Monday, July 14, 2014

A Philosophical Pantheon

Philosophy is a huge field, and there are a jillion legitimate ways you could divide it up: by geographical region, by historical epoch, by tradition, by problem, by mode of argumentation, and so forth. Usually we use a mish-mash of these, as we deem convenient. In any case, many of them are boring. I've sometimes thought that we should divide philosophy up according to a Greco-Roman pantheon.

Zeus is obviously metaphysics, being also Jupiter Terminus, maker of boundaries, and Jupiter Invictus, unconquered, and the chief of the gods, Jupiter Optimus Maximus, and Jupiter Tegillus, the linchpin of the universe. Note that Athena, who is epistemology, springs up as a full-grown virgin from his head.

Hera, of course, is ethics; one of Zeus's titles is Consort of Hera, and the cow-eyed, white-armed goddess is the patron of order, law, sovereignty, marriage. She is also Juno Moneta, the warner, and Juno Sospita, the savior. And ethics obviously has some claim to being the queen of all philosophy.

Poseidon is comparative philosophy; his realm touches every shore. Also, he is brother of Zeus, and note that comparative philosophy shares with metaphysics that it is a way of encompassing the whole of philosophy.

And we historians of philosophy of course, have our own high patron, the unseen god himself, Hades, whose jurisdiction is ever-growing and into whose realm everyone comes to be judged and sorted, whether sooner or later. That is why he is called Agesilaus, the taker of peoples, and Polydegmon, receiver of many. His treasuries are inexhaustible, for he is Plautodotes, giver of wealth. History of philosophy, like metaphysics and comparative philosophy, is a way of encompassing the whole of philosophy, so it is fitting that its corresponding member of the pantheon should be brother of Zeus. And we are the custodians of the dead, whom nobody, not even you, can escape, O philosopher; one day you, too, will journey to the realm of shades, and not yourself but the historians of philosophy will sit in judgment over you to determine whether you attain to the Elysian status of philosophical hero or are damned to the penalty of Sisyphus in Tartarus. Or perhaps, indeed, and more likely, you will wander among the mass of shades beside the River of Oblivion, dismissed because you did not pay your fee and we did not carry you over, deeming you unworthy even of our condemnation.

Yes, I did write this entire post just so I would have an excuse to write that paragraph.

Hephaestos is obviously the philosophy of crafts and productive skills.

Hermes, the swift god, god of liars, is obviously the philosophy of language.

So that leaves Demeter, Aphrodite, the Twins, Ares, and Hestia, and also, later, Dionysus. Demeter is perhaps political philosophy, because she is Thesmophoros, the law-bringer. But it would have to be 'political' as the Greeks would have understood, civilized life. Apollo could perhaps be aesthetics, but then what would Artemis be? What is to aesthetics as the moon is to the sun, and yet is also worthy to be represented by the virgin huntress? And what is Hestia? Logic, perhaps: the primal hearth of thought, always still and always central. If we took our cue from Socrates, we could perhaps give a jurisdiction to Aphrodite, since her son is Eros, and he himself claimed to be expert only in matters of eros, his 'method', in fact, being eros itself. We have no good word for it; but we could just call it Socratic. Ares may just have to be given up, although perhaps there is something appropriate in his Roman mask. And wild Dionysus is also a non-obvious one. What are your suggestions?


  1. Dionysus--I first tried to link him to philosophy students, then to trolley problems and other thought experiments, both with wicked and unkind reasons. But then it hit me as I enjoyed my morning coffee. A noble and powerful impulse, corrupted by blind sensuality, ultimately turned to wild and uncontrollable destruction, but always holding out the vain hope of somehow still being redeemed, brought to good. Everyone should get carried away by it once, and then keep a safe, wistful, admiring distance.


  2. branemrys4:12 PM

    Existential philosophy does seem a plausible fit; everything from a calm glass of wine with Marcel to Sartre on speed and caffeine.

  3. Timotheos6:34 PM

    So what do you, O' instrument of Hades' judgement, say of the fate of fair Lady Mary Shepherd? Was she deemed not worthy of the Elysian status, or did she simply neglect to pay her due to the ferryman of the underworld Charon, god of critical acclaim? Or perhaps did the demigods Enlightenment and Deism conspire to pass poor favor towards her in order to raise up their hero Hume?

    To quote a famous historian of philosophy...
    "Yes, I did write this entire post just so I would have an excuse to write that paragraph." - Brandon Watson, July 15, 2014

    As for Ares...

    How about philosophy of rhetoric since that is who is called when the gods spawn war, and is also usually born of studying metaphysics and ethics? And that also explains the Roman mask, since the best orators were the Latins. Then again, I'm also tempted to give philosophy of rhetoric to Athena, so I'm a little torn.

  4. branemrys6:50 PM

    We judges of the underworld have a bit of a backlog.

    Rhetoric is an interesting idea for Ares. A related possibility might be eristic or sophistical refutation.

  5. Itinérante2:46 AM

    My tortoise is named Dionysus and this fits it!!


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