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  • 35


     
    The Ten Commandments of Solon
    Philosophy; Posted on: 2009-04-19 20:12:42 [ Printer friendly / Instant flyer ]

    In contrast with Moses, Solon wastes no words with legalisms--he sums up everything in three words: do good things. This is an essential moral principle, lacking from the commands of Moses, which allows one to qualify all the others.

    Let us now turn to the Ten Commandments of Solon (Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, 1.60), which run as follows:

    1. Trust good character more than promises.
    2. Do not speak falsely.
    3. Do good things.
    4. Do not be hasty in making friends, but do not abandon them once made.
    5. Learn to obey before you command.
    6. When giving advice, do not recommend what is most pleasing, but what is most useful.
    7. Make reason your supreme commander.
    8. Do not associate with people who do bad things.
    9. Honor the gods.
    10. Have regard for your parents.

    Unlike the Commandments of Moses, none of these is outdated or antithetical to modern moral or political thought. Every one could be taken up by anyone today, of any creed--except perhaps only one. And indeed, there is something much more profound in these commandments. They are far more useful as precepts for living one's life. Can society, can government, prevail and prosper if we fail to uphold the First Commandment of Moses? By our own written declaration of religious liberty for all, we have staked our entire national destiny on the belief that we not only can get by without it, but we ought to abolish it entirely. Yet what if we were to fail to uphold Solon's first commandment? The danger to society would be clear--indeed, doesn't this commandment speak to the heart of what makes or breaks a democratic society?



    Isn't it absolutely fundamental that we not trust the promises of politicians and flatterers, but elect our leaders and choose our friends instead by taking the trouble to evaluate the goodness of their character? This, then, can truly be said to be an ideal that is fundamental to modern moral and political thought.

    Now, two of the commandments of Solon are almost identical to those advocated by Moses: do not speak falsely, and have regard for your parents. Of course, Solon does not restrict his first injunction to false accusations or testimony against others, as Moses does. Solon's commandment is more profound and thus more fundamental, and is properly qualified by the other commandments in just the way we believe is appropriate--for Solon's rules allow one to lie if doing so is a good deed (no such prescription to do good appears in the Ten Commandments of Moses). And whereas Moses calls us to honor our parents (in the Hebrew, from kabed, "to honor, to glorify"), Solon's choice of words is more appropriate--he only asks us to treat our parents in a respectful way (in the Greek, from aideomai, "to show a sense of regard for, to have compassion upon"), which we can do even if we disobey or oppose them, and even if we disapprove of their character and thus have no grounds to honor them.

    In contrast with Moses, Solon wastes no words with legalisms--he sums up everything in three words: do good things. This is an essential moral principle, lacking from the commands of Moses, which allows one to qualify all the others. And instead of simply commanding us to follow rules, Solon's commandments involve significant social and political advice: temper our readiness to rebel and to do our own thing (which Solon does not prohibit) by learning first how to follow others; take care when making friends, and stick by them; always give good advice--don't just say what people want to hear; shun bad people. It can be said without doubt that this advice is exactly what we need in order to be successful and secure--as individuals, as communities, and even as a nation. The ideals represented by these commandments really do rest at the foundation of modern American morality and society, and would be far more useful for school children whose greatest dangers are peer influence, rashness and naivete.

    There is but one that might give a secularist pause: Solon's commandment to honor the gods (in the Greek, tima˘, "to honor, to revere, to pay due regard"). Yet when we compare it to the similar First Three Commandments of Moses, we see how much more Solon's single religious commandment can be made to suit our society and our civic ideals: it does not have to restrict religious freedom, for it does not demand that we believe in anyone's god or follow anyone's religious rules. It remains in the appropriate plural. Solon asks us to give the plethora of gods the regard that they are due, and we can say that some gods are not due much--such as the racist gods and gods of hellfire. In the end, it is good to be respectful of the gods of others, which we can do even if we are criticizing them, even if we disbelieve in them. This would remain true to our most prized American ethic of religious liberty and civility. Though it might better be rendered now, "Respect the religions of others," there is something fitting in admitting that there are many gods, the many that people invent and hope for.

    It is clear then, that if anyone's commandments ought to be posted on school and courthouse walls, it should be Solon's. He has more right as the founder of our civic ideals, and as a more profound and almost modern moral thinker. His commandments are more befitting our civil society, more representative of what we really believe and what we cherish in our laws and economy. And indeed, in the end, they are essentially secular. Is it an accident that when Solon's ideals reigned, there grew democracies and civil rights, and ideals we now consider fundamental to modern Western society, yet when the ideals of Moses replaced them, we had a thousand years of oppression, darkness, and tyranny? Is it coincidence that when the ideals of Moses were replaced with those of Solon, when men decided to fight and die not for the Ten Commandments but for the resurrection of Athenian civil society, we ended up with the great Democratic Revolutions and the social and legal structures that we now take for granted as the height and glory of human achievement and moral goodness? I think we owe our thanks to Solon. Moses did nothing for us--his laws were neither original nor significant in comparison. When people cry for the hanging of the Ten Commandments of Moses on school and court walls, I am astonished. Solon's Ten Commandments have far more right to hang in those places than those of Moses. The Athenian's Commandments are far more noble and profound, and far more appropriate to a free society. Who would have guessed this of a pagan? Maybe everyone of sense.

    Source
    News Source: infidels.org

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