If Eudaimonia is activity with excellence, then it is reasonable that Eudaimonia will exist according to the highest activity (the nous or mind). This activity will be the best that exists within us, whether this activity is nous or something else, which is considered to rule over us by nature and which guides us and which has knowledge of good and divine things, or it will be the divine being itself, or the divine that exists within us.Aristotle, Ethica Nicomachea, 1177a12-17
Review by Ion Soteropoulos
I wish to bring to your attention what is one of the most important philosophical publications in recent years. An Inquiry into the Philosophical Concept of Scholê: Leisure as a Political End is a significant book since it launches a deep inquiry into the philosophical concept of scholê, which is a central concept in ancient Greek philosophy of the classical period (5-4th century BCE), and which it will soon become, as a consequence of the massive absorption of human work by automated machines (robots), the hottest issue facing humankind.
Scholê, from which the English words school, scholar, etc are derived, means popularly leisure ⎯ to be at the comfortable state of rest independent of constraining work and having free energy and free time. But Kalimtzis argues that for the ancient Greek philosophers of the classical period (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle), scholê is something more than simply leisure. It is leisure ⎯ i.e. having free energy and free time ⎯to engage in the activity of divine nous (intelligence, reason, mind), which is the highest activity that we possess within us. It is through this activity of divine nous, which is both intellectual and sensuous, and which the ancient Greek philosophers called theôria that we “could lay claim to (a life of) complete happiness” (Ethica Nicomachea 1178b21-22).
Why is theôria par excellence a divine activity procuring a life of complete eudaimonia? An etymological analysis of the word theôria show us that it is a complex word composed of θεός (theos) meaning god and ὁράω (orao) meaning I see. So θεωρεῖν (theôrein) means to see God ⎯ the first and highest reality, the ultimate reality of things, which we call depending on perspective Truth, God, or Universe. Only our divine nous, which according to Anaxagoras is infinite (ἄπειρον) and self-contained (αὐτοκράτωρ) and according to Heraclitus is synthetic, unifying the opposites, has the faculty to intellectually see the ultimate and highest reality of things. Per contra, our faculty of finite, analytic understanding (improper nous), which is an abstraction of the analytic (decoherent) way our biological (neuronal) brain operates, is incapable of seeing this highest reality. In fact, because finite, analytic understanding grasps only a part of this ultimate and highest reality, which we call sensible or observable reality, it produces an incomplete and approximate knowledge of the thing qua Universe (defined here as the sum total of all its observable parts). By virtue of its incompleteness, this approximate empirical knowledge is indefinitely refutable so that on the whole we know nothing about anything.
The intellectual seer who practices theôria does not only “see” Truth, God, or the Universe, but also has the power to obtain a good, for example knowledge about anything, by being at rest in his/her armchair. This knowledge of a thing while being at rest constitutes a state of scholê that characterizes the theoretician who, similar to the unmoved mover⎯ the scholazôn (leisuring) God ⎯ imparts motion to the world or obtains a good in an effortless and restful manner. From this scholazôn God originates the economic and physical principle of least action according to which Nature qua Universe behaves in such a way as to produce a given result with a minimum action or effort. We discover here that scholê is not only a political and moral end (Aristotle, Kalimtzis), but also a most important economic principle of Nature herself.
The first Greek philosopher linking scholê with the search of truth is Socrates who, reflecting on what type of life is worth living, “speaks of two ways of life, one of distraction and untruth in busyness and another in search of truth in scholê” (2). Because scholê is considered as something natural in agreement with the principles of the timeless and effortless physical whole or universe, it is ontologically superior to business; since this latter word is the negation or privation of scholê, the ancient Greeks called it a-scholia⎯a word composed of the privative “a” and the natural state of scholê.
Let us define busyness or a-scholia as ceaseless activity aiming, through constraining work (energy), at the maintenance and unlimited growth of human society. This unlimited material growth, which because it reaches no limit, no end is meaningless (without noêma, without nous or mind), we call indefinite growth; it is an evil growth since it generates in society a state of permanent tension, frustration and constraint. Kalimtzis uses the mythos of Sisyphus to express in a symbolic way the ceaseless and meaningless activity of a-scholia that our time-conditioned and indefinitely growing society suffers. Sisyphus is a tragic knave who is punished with negative immortality ceaselessly rolling its rock upwards towards the summit. Just before reaching the summit the rock slips from his hands and rolls down to the plain obliging Sisyphus to start the upward rolling process all over again. Because a-scholia is determined by the urgent needs of our biological body and by our finite Euclidean senses perceiving the world as if it were an unlimited plane without any limit, it is impermeable to any examination. What is important is not the summit itself, for there is no limit, no meaning, but the very process of climbing (32).
Although from sensation- based a-scholia we can never originate the noumenal based scholê as Kalimtzis perfectly remarks (112-113), nevertheless a-scholia is instrumentally necessary for preparing the economic and technological conditions that will render technically possible the moral choice of scholê by society’s global nous. As Aristotle puts it “we work so that we may be in scholê and we make war for the purpose of making peace” (Ethica Nicomachea, 1177b4-6). Keynes already predicted at 1930 in “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren” that within a century, that is, by 2030 humanity’s economic problem will be resolved and for the first time since her creation, she will be faced with her real problem ⎯ how to use her freedom from the urgency of survival; how to employ her free energy and free time that science will have produced, to live wisely and pleasantly (193).
Though Kalimtzis limits his study to the ancient concept of scholê, we postulate three technical conditions which are necessary for humanity’s moral choice of scholê: Automation, Guaranteed Basic Income, and a Global Society. The development of automation will not simply replace old structures of constraining work by new structures. It will ultimately abolish the very existence of constraining work as a means to survival. For the first time humanity, through the invention of robots and the idea of a guaranteed basic income, will break the Neolithic link between constraining work and survival. A guaranteed basic income is a participation in the total net value produced annually by human growth, in other words a kind of universal dividend of progress. Because this total net value is produced by the global intelligence (nous) of humanity, it must be distributed universally to all human beings and arithmetically, that is, equally and unconditionally independently of selective evaluation grounded in arbitrary criteria such as who needs it, or who should get more or less proportionally to his/her contribution to human growth. The introduction of a guaranteed basic income and its arithmetic distribution to all human beings presupposes a global society, a global tax system linked to the robots ⎯ these emerging “workers” of the 4th information revolution ⎯ and a global legislative and executive system that will legislate and enforce worldwide the enacted laws and distribute arithmetically human society’s total net value. Once the technical conditions are fulfilled, humanity will have reached the threshold moment of deciding to pass to a superior ontological stage of being, which is scholê , that is free energy and free time spend for the actualization of our nous, for theorizing about the ultimate and highest reality of things, which we called Truth, God, or Universe, and hence for exploring our inner Universe called Consciousness and our outer Universe called Physical World.
Kalimtzis tells us that in opposition to Plato, Aristotle took a bold step further by declaring scholê qua theôria a universal goal for all citizens (3). If the activity of the divine nous is the highest activity within us, then by definition it is exercised maximally and completely, that is, universally, regardless of spatiotemporal constrains. But is such a universal goal practical? When we know that our biological body with its particular idiosyncrasies and analytic (conflicting, decoherent) way of functioning perceives the world as if it were an unlimited plane without a universal limiting point, principle, or end to assign unity, meaning (noêma) and nous to this endless plane, then what are the chances that the universal goal of scholê qua theôria is realizable?
Here we are in agreement with Socrates, Aristotle and Kalimtzis. As long as we live a life reduced uniquely to the particular needs and sensations of our biological body, it is impossible to have scholê qua theoria as a realizable universal goal. Similarly, in so far we reduce, through our biological body (neuronal brain), the Universe into an observable unlimited plane deprived of a universal limiting point assigning unity and meaning to it, scholê qua theôria as a universal principle and end is an inaccessible utopia or, which is the same, an accessible negative utopia ⎯ a dystopia destroying what is the best and essential within the human, namely the divine nous. As Kalimtzis justly concludes (80) there is no prospect in the near future that the new information revolution produced by the intersection of technology and science will usher in a new era of freedom from business and constraining work, that is, from a-scholia. It is precisely the opposite that we currently observe: The employment of scholê⎯ of free energy and free time ⎯ to increase our dependence on business and constraining work and therefore on our time-conditioned biological body determining a-scholia.
For example, instead of emancipating us from biology current technological fundamentalism enhances our dependence on biology, since it teaches us to be unintelligent and unfree by subordinating our divine synthetic nous (intelligence, mind) to the computer’s computational activity, which is nothing more than the indefinite extension of the mindless, analytic activity of our biological (neuronal) brain. “Shut up (the mind) and calculate” has become the current mantra of contemporary scientists. However, the above absurdities do not constitute an inexorable fate of human kind1. A degenerate (dystopic) form of scholê is a self-defeating process, which in the long run will be self-annihilated under the pressure of its internal contradictions. It will then give place (topos) to the proper scholê qua actualization of nous, which being in agreement with the principles of timeless and effortless Nature qua Universe, will be inevitably realized.
Whether the actualization of divine nous will take place uniquely on the level of a community of friends in a global society as claimed by Kostas Kalimtzis (118), or will proceed further to be completed on the level of an individual, is another challenging question that we leave open to the readers to reflect and answer once they have finished the study of this precious and beautifully written book.
* New York: Bloomsbury Academic.2017 (ISBN HB 978-1-4742-3793 -2).
1 Richard Feynman’s motto “shut up and calculate” resumes the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics giving priority to calculation over searching a more comprehensive account of quantum phenomena through our unifying mind or nous.