, harmony].” {7}

That is, the judgement regarding when and how to act is and can only be an individual one, in and of the moment. In addition, Myatt emphasizes several times that compassion – and the desire not to cause suffering – should be balanced, and are balanced, by and because of honour:

“This balancing of compassion – of the need not to cause suffering – by σωφρονεῖν [discernment] and δίκη is perhaps most obvious on that particular occasion when it may be judged necessary to cause suffering to another human being. That is, in honourable self-defence. For it is natural – part of our reasoned, fair, just, human nature – to defend ourselves when attacked and (in the immediacy of the personal moment) to valorously, with chivalry, act in defence of someone close-by who is unfairly  attacked or dishonourably threatened or is being bullied by others, and to thus employ, if our personal judgement of the circumstances deem it necessary, lethal force.

This use of force is, importantly, crucially, restricted – by the individual nature of our judgement, and by the individual nature of our authority – to such personal situations of immediate self-defence and of valorous defence of others, and cannot be extended beyond that, for to so extend it, or attempt to extend it beyond the immediacy of the personal moment of an existing physical threat, is an arrogant presumption – an act of ὕβρις – which negates the fair, the human, presumption of innocence of those we do not personally know, we have no empathic knowledge of, and who present no direct, immediate, personal, threat to us or to others nearby us.

Such personal self-defence and such valorous defence of another in a personal situation are in effect a means to restore the natural balance which the unfair, the dishonourable, behaviour of others upsets.” {7}

Honour therefore, in my view, humanizes Myatt’s mystical philosophy, making it an individual and quite practical and a decidedly pagan way of life {8} where the development of and the use of individual judgement – in respect of others and situations – is paramount. A development – a cultivation of discernment – by means of empathy, personal pathei-mathos, and learning from our human culture of pathei-mathos.

That Myatt has framed his philosophy in terms of Greco-Roman culture – so evident for instance in his use of Greek terms and his copious quotations from Greek and Roman authors – makes it a distinct modern philosophy which has not only “continued and creatively added to the classical – that is, Western, pre-Christian – pagan and mystical traditions” {9}, but has also, through the centrality of personal honour, of the muliebral virtues {10}, and of humility {11}, restored the Western ethic of gallantry.

R. Parker

{1} The philosophy of pathei-mathos is described by David Myatt in the following four collections of essays:

i) The Numinous Way of Pathei-Mathos. 2013. ISBN-13: 978-1484096642.
ii) Religion, Empathy, and Pathei-Mathos. 2013. ISBN-13: 978-1484097984.
iii) One Vagabond In Exile From The Gods: Some Personal and Metaphysical Musings. 2014. ISBN-13: 978-1502396105.
iv) Sarigthersa: Some Recent Essays. 2015. ISBN-13: 978-1512137149.

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

{3} Myatt, in his Towards Understanding Physis (included in Sarigthersa), defines an abstraction as “a manufactured generalization, a hypothesis, a posited thing, an assumption or assumptions about, an extrapolation of or from some-thing, or some assumed or extrapolated ideal ‘form’ of some-thing. Sometimes, abstractions are generalization based on some sample(s), or on some median.”

In later essays, such as Personal Reflexions On Some Metaphysical Questions, he explains that denotatum – which he uses in accord with its general meaning, which is “to denote or to describe by an expression or a word; to name some-thing; to refer that which is so named or so denoted” – and abstractions both conceal physis and thus prevent us from understanding our own being, our nature as mortals.

{4} Some Questions For DWM (2014). Included in One Vagabond In Exile From The Gods.

{5} Myatt, in his essay Education And The Culture Of Pathei-Mathos, included in One Vagabond In Exile From The Gods, defines ‘the culture of pathei-mathos’ as “the accumulated pathei-mathos of individuals, world-wide, over thousands of years, as (i) described in memoirs, aural stories, and historical accounts; as (ii) have inspired particular works of literature or poetry or drama; as (iii) expressed via non-verbal mediums such as music and Art, and as (iv) manifest in more recent times by ‘art-forms’ such as films and documentaries.”

Of δίκη, Myatt, in his The Numinous Way of Pathei-Mathos, writes:

“Depending on context, δίκη could be the judgement of an individual (or Judgement personified), or the natural and the necessary balance, or the correct/customary/ancestral way, or what is expected due to custom, or what is considered correct and natural, and so on. A personified Judgement – the Δίκην of Hesiod – is the goddess of the natural balance, evident in the ancestral customs, the ways, the way of life, the ethos, of a community, whose judgement, δίκη, is “in accord with”, has the nature or the character of, what tends to restore such balance after some deed or deeds by an individual or individuals have upset or disrupted that balance. This sense of δίκη as one’s ancestral customs is evident, for example, in Homer (Odyssey, III, 244).”

However, in several of his essays – such as Some Conjectures Concerning Our Nexible Physis, included in Sarigthersa: Some Recent Essays, Myatt also uses δίκη to mean ‘fairness’, quoting Hesiod and providing his own translation and which translation mentions both honour and a learning from adversity:

σὺ δ ̓ ἄκουε δίκης, μηδ ̓ ὕβριν ὄφελλε:
ὕβρις γάρ τε κακὴ δειλῷ βροτῷ: οὐδὲ μὲν ἐσθλὸς
215 ῥηιδίως φερέμεν δύναται, βαρύθει δέ θ ̓ ὑπ ̓ αὐτῆς
ἐγκύρσας ἄτῃσιν: ὁδὸς δ ̓ ἑτέρηφι παρελθεῖν
κρείσσων ἐς τὰ δίκαια: Δίκη δ ̓ ὑπὲρ Ὕβριος ἴσχει
ἐς τέλος ἐξελθοῦσα: παθὼν δέ τε νήπιος ἔγνω

You should listen to [the goddess] Fairness and not oblige Hubris
Since Hubris harms unfortunate mortals while even the more fortunate
Are not equal to carrying that heavy a burden, meeting as they do with Mischief.
The best path to take is the opposite one: that of honour
For, in the end, Fairness is above Hubris
Which is something the young come to learn from adversity.

In his footnotes to his translation Myatt explains:

δίκη. The goddess of Fairness/Justice/Judgement, and – importantly – of Tradition (Ancestral Custom). In [Ἔργα καὶ Ἡμέραι], as in Θεογονία (Theogony), Hesiod is recounting and explaining part of that tradition, one important aspect of which tradition is understanding the relation between the gods and mortals. Given both the antiquity of the text and the context, ‘Fairness’ – as the name of the goddess – is, in my view, more appropriate than the now common appellation ‘Justice’, considering the modern (oft times impersonal) connotations of the word ‘justice’ […]

δίκαιος. Honour expresses the sense that is meant: of being fair; capable of doing the decent thing; of dutifully observing ancestral customs. A reasonable alternative for ‘honour’ would thus be ‘decency’, both preferable to words such as ‘just’ and ‘justice’ which are not only too impersonal but have too many inappropriate modern connotations.

{6} Personal Reflexions On Some Metaphysical Questions. 2015. Note that here, as elsewhere in other quotations from Myatt’s writings, I have provided – in square brackets [ ]  – a translation of some of the Greek terms Myatt uses.

{7} The Numinous Balance of Honour. Included in The Numinous Way of Pathei-Mathos.

{8} I have outlined the pagan nature of Myatt’s philosophy in A Modern Pagan Philosophy.

{9} R. Parker. A Modern Pagan Philosophy. e-text, 2016.

{10} See the Masculous And Muliebral section of my A Modern Pagan Philosophy.

{11} Humility is one of the personal virtues of Myatt’s philosophy. Myatt in his 2012 essay Pathei-Mathos – A Path To Humility explains that he uses 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.”

cc  R. Parker 2016
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Image credit: Klytemnestra Kills Cassandra. Red figure vase, c 430 BCE