Some pray for gold, others for boundless land.

I pray to delight my fellow citizens Until my limbs are wrapped in earth – a man Who praised what deserves praise And sowed blame for wrong-doers. But human excellence Grows like a vine tree Fed by the green dew Raised up, among wise men and just, To the liquid sky. We have all kinds of needs for those we loveMost of all in hardships, but joy, too, Strains to track down eyes that it can trust. ~ Pindar. Nemean VIII. 37-44 Three issues of great philosophical importance are raised by Pindar’s verse; how is one to know what is praiseworthy (or blame worthy)? How is excellence to be at the same time human? Lastly if human excellence does indeed grow “like a vine tree – fed by the green dew – raised up, among wise men and just, to the liquid sky” then how can one be praised (or blamed) for these external circumstances, how can you attribute merit or reprimand a human for anything he/she does at all? The first and the last questions raised are so interconnected that I’ll address them as one, the second question of human excellence may just be my misinterpretation of the translated terms or my ignorance of what the term meant to the ancient Greeks. It is all the same an interesting question that I should like to explore. These topics are important and inescapable to the inquisitive mind because they deal with free will, luck, and accountability. As well as the looming possibility of it all not mattering in either case.

There is a contradiction in Pindar’s interpretation of accountability. He seems to swing from the conviction of the existence of free- will and that of causality and luck. He begins by saying that while others may pray for acquisitions to satisfy their greed he prays only to live to delight his fellow man and deal out praise or blame according to who is deserving of it. This ability to praise or blame anyone for their life would make one draw the conclusion that we are accountable for our actions (by this I also mean for our inaction) because we have the faculty of free will and can chouse to change aspects of our life. Under this conclusion Pindar has chosen a life full of merit. He has not succumbed to greed and instead acts as a judge of the good and the evil. However after stating his goals he then second-guesses the possibility of anything being capable of merit or blame. His analogy referring to human excellence and life as a vine that must be nurtured if it is to turn out properly argues strongly against the remotest possibility of free will. This analogy allows for nothing other then that we (and all of our blame or praise worthy actions) are nothing more then the product of our environment. An environment that for the religious is decided by some external supernatural force whose motives we could only guess at, or for the Atheist, an environment that is decided without “rhyme or reason” by pure luck. The luck I speak of is not in the least bit based on any reason but random unbiased chance. In this case how can it be right to praise or blame anyone for anything, unless we chouse to blame them for their environment which is entirely outside their control? Furthermore how can anything be “right” at all? This conclusion ‘frees’ us from all accountability if it is to be truly fair. Let me just clarify that when I say “environment” I do not mean the town or culture the being inhabits I take it to the extreme and have it also mean everything right down to the chemicals and/or electrical

impulses that are and have ever been going on inside the being’s brain, I mean every trivial experience that the being has ever had. I believe that with this definition of “environment” there is less room for error in reasoning. This does however leave us with the question of how to deal with life and action. If we were to be perfectly ‘fair’ and hold each being accountable only for what it has control over then the world would suddenly become profoundly chaotic with rampant absurdity. With our new lack of accountability goes our concept of free will. Rather it is not a lack of accountability but accountability being a null (‘lack’ would suggest our being free of the concept would have some effect, where in fact its not having an effect has no effect). If on the other hand we were to be ultimately unfair but all in the name of maintaining some sort of ‘order’ (murders and rapists in prisons and the insane drugged and detached in their asylums, and the “us” on the outside) in this world we are doomed to knowingly create irony and absurdity. Perhaps the best we could do in such a case is to merely be aware, while still acting under our old (accountability) precepts. From the excerpt of his poem we do not know whether Pindar does indeed come to a decision, or whether he just leaves it as is.

The second topic human excellence, deals more with forms than with actions. Traditionally excellence implies that it is without flaw that it (whatever ‘it’ may be) has reached the epitome of its potential. Human however usually means fallible and subject to imperfections and shortcomings. Beauty wisdom and love are often found in human suffering, perhaps only through human suffering, and the gods are perpetually falling in love with mortals with all their shortcomings – perhaps even more FOR those

shortcomings. Are we to presume then that this “human excellence” is referring to the excellent form of a human who by no means partakes in all the glories of the Form of excellence but rather poses all the ‘virtues’ of fallible humanity. Or is it that we are to strive to be (against our nature and perhaps outside of our capabilities) ‘excellent’ perfect to the utmost in every way? Can such a possibility, as the latter be possible of even desirable? Its my interpretation that we are to strike a balance and while not losing touche with our humanity (more specifically those virtues and qualities unique to the human experience) while at the same time not allowing ourselves to revert back into our animallike base selves. Perhaps most importantly to whom is this human excellence supposed to matter?

Pindar does not give us any further arguments but seems to settle as most of us do in the habit of giving out praise or blame because that is what comes naturally and is simply what is done. Humans have an innate need for reward and consequences to maintain order. We cannot handle a world void of accountability because it is utterly impossible for us to live in such a state of imposed indifference. All the same though it is a troubling question regardless of whether it matters or not.