Philanthropy, meaning “humanity loving,” is a word whose origins can be traced to ancient Greece and playwright Aeschylus’ description of Prometheus in his play Prometheus Bound.
By the 1700’s English lexicographer, Samuel Johnson added to the definition by defining philanthropy as, “Having a good-natured love of mankind.”
This good-natured aspect was made manifest during The Scottish Enlightenment when the act of becoming philanthropic was perceived as a “fitness” or, as a way of living in harmony with nature and one’s circumstances. Doing good deeds was proposed as an essential key to human happiness, and helped to build a commonwealth community. Thus, volunteering became a popular pastime among the wealthy, and societies, gentleman clubs, and mutual associations began to flourish.
In the above painting, the morally out-of-shape gentleman, however, whose philanthropic fitness has been woefully unrealized, laments: HE TRIED TO BE A GOOD PERSON, BUT JUST COULDN’T DO IT.
“You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.”
Assisted suicide is as controversial in this country as it is in many other parts of the world. While nearly legal in three US. states under the Death and Dignity Act, the option to “opt out”, to relieve physical, or emotional suffering a bit ahead of schedule either by direct contact, or with the assistance at a distance of someone else, is a very old solution to our human problem and most likely dates to the beginning of mankind.
In ancient Greece, the death of trouble-maker philosopher Socrates is one such example. Socrates (469-399 BC) was Athens’ unofficial, unwashed, robe-wearing, stick-carrying guru. While an inspiration to his followers (Plato, among them), he was a philosophizing irritant to some of his fellow Athenians.
In 399, following an act of civil-disobedience, he was charged and convicted of the capital crimes of “irreverence” to the gods, and “corrupting” the minds of impressionable teenagers.
Given three options for punishment, with three probable consequences, he could:
1. Go into voluntary exile. (Which would rob him of his guru status among the young.)
2. Take his friends up on their offer to help him escape. (Which would make him look guilty of crimes he did not commit.)
3. Die by drink from a physician-administered hemlock.
(Which would allow him to bypass the decrepitude of old age, afford him the opportunity to converse in the underworld, and give his earthly followers the impression that he was a man of his convictions and a proper philosopher indeed.)
After some deep, philosophical reflection, Socrates made the professionally advantageous decision to opt out, by opting in for hemlock at #3. Leaving us to wonder if “An examined life is not worth living” either.