Under Christian and scientific culture, “human nature” suggests facile abstractions of presumptuous universality. The Greeks were more astute observers of cultures and nature and of their synthesis in character.
The Greeks understood that “the human” could not be univocal given the diversity of ways of thinking and living, and thus defined the dominant character-types accounting for equivocations in the ways of being human. Life is lived in a particular key, each type a specific mode of subjectivity biased by its natural limitations.
I. Most primitive is the slavish personality or doulos, dominated by his psyche’s raw materials (needs, appetites, impulses). His life is morally-rationally passive, structureless, dissolute, and myopic. Left to itself it chaotizes into worse pathos; in symbiosis with a master the doulos can be contained within prudential forms but still lacks inherent resources for self-criticism or -control.
II. Economic order depends on the mechanical or mercenary personality, the banausos. This mentality is practical and efficient, adaptable to the system of means or technai, yet also myopic like the doulos about ultimate ends. The banausoi rise above occlusive natural psychology but have no principles to elevate them above their own artificialisms, the systems of devices and prices. If the world of douloi is essentially something to be consumed and enjoyed, that of banausoi is to be controlled, exploited and profited from. Neither class has the constraint to temper its irrational dynamisms or serve as authority over its own psyche.
III. The prospect of a culture of values and a polity to garden them into harmony depends utterly on the aristoi who live for the sake of penetrating insight into what is best and most important. Distinctive of aristic ethos are the virtues of agonism or striving for what is best, protean self•cultivation, respect as tolerance for different virtues, a drive for clarity and acuity, a search for articulate insight into ultimacy, the sacrality of intrinsic value, and the autonomy and integrity of authentic individuality. To aristoi what is sacred is not their own biopsychological needs or money, power or social esteem, but only an ethos of pursuit of excellence rooted in individual character.
The Greek characterology has sobering implications for our limited palette of self-conceptions. Modern technocratic and scientific civilization is not sui generis but a truncated variation on ancient hierarchic order, conducting its historical evolution in the absence of any class fit to see what is right or good and make policy for the benefit of the entire society, generations to come, or the natural order. Ecocidal and economic pathologies of modernity are driven by the defining irrationalisms of douloi and banausoi whose myopic worldviews thrive in the absence of aristic vision.