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From Narcissus to Tantalus
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2009-02-20 09:14:59
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Lately we have seen analyzed in the pages of Ovi both the myth of Narcissus and the myth of Tantalus as they apply to human nature and human personality. The greatest disagreement seems to revolve around the issue of man’s freedom vis a vis certain pre-determined characteristics of human nature as revealed in our very genes and the desirability to manipulate those genes to produce a more viable human nature. The issue invariably sparks a spirited rational debate but ultimately those mysteries of human nature, despite the scientific and psychological data behind it, begin and end as myths. Here is the presentation of another book on the subject which may clarify some of the issue’s perplexities.

The Myth of Tantalus: A Scaffolding for an Existential and Ontological Theory of Personality by Shlomo Giora Shoham.

Shlomo Giora Shoham has been awarded the Israel Prize for 2003, for his contribution to the study of criminology. He is a widely published author on crime, deviance, philosophy, religion, psychology and the human personality. He lectures worldwide, and has recently been resident at the universities of Oxford and Harvard, and at the Sorbonne.
“This is the work of a man who has undergone a crisis, who in effect tells us that the crisis opened his eyes to scientific and human truth. Shoham is an adventurer among ideas and one takes pleasure in his mixture of daring generalization and empirical exactness.” Professor ben Ami Shaarfstein, author of A Comparative History of World Philosophy: From the Upanishads to Kant, reviewing the first edition in The Jerusalem Post.

This fully revised and expanded second edition provides a detailed explanation of personality developmental dynamics, taking into account mysticism and religious experience as psycho-sociological phenomena, and using empirical anchors ranging from the topical issue of Arab–Jewish relationships to the divergent personalities of the founders of the Hassidic movement.

These psychological dynamics are presented by way of the developmental and relationship experiences we have with the outside world – alternations between conflict and a striving to revert back to earlier developmental phases. At any given moment of our lives there is a gap between our desires for participation and our subjectively defined distance from our participatory aims. This gap is denoted the Tantalus Ratio, after the Olympian demigod. Transcendental longings and quests are explored in their actual structuring of the human personality. This new Theory of Personality also explores the mytho-empirical manifestation of the normative sacrifice of the young, denoted as the Isaac Syndrome.

The author pays homage to Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus by recognizing the absurd drudgeries of man’s existence, the maddening routines, the pointlessness of being, the silence of God, and the cruelty of man to man. Examples from literature and myth demonstrate that if man can find a creative modus vivendi with his pitiful “stone” burden, then the vicissitudes of existence can become punctuated with meaning, satisfaction and even happiness. Like Camus, the author concludes that it is only through creative rebellion that man can find authenticity. In that respect he echoes Dostoyevsky’s Man from Underground who proclaims that were we to place man in a wholly deterministic universe, he would blow it up simply to prove that he is free.

Links or some significant recent articles related to the issue:


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Emanuel Paparella2009-02-20 10:24:47
A footnote: over the years Prof. Shoham has developed, with Prof. Yehuda Fried, a new method for treating drug-addicts, which was applied in Israel with impressive results. In his studies he examined social deviance and elaborated a unique personality theory to explain crime and deviation. His Stigma Theory, published in his book The Mark of Cain, which was translated into many languages, made it possible to understand the meaning of recidivism in the fields of crime and social deviance. In recent years he developed a new micro and macro theory in criminology. In his book Valhalla, Calvary and Auschwitz he proved that it is possible to explain the Nazi movement using a macro-criminological point of view, while the Holocaust may be understood from a macro-victimological aspect.

AP2009-02-20 23:48:12
"but ultimately those mysteries of human nature, despite the scientific and psychological data behind it, begin and end as myths"
that's pretty arguable...

Emanuel Paparella2009-02-21 00:12:42
What ought not be arguable in any case is that there is a Swiss truth and a Brazilian truth, and a European truth and an American truth. If the Greeks taught us anything is that there is the truth, period, and it ought to be told in its entirety devoid of ideological lenses.

AP2009-02-21 01:23:26
Just look who's talking... the owner of the arbitrary morality.

AP2009-02-21 01:28:56
"there is a Swiss truth and a Brazilian truth, and a European truth and an American truth"
And where are the news???

"If the Greeks taught us anything is that there is the truth, period"
The Greek truth, then.

Emanuel Paparella2009-02-21 02:05:06
"Just look who's talking... the owner of the arbitrary morality."

The above is a mere ad hominem argument, Ms. Pereira and it does not in the least advance the cause of truth or justice or morality. As mentioned, do not expect a reply to those kinds of shabby arguments.

AP2009-02-21 02:44:10
Oh please let me laugh. Yours are not ad hominem, but ad femina...

Emanuel Paparella2009-02-21 17:54:42
You may surely laugh at your heart's content Ms. Pereira, but there is really no need to play the victim and arbitrarly exclude the whole feminine gender. Surely you know that by "Homo Sapiens" the Romans meant the whole genus "human kind" including the monsters among us (those monsters Derrida advised not to name in order not to transform them into pets), and that includes women as well as men, independent of whether or not they respect or disrespect the opposite gender.

AP2009-02-21 18:16:39
Hummm? What did you say?

Emanuel Paparella2009-02-21 20:11:18
One wonders: not understood, or understood only too well?

Emanuel Paparella2009-02-21 22:29:57
P.S. Be that as it may, to return to the subject at hand, an ad hominem argument is like receiving from the postman an unwelcome or inconvenient truth that does not fit one's ideology and beat up the postman for delivering it. Not very rational to be sure. What makes it even more bizarre is that it is often done by people who are proud of their rationality and consider themselves "enlightened."

Philip Banke - in your cl2013-04-02 18:51:15
I always find it helpful to look on topics from a different view, the presentation you presented has helped refine my view with more knowledge on the topic. I agree somewhat with the point about the absurd drudgeries of man's existence, how their cruelty even results from man to man.

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