About This Blog

Welcome to James' Philosophical Agora - James' Meeting Place On-Line. (Updated September 2017)

This blog is the place where I write in a more personal way on various areas of philosophical interest. Please be careful when I say 'philosophical' because this does not often mean about purely academic or abstract subjects and ideas; but rather like much of the philosophy of Socrates, it means an investigation of some fundamental things that have a very important baring on the way we live our lives as individuals and as communities.

I have a separate blog where I share my enthusiasm for the specific philosophical tradition and ideas of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle Plutarch and others at: Socrates 4 Today However, this blog James' Philosophical Agora expresses mostly personal viewpoints and so I prefer to have two separate blogs.

Please feel free to comment on any of the blog posts, or add some thoughts of your own to the subjects discussed. You can also contact me personally if you would like to discuss any particular items further at: jamesdelphi2000@gmail.com

Saturday, May 19, 2018

‘Nothing to Excess…. But What Is Enough? (Living Moderately and Sustainably)

‘Nothing to Excess…. But What Is Enough?

Now I live outside Athens in the modern Greek town of Delphi about 200 kilometres west of Athens. It’s a beautiful and inspiring place, and if you get the chance to go I recommend taking it. (Try and stay one night at least if you do go, since it is quite difficult to appreciate Delphi and its very special ‘relaxed vibe’ on a rushed day trip from Athens – well I think so anyway.)
 In ancient times, Delphi was the centre of Ancient Greek spiritual life. Much practical decision making for individuals and cities throughout the Greek world was made in Delphi - by the very famous Oracle of the Greek God Apollo at Delphi. (… quite possibly this reputation for good decision making and choices also owed a lot to the very well informed group of priests and administrators there)
Now for some reason, there were just two short pieces of simple advice written above the main temple doors of Apollo in Delphi, and these two phrases were obviously very carefully considered by the wise priests and administrators who had these phrases chiselled into the stone there.  The first phrase in Ancient Greek was ‘Gnothi S’Afton’ meaning Know Yourself - and I have just told you a little about the deeper meanings of this ‘Knowing who and what you are’.
Now the second phrase above the temple door was ‘Miden Agan’ meaning literally ‘Nothing to Excess’ or more usually rendered these days in modern English as: ‘all things in moderation’; and although this really would be another talk all of its own to discuss with you in any detail, I wanted to say just ‘something’ to you about this second phrase tonight – which is basically advising us all to live moderately and sustainably. This ‘nothing to excess – living moderately’ was clearly a central concept to the Ancient Greeks, and so I think well worth 6 or 7 minutes of our time to discuss.
In Delphi there are some stunning archaeological ruins there and I often spend a little time sitting there quietly ‘contemplating’ in the ruins of the temple of Apollo there, as old philosophers like me enjoy doing from time to time. Well sitting there in the morning sunshine over the years, I have seen so many tourist groups nod their heads immediately in apparent understanding when their tour guides showing them around the place tell them that ‘Know Thyself’ and ‘Nothing to Excess’ was written above Apollo's temple door. As discussed, there is more to the simple phrase Know Thyself than most people might think at first. So what does the other phrase, this ‘Nothing to Excess – This living moderately and sustainably’ - really mean?

'The Temple of Apollo in Delphi'

(The modern village of Delphi is a 10 minutes walk away)

 I remind you that while we may understand the actual words, vocabulary and phrases a poet uses; understanding the various deeper meanings within the words is often much harder. For example, the modern poetess Stevie Smith writes: ‘I was not waving but drowning…’ but the deeper meaning has nothing to do with waving or drowning but about being overcome by our personal problems while appearing happy in front of other people.
In the same way, when we read Nothing to Excess there is more to it….. deeper things we need to think about.
It is prompting us to consider carefully what is enough money, clothes, enough possessions, enough power, sex, alcohol, weed (if you are into that), enough cheesecake (never enough!)  – enough of all sorts of things.  Aristotle said that there are few exact answers to these types of practical questions, and the specific circumstances will all make a difference. (As philosophers, as we all are to some extent, we are forced to use our own common sense and experience on a lot of these kinds of issues.
As a quick and easy example, let us consider the different answers to the simple question of how much money a person needs to earn. Imagine one person has no children or dependants, but the other has three teenage children soon to go to College or University. It would ‘seem’ that the first person (or rather household) can get by on less money than the person with the three children who probably needs to earn a bit more money ‘if they can’. So the answer to ‘what is enough’ appears to be different for these two people in an ideal world. (….. or is it?)
Aristotle talks for the need for frugal living in his ideal medium sized independent cities. But what is frugal living – and what is just being down right poor or ‘hard up’ all the time?
As parents (or perspective parents yourselves), you will all want the best for your own children and will not like saying ‘no’ too often when they ask you for ‘stuff’ even if they do not really need it . How much is the right amount to give children and what is simply spoiling them?
Most of us all want a few nice things ourselves, perhaps a few decent clothes, somewhere comfortable to live, a car that actually starts OK in the mornings etc. In Plato’s ethics there are often no hard and fixed rules about many things such as how much ‘stuff’ is correct; there are only guidelines for you to consider. 
Perhaps try asking yourself sometimes not: ‘How much do I need to live on?’ but rather: ‘How little do I need to live on?’  Maybe if you do that - you will get some extra free time to spend with your friends (or kids), or get some extra leisure time to do what you like to do, and what makes you most happy; or even extra time to make a little positive difference in the world.
A little extra Leisure time seems to have become such a luxury these days. Everyone in our Western style consumerist societies seems so busy all the time – so in a rush. You know – even when people are on holidays and should have a little spare time you hear people in hostels say: ‘we did France yesterday and Greece today – tomorrow we are ‘doing’ Italy; whatever they think ‘doing’ Italy is. For many it’s just an early night in a hostel and another photo on Facebook to show their friends back home….. i.e. ‘doing Italy – maybe ?’ 
Remember, if we are to be ‘real’ philosophers, then for sure we will need some calm quality spare time to consider and investigate a few things as we go through life. 
Be careful, because becoming too materialistic is an easy trap to fall into for new philosophers. It is only when you buy new trousers that you realise that your jacket is getting a bit shabby…. Then the shoes don’t match….. This ‘materialism’ has a kinda way of creeping up on you if you are not careful….. even when we think we are immured to it…  You like my new shoes ?
DON’T GET ME WRONG….Plato was not keen on hermits or people living like monks in cloistered cells; and did not think that philosophers need to walk around looking scruffy and smelly just for the sake of it. Maybe he thought it’s good for philosophers to have their heads in the clouds sometimes, considering deeper spiritual and metaphysical matters, or perhaps complex global issues; or how to get the local health service sorted out.  However, they wanted us to keep our feet firmly on the ground, support ourselves financially, and attend to the small stuff like paying the electricity bill on time. Plato wants his student philosophers (as we all are in a way however much we think we know) to live and be part of the ‘real’ world. How can you advise other people on things – or presidents and ministers on policy – if you can’t even sort our own stuff out in a reasonable way……
In my opinion, one of the secrets to being a good philosopher is the ability to ‘balance’ various aspects of one’s life; balancing the different aspects of our lives – and life is quite complicated these days – and certainly can get very complicated if we are not careful. And of course…… there is a much more serious side to having all this consumer stuff than just showing off a bit to your friends and neighbours….
Most of us have got comfortable with our consumerist lifestyles – it’s what we are used to.   We are all ‘fairly happy’ with the lives we lead. For example, we enjoy buying the cheap clothes from places like India and Bangladesh – and we just don’t want to know that they are stitched together by children working long hours in ghastly and dangerous conditions. For example, in Bangladesh during 2013 an illegally built clothing factory in Savar (see end links) left more than 1200 workers dead and more than another 2000 injured when it collapsed one day. The owner of the factory wanted to make as much profit as he possibly could - and made clothes for many shopping chains in the West including Benetton, Primark and Walmart. Although cracks had appeared in the building the day before and the factory had been evacuated; he ordered the workers to return to work the following day or loose a month’s pay; rather than simply close the factory for a couple of days (or maybe an afternoon) while checks could be carried out. (This is a practical example EXCESS and a lack of moderation in the desires of the factory owner.)
Does Wallmart and Beneton and the others still buy their stuff from that company and other companies like that ? We don’t know – and actually – we don’t really want to know. We didn’t even ask or find out….
You see - we should never forget that Platonic philosophy, with all its elegant and sometimes beautiful myths - and its many clever arguments, is all to do with how to improve the lives of people in the real world today. It is not just about intellectual discussions in classrooms about the finer details of ancient books and abstract ideas. The discussions and details are only just a pre-cursor to changing lives for the better in practical and more fundamental ways in the modern world. It is for philosophers to examine ‘what’s going on in the world – and understand how it is – and how it all works’ - and then, only then, can they can suggest realistic ideas where improvements and updates can be made. If philosophers don’t do this - then who will?
To summarise these few short paragraphs about Nothing to Excess or Living Moderately, I think you can now see that when those tourists in Delphi just nod their heads immediately after being told that the two Delphi Maxims of Know Yourself and Live Moderately, there is a bit more to it than just understanding what the various words mean. Both phrases hold much deeper meanings, and I hope we have now at least begun to scratch the surface a little.

[Note: The above blog is the second part of James’ Monday night philosophy talk in Athens - and also appears on Pages 183 – 189 of his paperback book ‘Life Choices’. ]

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Is the sole purpose of a human being (or a human soul if we have one) simply to make a profit? Perhaps it is ?

When you think about it most things you see around you are only made for profit.  A car tire actually has no purpose in itself..... its purpose is what I will refer to as 'deferred'. That is, its purpose relates to an activity obviously unknown to the tire, which is to be used by a more complex system, and to go  on a motor car; which will take people from A to B.

However, if you think that the tire simply has a deferred real purpose to help get people from A to B this is a mistake. The people who made it in their factory did so in order to make a profit as a their motive and had no special interest in getting you or me from A to B.  And when you look around you, most things (when you think behind the first 'apparent' purpose to the 'underlying' purpose or 'real' purpose) are really all made simply for economic profit.

So one might conclude,  and mistakenly again in my opinion at least, that the logical deduction is that the only real and underlying purpose of a human being is also to make a profit..... And you would not have to walk far down Wall Street in New York, or Oxford Street in London on a busy shopping Saturday, to find lots of people (perhaps even most of the people) who would agree with you.

Let me just say at this point that this making and doing stuff only for profit is not quite as bad or shallow as it seems, since the human being (at least in modern western style societies - and indeed modern eastern, southern and northern societies as well while we are at) has moved on from being 'hunters and gatherers'; we simply do not do it that way anymore.  If you take a bow and arrow on Wall Street and shoot the first 4 legged animal you see for your lunch - you will not even go to jail; probably you will go straight to the funny farm.

Yes these days we make stuff and sell it for profit, in order in the first instance, to feed and support ourselves and to buy the things we need; but all to too often as well these days .... lots of 'stuff' (i.e. unnecessary consumer items ) that we really do not need at all.

One furthur small point on economics before I quickly make the main point of this blog post and finish....  is that for most of us (i.e.  people who work for someone else) what we contribute to the economic or capatalist system (which I am not against at all per se) is our labour and time.  That is, we get paid by someone for our time and labour to make things and provide a service.

So let me return now to the main point of this blog and its title: 'Is the sole purpose of a human being simply to make a profit?  Well, yes I suppose that in part it is.....  unless we are going to take our bows and arrows to the park on Sunday mornings and risk the consequences. However, it is my contention that the human being's purpose is not 'only' to make a profit, but as a rational conscious being, it is 'also' to do stuff that is not for a profit.  This may through necessity get less hours and attention in the week (whether we like it or not) to making a profit of some kind to support ourselves; but this 'not for profit' activity is just as important, or even more so to a human being I believe.

It is when we are helping with the kids local soccer team on a Sunday morning, singing in the local choir, fixing up the garden, reading a book and thinking about stuff, or volunteering for a day here and there for some good cause, that we are really fulfilling our real or underlying purpose; or I would suggest an important part of that purpose.

I have to admit that after several years of contemplating what the real and underlying purpose of a human being is, I am still unsure and decided about this.  However, I think Aristotle was right (in part at least) when he suggested that the human purpose is about the good use of quality leisure time and living well.  Incidently, he acknowldged that some people get very little choice about life owing to poor health or resouces; but if we can, he suggest we should use our leisure time (our not for profit time) productively and live well.

Some readers of this blog will be fairly certain what real human purpose is; but many other like me will wonder whether, like that new tire stacked on the factory floor, the human being has a deferred purpose, as yet unknown to us, and part of a more complex system.  This line of thought and contemplation, or the many lines in could take,  will to some extent at least depend on what we think a human being is.  This was why Socrates urged his students and friends to 'Know Thyself' - meaning to know where we are in life's journey, and more importantly still, what we are.  This will be developed a little in my next blog post on the 'The Delphi Message and Maxims'.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Bed Blocking in NHS and time to broaden the brief of the NHS

Time to Rebrand the NHS for the next century

Bed blocking by elderly patients in National Health Service wards is just one illustration that it is now time to ditch the NHS in favour of the 'National Health and Well-Being Service'  (NHSWB ?)  This new service should incorporate elderly onward (transitional and on-going) elderly care within its planning and budgeting, and indeed look at the Health and Well Being of the nation as a whole. This new role for the re-branded NHS could truly support people from ‘cradle to the grave’ and could move away from being the place you go when you are sick; and leave either when you are better, or staff feel they can no longer improve your physical health with treatment.

Such a bold move as outlined above while sounding expensive and untenable might on investigation prove not to need as much extra funding as one might first expect. The rational for this is briefly outlined below.

A re-branded NHS that had responsibility to provide better social care for the elderly, would at the same time be able to free up many hospital beds that had been previously blocked by elderly patients following hospital clinical treatment – for minor as well as more major issues. In addition, a slightly different ethos to health by the government; that is, a greater emphasis on prevention and well-being after treatment to avoid re-admittance, would be preferable for many reasons than simply providing treatment after people get sick or have accidents.

The fact remains that for all users of the NHS both young and old, once someone has actually been admitted to hospital bed the treatment one receives in hospital ward is generally very good. The problem for most people is to get admitted in the first place and not turned away from A & E or have an unreasonable time to wait on the dreaded ‘waiting lists’ if referred by the GP. 

For example, after several visits to A & E with my elderly mother (requiring an ambulance to be called each time, and A & E staff time to be taken up) she was finally admitted to a hospital bed and received the treatment she needed. Another quick example worth mentioning is the elderly mother of a friend of mine who following her hospital treatment would need social care for when she left hospital.  An appointment with the social care staff was arranged three days after her clinical treatment finished. The social care member of staff went to the wrong hospital for the appointment and so another appointment was arranged a couple of days after that.  This meant that the elderly lady had taken up a hospital clinical bed for a minimum of five nights before even receiving any first consultation with social care staff about what would happen to her next when she left hospital.  This is not a big deal in itself were it an isolated example, but I suspect this kind of waste of valuable clinical bed nights in hospital wards is prevalent throughout the NHS, and possibly no real fault of their own making, since they are relying on the local government social services department in order to progress the matter and clear the bed for the next patient.

There is nothing particularly difficult about arranging onward social care for these elderly clients.  It is not rocket science, particularly for a service like the NHS that can arrange complex operations and aftercare for tens of thousands of clinical patients each month. Why then do they need to be slowed down by different social services departments across the country to free up the beds.

The only problem about the current NHS arranging social care for the elderly (and onward placements for clinical patients) is that it is not in the brief of the NHS, and not part of its planning and budgeting for the years ahead to provide this kind of provision and service.

There is no need to outsource this social care provision (particularly for patients who have finished their clinical treatments in hospital) to expensive private care providers, or large cumbersome often parallel government social services departments with their own cumbersome staffing arrangements, office administration's, and priorities on their budgets and resources.  For the NHS, surely being able to clear 5 - 10,000 (?) hospital beds each night across the country would be much higher up their priority list, since it would allow in a single stroke the NHS to meet many of its other targets and goals much more easily.  Whereas care for the elderly leaving hospital is much further down the list of priorities for social services departments with many other calls on their limited resources.

It seems to me therefore, that the NHS is ideally placed, ideally staffed at management and ‘hands on’ level, ideally resourced and already set up to easily factor in to its planning and budgeting this simple provision of onward social care for elderly clients who are blocking valuable clinical beds.

I strongly suspect that a similar situation prevails in residential mental health provision, especially for younger people where clinical beds on psychiatric wards are very scarce indeed. Are these valuable bed places also being blocked once clinical care has come to an end because the onward journey of the patient is delayed several days at least owing to social services departments acting slowly and without any sense of urgency or priority to quickly facilitate the appropriate aftercare for the mental health patient?

It is time to do away with the NHS as soon as possible and welcome the creation of the National Health and Well Being Service, which will have a broader range of responsibilities including onward social care for all patients leaving clinical hospitals. In addition, it should give a new and greater emphasis on prevention and wellbeing within the nation as a whole, rather than the 'let's wait until you get sick - and then fix you up' approach that we seem to be adopting at the moment. This latter approach that we are currently adopting may well come at greater (not less) expense, with greater disruption to lives, and greater other inconveniences to all concerned.