While watching the Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen, I was inspired to write about thumos. The prototypical thumotic character, in the long vein stretching from Achilles and Odysseus to Mel Gibson and William Shatner, has always been thought of as the hero, the powerful, swash-buckling, motorcycle-riding, black leather-wearing, straight-shooting, quick-witted, most-popular person. I call this the “rocket-man” persona. It is the expression of the thumotic, spirited, “eternal fire” unrestrained by organismic, or any other, considerations. It is our burning desires, our undying passions, our seething Id below the veneer of our social relations, below any sense of needing to feel ashamed and humbled by the fact that we are not, actually, the center of the universe. It is the essential experience of self-consciousness, of having a sense of self without which we would be as a computer program, running in silence in blind, unhearing obliviousness of and complete obedience to the external world, or like an ant in a colony, completely observant of his own set of instructions given based on his designed role for his place in society. If there is an internal world, it is by whatever power makes us, us. Without this distinct experience of “knowing”, and wanting, ourselves to be, we would be as desiccated husks, life-less and completely uncaring of the world. We would be unmotivated, without spirit. We might still possess a soul, in that the objective category which we represent is actualized; we may take ourselves to be, in whatever sense of the word “we” is left, a certain type of thing surrounded by other certain types of things, but it would make no difference to us what that entails about what kind of value judgments we might make, regarding ourselves or any others. We would not have any ends to pursue – everything would be the very definition of trivial. This is what it means for reason to be the slave of the passions, for it is only in the passions, the experience of life as motivated energy, as some sort of life force, as something inherently valuable, do we find that we possess built-in ends, intrinsic objects of desire which attract us to them like fuel to our inner fire. We seek out that which motivates us, and we recoil from that which saps our energies or preys on our weaknesses. This seems to be the very definition of having a nervous system, of being able to respond in real time to the real world. But what of this world?

Organicism is the method through which we direct our thumotic motivations. It is the strategy we use for determining the paths of our energies and the form our lives take when we demarcate our place in the world. If we are powerful, we extend those lines to orient ourselves to other existents and organize our responses to them well. If we are not, we shrink our sphere of influence to only the few things in existence which we can manage ourselves around (negotiate). If we are powerful, our strategies for directing our energies will see those energies motivating others, who motivate others still further, in a cascading effect which plausibly extends through many generations. Just the examples of Newton or Homer are sufficient to demonstrate that one’s effects on the motivations of others can extend through even centuries, and perhaps beyond. This is what we value in others, and what we value in ourselves, this sense of oneself taking part in the lives of others and of having experienced this life with others who can share in those experiences and revel in them, take pride and joy in them, and bring life to them. Organicism is the objective framework in which subjective, thumotic experience takes place.

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Comment by Steph S. on December 26, 2011 at 4:17pm

"We seek out that which motivates us, and we recoil from that which saps our energies or preys on our weaknesses."
This is true

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