Author: Meni Koutosimou
Psychologist – Phil to Post Graduate Mental Health Advisor
Post Graduate Degree on Psychiatry/Child Psychiatry
Doctor of Medicine at University of Ioannina
Post-Doc at University of Ioannina on Quality of Services
What makes a man’s soul beautiful? Humility…
- Is it a humble virtue?
- To the point that there is doubt whether it is a virtue…
A subtle virtue which goes by almost unnoticed, whilst today, beyond a doubt, it gets ignored.
Now I have to tell you why I chose to touch at the subject in question. Jankélévitch remarks that the Greeks, almost rightfully so, have ignored this virtue because historically, almost always, they have been victims of their grandeur. Maybe if we give man a great enough God, then and only then his own puniness becomes obvious?
Remorselessness? Maybe an extreme realization of its limits and of the self.
It’s about defying the self, but without devaluing it. Without it being about the ignorance of what we are, in contrast, it marks the knowledge and recognition of all that we are not. It’s the virtue of a man who knows he is not God.
In my attempt to define humility, I recall a quote by Spinoza: “It’s about the sorrow that is born from what man considers his weakness and inability” and I presume that he is referring to a disposition and not a situation. Whoever is able to contemplate his personal inability, feels his soul getting crushed and that’s why it’s considered absurd to perceive that state as strength. Besides, Spinoza concludes that the virtues are always gleeful and consequently, humility is not one of them.
For Aristotle, humility is identical to faintheartedness… to contemptibility. For him, every virtue is a peak between two abysses, but this is something that’s also true for magnanimity. Whoever draws away and tends to exaggeration falls into arrogance. Whoever has a petty soul verges on faintheartedness, on exiguity. Simply put, for one to feel humble, it means that he lacks what he deserves, it means that he overlooks his real value, to the point of depriving himself, because he thinks he is unworthy and every action is greater than him.
Theoretically driven, I see that sorrow can sometimes become an internal force and motivate us, something that we have learned from experience and from painful situations while growing up. Humility as a virtue coincides with true sorrow on the fact that we are nothing else but ourselves. Could we been something else? Be happy with yourself… magnanimity teaches… and suddenly there comes arrogance. To be happy with you own self is in fact the most a man can hope for, the highest of his expectations.
The issue now becomes obvious; if humility is worthy of admiration or respect, doesn’t it submit itself to a perspective error, of actually being humble? And if, on the other hand, it has reasons to be humble, then how is our admiration justified? It seems it’s about a contradictory virtue, which can only be vindicated by its own absence, or it gets honored to the point of its cancellation.
- “Am I too humble?” Self-contradiction
- “Do I lack humility?” Here is a first step.
And now the paradox; how is it possible for someone to fight for his own worth by devaluing his own self? In his Treatise of Virtue, Kant refers to the duty to respect human self-integrity, as a moral being. For Kant, humility is equal to modesty which is characterized by consciousness and the feeling of little, by the inadequacy of personal moral value in comparison to the law. He, who transforms into a maggot, must not complain that he gets trampled, Kant proudly writes.
As for Nietzsche, if we start with him, we will never finish this presentation. Can anyone doubt that a strong sense of nihilism or guilt inheres in humility? They are not few those who renounce themselves only because of the inability to defend it and take little action. Nietzsche also refers to Kant’s maggot. When we step on it – he says – it shrivels, an act full of wisdom as it reduces the chances of us squashing it. In the language of Morality, this is exactly what is called humility.
Descartes – who had nothing to do with maggots – writes that magnanimous people are usually the most humble.
Let us not confuse humility with guilty consciousness, remorse and sorrow. The point in this life is not to judge what we have done, but what we are. And truthfully… we are so “little”.
Humility is equivalent to truth, Jankélévitch would say, is the decency that derives from honesty. And if for Freud, the Ego loses its throne, it clearly sets the dilemma, as every piece of knowledge is a blow against narcissism.
We either love the Truth or Ourselves
It’s that simple. From my experience, I learned the following definition;
When the Self attempts or fights to break free from the illusions around it, it gets obliterated from the inside… demolished… and exposed it searches for its core.
Now… I understand the pain of the soul that is demanded to start all over again
I respect the man who knows when to lower his head
I embrace the motion that comes unforced, when I need it
I break by the valence of he who fights, when life is not handed over to him
I breathe with all my being, when the apology is genuine
…because I humbly accept what is, not as self-pity, but as a living challenge.
Bensaid C. (1994). Αγάπησε τον εαυτό σου, η ζωή θα σε αγαπήσει. Σειρά, Ψυχολογία. Νέα Σύνορα, Εκδόσεις Λιβάνη.
Μπάκιγχαμ Γ. Μπέρνχαμ Ν., Χιλ Κ., Κινγκ Π., Μαρενμπον Τ., Γουίκς Μ. (2014). Η Φιλοσοφία με απλά λόγια. Εκδόσεις Κλειδάριθμος.
Γκομπρόβιτς Β. (2008). Μαθήματα Φιλοσοφίας σε έξι ώρες και ένα τέταρτο. Εκδόσεις Πατάκη.