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(#75, Version 5.0)
"The right to search for the truth implies also a duty; one must not conceal any part of what one has recognized to be true."
We have previously discussed two of the three primary elements of Gorean philosophy: metaphysics and epistemology. It is now time to begin our discussion and analysis of the final element of Gorean philosophy, ethics. This discussion will stretch out over numerous essays as it is an involved subject and of the greatest relevance to those who desire to live by a Gorean philosophy. It is also an area that has garnered the most online interest concerning Gorean philosophical thought, though it most often is not labeled as ethics in those discussions. It generally receives no label at all. Few people online discuss issues of Gorean metaphysics and epistemology for ethics is of far greater concern to them. They are more concerned about ethics in large part because it seems far more practical than metaphysics and epistemology.
Ethics deals with the proper way to conduct ones life. It deals with issues of morality, values, right actions, the nature of good and much more. Ethics has been a major concern for philosophers since the ancient Greeks yet the underlying issues have been a part of mankind far longer than even that. Man, since he began to live in communities, has always been concerned about issues of right and wrong behavior. Their thoughts may have been very simple but their concerns were important to them. Greek philosophers began to more systematically examine the primary issues of ethics, to delve into its intricacies. Socrates spent his entire life searching for the answer of how he should properly conduct his life. That was the intended purpose of his elenchus, the questioning and testing he would subject certain individuals to. The elenchus is more commonly known as the Socratic method. Platos Socratic dialogues commonly center on an example of the elenchus intended to assist in defining key ethical concepts. For example, Platos The Republic centers on the definition of justice. And Platos student, Aristotle, wrote extensively on ethics.
More modern philosophers continue to seek answers to these same questions and many of their answers vary significantly from those of the ancient Greeks. Ethics remains an area of controversy and modern technology has brought about new ethical concerns, issues that ancient man never had to consider. Cloning, nuclear proliferation, and stem cell research are a few of these new areas that ancient man never had to contemplate. Yet there are also many common ethical concerns that both modern men and ancient men share. Despite these shared concerns, modern man more often views those ethical concerns from a different paradigm than ancient man. And the ethics of modern man are often viewed from a different paradigm than the ethics of Gor as well.
When people discuss a Gorean lifestyle they are actually describing a form of ethics, a way to conduct their life based on the philosophical principles of Gor. The only caveat is that a Gorean lifestyle often comprises more than just philosophical principles. It commonly includes the emulation of certain societal and cultural aspects of Gor as well. Such aspects might include institutions such as slavery, Free Companionship, the Home Stone and the Caste system. These institutions are modified to conform to the realities of our lives. But, these aspects are unnecessary to someone who wishes to follow only the philosophical principles of Gor. Those aspects are part of the fiction of Gor, even though they may derive from the philosophy. Many of those aspects are also generally limited on Gor to the cities of Gor. They are not universal institutions, followed by all of the diverse peoples of Gor. It would be more appropriate to label such institutions as City Gorean rather than the more general Gorean.
In many respects, Gorean ethics go backwards philosophically, embracing many of the tenets and beliefs of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Even when Gor seems to reflect the ideas of more modern day philosophers, still you will often find a strong connection to the ancient Greeks and Romans. For example, within the philosophy of Nietzsche, a German philosopher of the late 19th century, one will find many correlations to Gorean philosophy. Yet the philosophy of ancient Greece and Rome permeates Nietzschian philosophy. For example, Nietzsche often lauds such ancient philosophers as Heraclitus and Socrates. Other Nietzschean ideas clearly reflect the beliefs of the Hellenistic Stoics.
But, you will be unlikely to find many other more modern philosophers who would reflect Gorean ethics. For example, Gorean ethics do not reflect the utilitarianism of Bentham or the categorical imperatives of Kant. They reflect a different perspective, one that has begun recently to return again to the modern mindset. Some present-day philosophers are once again looking to the ethics of the ancient world for answers. They have become dissatisfied with the answers provided by modern philosophy and are seeking alternatives. And it is to there where we will find many of our own answers concerning Gorean ethics. As discussed in the earlier essay on epistemology, our search for the truth will often take us outside of the Gorean books. Norman is a philosophy professor so he was clearly cognizant of the ideas of the ancient philosophers. And it seems readily apparent that these ancient philosophies served as a major inspiration for the world of Gor.
Thus, to better understand Gorean ethics, ones reading should extend further than just the Gorean books. Such readings should seek out these inspirations for Gorean philosophy and ethics. Such readings will provide a deeper comprehension of the philosophical issues raised within the Gorean novels. Read about such philosophical groups as the Pythagoreans, Cynics, Epicureans, and Stoics. Read the works of such philosophers as Plato, Heraclitus, Seneca, Epictetus and Aristotle. Read specific works such as PlatosThe Republic, The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius and Aristotles Politics. Read about such important terms as the elenchus, arÍte, logos and eudaimonia. Read texts concerning virtue ethics and agent-centered morality. Read not only the actual works of the ancient philosophers but also books which explain and give commentary on the works of these ancient writers. Read some general histories of ancient philosophical thought.
As for more modern sources, I would also recommend the works of Nietzsche, a controversial German philosopher, especially his booksBeyond Good and Evil and Genealogy of Morals. His works often reflect ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, placing it in a more modern setting. In fact, Nietzsche has even written books and essays on the ancient Greek philosophers. Nietzsche is not an easy read though so it is advised to accompany your reading of his works with readings of explanatory works by other writers and philosophers. It helps immensely when trying to understand Nietzsche to see the entire picture rather than to dwell on individual quotes and books. Nietzsche is best examined as a whole and not by any individual work. His works can be easily misunderstood. His works can also be easily twisted by those who choose to take a few quotes out of context to denigrate Nietzsche.
As many Gorean philosophical principles are based on natural principles, then one can also benefit from readings into the field of evolutionary psychology, also known as sociobiology. That is a field that touches on genetics, biology, psychology, ethics and more. It is a field where much confusion and controversy still reigns though much of the criticisms of the field are unfounded. Some recommended books in that area include:Sociobiology: The New Synthesis by E.O. Wilson, The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, The Triumph of Sociobiology by John Alcock, Defenders of the Truth by Ullica Segerstrale and The Moral Animal by Robert Wright.
When we begin to examine Gorean ethics, we are presented with a broad spectrum of different aspects. We have the underlying philosophical principles that form the foundation of Gorean philosophy and we also have the morality of Gor, which can be basically summarized as virtue ethics. The distinction between these two aspects is often not made clear online. Some tend to mix the two or ignore one for the other. Yet both aspects are very significant. In addition, there are extensions of Gorean ethics as well, areas that present their own individual philosophies such as the political philosophy of Gor. This series of essays will attempt to delve into all of these different aspects, to highlight the important elements of each. Some of these aspects have rarely been discussed before, if ever, yet they are important topics that deserve discussion and analysis.
How do you encapsulate Gorean philosophy into a single sentence?
How do you narrow down the multitude of philosophical principles of Gor into one easily understood statement?
How do you describe the underlying foundation of Gorean philosophy to someone who has no knowledge of Gor?
Can it even be done?
After a careful reading of the Gorean books, it is evident that it can be done. While reading and examining the Gorean series, there is one primary principle that leaps out at us time and time again. We can see its traces through out all of the books, its tendrils touching upon so many different aspects of Gor. We can see it reach into the civilized cities of Gor as well as the diverse barbarian cultures. Essentially, this principle is followed by nearly every Gorean on the planet. This near universal following makes this principle inherently Gorean. It is not a principle restricted by geographic region, socio-economic status, or level of civilization. It is a principle that binds all of the peoples of Gor. Without this principle, Gor would not be Gor.
This basic principle is very simple to express, five ordinary words that form one ordinary sentence. Yet the philosophical implications of that ordinary sentence are most profound. It is a sentence pregnant with meaning, swollen with complexity. It is a principle that has existed on Earth since the days of antiquity yet has been largely forgotten in our modern, mechanistic society. Modern society has chosen to ignore this principle and suffered due to its absence. The technological concerns of modern man have separated him from this principle, to his detriment. In fact, modern society has chosen to operate on a principle in clear opposition to this basic Gorean principle. Yet, this principle is the single most important aspect of Gorean philosophy.
Live In Accordance With Nature.
It is as simple as that, and as complex as well. In many ways, the entire Gorean series is an attempt to define this underlying principle, to determine the parameters of this important foundation of Gor. There are numerous other philosophical principles within the novels but they only serve as definitional principles to this foundational one. There is a symbiotic relationship between this basic principle and its definitional principles. Each needs each other to be fully complete. They can try to stand alone but then must navigate through a mire of ambiguity. And that ambiguity threatens the validity of each separate component. Yet when they are properly fitted together, the ambiguity must then battle for its own survival. Clarity accompanies a more complete definition and provides a more substantial framework for the Gorean philosophy.
There is no more basic Gorean principle that this one. Every other philosophical principle that can be found within the Gor books ultimately derives from this basic principle. Each of these definitional principles serves to clarify and define the primary principle. Some of these definitional principles are quite explicit in the books while others are more hidden, concealed deeper within the fiction. In addition, more definitional principles might be revealed in later books. There is no guarantee that this most basic principle has been completely defined so far. It does seem evident that the definition has a strong foundation but we cannot ignore the possibility that some aspect may be missing. It does seem likely though that any subsequently revealed definitional principle will not radically change our current understanding of this principle. They would simply add an additional nuance to our comprehension.
This foundational principle is echoed by a number of ancient philosophers, most especially the Hellenistic Stoics. But, if we carefully examine the philosophy of the Stoics, their own derivatives and definitions of this basic principle, we can discern some significant differences from the Gorean philosophy. Thus, even though both start from the same foundational principle, how they define the parameters of that principle can vary, sometimes very substantially. This points out an important issue for those who will do additional reading concerning ancient philosophies. Even though Norman borrowed extensively from these philosophies for Gor, he also made certain changes to conform to the vision he possessed of Gor. So the reader must be wary of differentiating the similarities and differences between Gorean philosophy and ancient philosophies.
(As an additional example, we can note that Aristotle conceived of a natural theory of slavery. Yet his own theory varies significantly from the Gorean natural theory of slavery. Aristotle felt that both men and women could be natural slaves. Norman stated that only women were natural slaves. Men might be enslaved on Gor but it was not a natural occurrence, it was more an economic issue. Aristotle also believed that natural slaves were deficient in reason, mentally inferior. Norman did not feel that natural slaves were such. In fact, Norman felt that a slave could be extremely intelligent and still be a natural slave. Many Goreans value intelligence in their slaves.)
Let us first break down our foundational principle into its basic components, to achieve a starting definition from which we can build upon. First, we have Live. We are being advised on a course of action, on what we should do and how to conduct our life. The sentence is phrased more as an imperative, a command for our conduct. Next, we have In Accordance. This entails a relationship, one conducive to harmony, one that follows the dictates of some source. It avoids conflict, seeking a balance. Finally, we have With Nature. This is the source, that with which we must harmonize our lives. Nature also adopts a dual role, covering both the natural world around us as well as our own inner natures. Thus, this principle could actually be broken down into two separate, but interconnected, components: Live In Accordance With The Natural World & Live In Accordance With Our Inner Nature.
If this principle is the key to Gorean philosophy, is it thus sufficient to follow only this principle in ones life to live according to a Gorean philosophy? The short and simple answer is yes. This principle is the essential key but the answer is not quite as simple as that. For one must also properly understand this principle, to know its parameters and definitional principles. As was mentioned previously, the Stoics held to this exact same principle yet their philosophy is very different in many respects from Gorean philosophy. So, two people could follow this same basic principle but that would not guarantee that each of them was following a Gorean philosophy. Thus, though you need only follow this principle to follow a Gorean philosophy, you cannot do so unless you fully comprehend how Goreans define this principle.
Lets consider an analogy, comparing and contrasting the Gorean Warrior Caste and the Japanese samurai. A foundational principle to both groups would be Be honorable and follow the warrior code of conduct. But, each of these two groups has a different code of conduct so what might be honorable to a samurai might be dishonorable to a Gorean Warrior. For example, suicide can be honorable, under the proper circumstances, to a samurai but it is always dishonorable to a Gorean Warrior. Thus, simply being honorable and following a warrior code of conduct will not necessarily make one either a Gorean Warrior or a samurai. You must delve deeper to assess the definitional principles beneath the foundational principle.
For the foundational principle to be truly Gorean in nature, then you must accept the definitions provided within the books, the parameters set forth in the series. If you try to define this principle on your own, it will no longer be Gorean. It may still be a valid philosophy but it will not be Gorean. We must then carefully examine the Gorean series to learn how to properly define this basic principle. Thus, understanding the existence of this basic principle is only the start of ones exploration of Gorean philosophy. A further exploration requires a reading and analysis of the entire Gorean series, to scrutinize the works to locate those definitional parameters for this foundational principle of Gor. It will also require outside reading to understand all of these additional principles and concepts.
So, what are some of the definitional principles of Gor, those principles that help to define the basic philosophical stance of Live in Accordance with Nature? They include such matters, in no particular order, as: a) People are born with certain genetic inclinations; b) People develop over time, guided by a combination of genetics and environment; c) People are not equal; d) Males are generally dominant and women are generally submissive; e) Nature is hierarchical; f) Seek fulfillment rather than denial; g) Conserve the natural world; h) Savor the beauty in the world.
(These and additional definitional principles will be more fully discussed in later essays.)
In we examine these definitional principles, we will again see that they apply to not only the peoples of the cities of Gor but also the peoples of the barbarian lands. Thus, these principles are near universal across Gor, as is the foundational principle we first examined. If a principle only applied in the cities, or just in the barbarian lands, then it would not be Gorean in the sense of being a defining aspect of nearly any inhabitant of the planet of Gor. Such principles would need qualification such as being a City Gorean or Barbarian Gorean one. As an example, the Home Stone is a societal institution generally restricted to the cities of Gor. The barbarian lands do not possess Home Stones. Thus, in the broader sense, a Home Stone is not a Gorean matter but is more appropriately a City Gorean one.
The definitional principles also form the underlying basis for the varied societal and cultural institutions on Gor. The obvious diversity of these institutions on Gor indicates the flexibility of these principles. There is no single set of institutions that must necessarily derive from these definitional principles. For example, the Caste system of the cities of Gor, based in part on Nature being hierarchical, is not essential to the definitional principles of Gor. The barbarian lands do not possess a Caste system yet they follow that same definitional principle. The Wagon Peoples have a clan system that follows that principle but their system is very different from the Caste system of the cities. Other barbarian peoples have their own ways of arranging a hierarchy of their peoples.
In general, the people of Gor do not sit and ponder these definitional principles. These principles are so ingrained into their society and culture that they are second nature. Their cultural and societal institutions have a lengthy tradition and they go unquestioned. And in general, people do not contest these principles. Those that do are generally outcasts, such as the Panther Girls and talunas who object to the prevalence of male dominance. Yet they are but a tiny minority on Gor. These principles have worked for centuries for Goreans so they see no reason to alter their perceptions. Tradition maintains a powerful hold over Gorean life.
The books provide an interesting quote on the Gorean stance to ethics. Do not ask the stones or the trees how to live; they cannot tell you; they do not have tongues; do not ask the wise man how to live, for, if he knows, he will know he cannot tell you; if you would learn how to live do not ask the question, its answer is not in the question but in the answer, which is not in words, do not ask how to live, but instead proceed to do so. (Marauders of Gor, p.9) This quote is sometimes used to indicate that Gorean philosophy is something that is learned only through living and not study. Such individuals see little reason to engage in philosophical discourse. To them, Gorean ethics is naturally evident. Yet, is this actually the case? Can we just live as the Goreans do?
If we were raised on Gor, then we would not need to study Gorean philosophical principles. We would have been raised according to those principles, taught to embrace them from our youth. Our entire society would be based upon those principles. These principles would be naturally evident to us. We would generally see no other viewpoint. But, those of us raised on Earth come from a radically different background. We are not raised according to these principles. Much of our society is based on opposite principles. The only way we even learn of these other principles is through reading and studying. We cannot just live as Goreans do because we have forgotten how to do so. We have discarded the natural principles embraced on Gor. We must actively overcome societal conditioning to embrace these natural principles. And that takes true study and effort. We must ask how to live because we no longer know how to do so. The above-cited quote is appropriate for those of Gor but not for those of Earth.
So, we have begun our journey down the path of Gorean ethics. It is a long road, with many side roads to explore. Some of the road will seem familiar while other sections will seem very new. We hope that it will be an interesting and educational trek through this philosophical landscape.
From the Gorean Voice, April 2002