The Morality of Hermits?

 

shutterstock_181793927I was recently listening to the Rationally Speaking podcast, a show that discusses  philosophy, science and the relationship between the two. While the co-host, Massimo Pigliucci (a philosophy professor at CUNY-City College) was running through what various philosophers thought about suicide (that episode’s topic), he got off on a tangent about hermits. (You can listen to it here, with the hermit section arriving at about the ten minute mark.)

 Specifically, the discussion turned to the morality of being a hermit, which Pigliucci has a problem with because

I do think that if you choose to be a hermit, you are essentially abandoning the rest of society, therefore whatever moral duties you have to society, and therefore you cannot have a eudaemonic life.

Only occasionally do I think of becoming a hermit. But I had never before considered the morality of the thing. Pigliucci is a progressive and, obviously, a communitarian, so while his co-host expresses shock that Massimo has a problem with hermits, it’s not outlandish from his point of view.

I, being an individualist and an Randian, reject the notion of duty if is defined as unchosen obligation. As far as a duty to “society” goes, I’m not bound by any obligation not of my own choosing.

But we have a diverse crowd of people here at Ricochet and I’m wondering what other people’s views are on the morality of hermits.

There are 29 comments.

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  1. user_138562 Moderator
    user_138562
    @RandyWeivoda

    It never occurred to me that someone off living on their own with no contact with other humans is shirking his responsibilities.  If he’s not getting anything from anybody else, what does he owe them?

    • #1
  2. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Well, there are hermits and hermits, if you know what I mean.  And some of them might be better off away from people, and the people might be better off, too.  Imagine had Charles Manson become a hermit instead of a free love, drug-fueled charismatic leader bent on destruction.

    Or, think about Moses the Black.  He was better away from most people and in a religious community.  Of course, when the outside world comes calling, maybe it’s good for hermits to have a Moses the Black amongst them.

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  3. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    The succinct version of Pigliucci is, You’re all slaves to society.

    • #3
  4. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Tuck:

    The succinct version of Pigliucci is, You’re all slaves to society.

     I don’t see it as any different from someone who supports conscription.  They’re based on the same theory.

    • #4
  5. Jon Gabriel, Ed. Admin
    Jon Gabriel, Ed.
    @jon

    I’m an introvert and have often flirted with the idea of a hermitic lifestyle, at least for the shorter timeframes. On college breaks, I’d drop off the grid for days where I would drive off somewhere to write, read and think.

    I approach moral questions not from a political or economic viewpoint, but a decidedly  Christian one. As such, relatively brief periods of aloneness are highly recommended (Jesus constantly sought “alone time,” even wandering for 40 days), but a hermit’s life is frowned upon. We are not to “forsake the assembly,” but to share our lives with others to help them and teach them, and in turn to be taught and helped.

    I’m not very good about doing those things, but I’m trying. However, there is no way on earth I’d ever want state compulsion to force me into a community.

    • #5
  6. Franco Member
    Franco
    @Franco

    Obviously a default communist. 

    Reminds me of this passage from Celia Green, The Human Evasion, Chapter One, Sanity

    Particular attention should be drawn to the phrase ‘running away from reality’ in which ‘reality’ is almost always synonymous with ‘human beings and their affairs’. For example: ‘It isn’t right to spend so much time with those stuffy old astronomy books. It’s running away from reality. You ought to be getting out and meeting people.’ (An interest in any aspect of reality requiring concentrated attention in solitude is considered a particularly dangerous symptom.) This usage leads to the interesting result that if anyone does take any interest in reality he is almost certain to be told that he is running away from it.

    I’m with her.

    • #6
  7. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    I think that everyone needs at least one other person. We are not able to grow properly beyond childhood unless and until we are married. 

    • #7
  8. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    I just checked my bucket list, and somehow gratifying professors of philosophy at CUNY-City College or living up to their expectations didn’t make the cut.

    What has the good professor ever done to make me happier?

    • #8
  9. user_358258 Member
    user_358258
    @RandyWebster

    I had to look up “eudaemonism,” but, as near as I could tell, it had nothing to do with being a hermit, unless it’s Pigliucci’s contention that hermits can’t be happy.

    • #9
  10. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    iWc:

    I think that everyone needs at least one other person. We are not able to grow properly beyond childhood unless and until we are married.

    And were you widowed and your children grown?  Would it be acceptable then to lead the contemplative life away from others?

    • #10
  11. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    People should be free to make their own choices! I am pointing out that real personal growth requires another person.

    One can argue from experience. I prefer the Torah: the very next verse after G-d talks to Adam he says that it is not good for him to be alone! And this is echoed (Deut.) when the Jews receive the Torah. G-d says that everyone must return to their tents (to their marriages). Even the direct word of G-d cannot be fully lived or understood outside the context of relationships. Our marriages are a prerequisite to a full relationship with G-d. Which is why the High Priest was required to be married.

    • #11
  12. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.:

    I’m an introvert and have often flirted with the idea of a hermitic lifestyle, at least for the shorter timeframes. On college breaks, I’d drop off the grid for days where I would drive off somewhere to write, read and think.

    I approach moral questions not from a political or economic viewpoint, but a decidedly Christian one. As such, relatively brief periods of aloneness are highly recommended (Jesus constantly sought “alone time,” even wandering for 40 days), but a hermit’s life is frowned upon. We are not to “forsake the assembly,” but to share our lives with others to help them and teach them, and in turn to be taught and helped.

    I’m not very good about doing those things, but I’m trying. However, there is no way on earth I’d ever want state compulsion to force me into a community.

     Thank you, Jon.  I was hoping somebody would chime in with a Christian perspective on being a hermit.

    Okay, so you’re not supposed to “forsake the assembly,” but does that mean its immoral?  Is it a hell worthy offense?

    • #12
  13. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    iWc:

    I think that everyone needs at least one other person. We are not able to grow properly beyond childhood unless and until we are married.

     No contest on that point from me.  I don’t think it’s a good idea (although, it should be noted that all men require periods of solitude, see: Ron Swanson), but I don’t think it crosses into immorality.  

    • #13
  14. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    Agreed. I think of it as being incomplete, not immoral.

    • #14
  15. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Arahant:

    Well, there are hermits and hermits, if you know what I mean. And some of them might be better off away from people, and the people might be better off, too. Imagine had Charles Manson become a hermit instead of a free love, drug-fueled charismatic leader bent on destruction.

    Nah.  Two things:
    1. Manson couldn’t be a hermit.  He needed/needs to exploit other people.  
    2. Manson is the type that would use whatever means available.  Free love and drugs were just the circumstances of the time and place.

    • #15
  16. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    No one has a “duty” to contribute to society, or even defend it.  Morals might require you to defend it, but in general if you can’t convince a people to defend itself then it may not have good standing in an argument to exist.

    So, I’m fine with people being homeless bums.  Just don’t ask me for money and don’t expect me to take your philosophical opinions very seriously.

    • #16
  17. DrewInWisconsin Member
    DrewInWisconsin
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Franco:

    Obviously a default communist.

     That was my thought, too. Naturally, I reject it.

    • #17
  18. user_86050 Inactive
    user_86050
    @KCMulville

    The Christian hermits didn’t think they were abandoning their fellow man. 

    Let me give a parallel example. In the Jesuits, every Jesuit is on “a mission.” Sometimes the mission is romantic; you travel to foreign countries, invest yourself in different and often dangerous cultures, and courageously preach in public. Other missions are just as important, but not as romantic. Teaching high school brats is pretty mundane, but somebody’s gotta do it.

    And then, after many years of service, some Jesuits are just too old and infirm to carry out the obvious missions. But they still need to serve, and they still want to serve. So, their mission is simple: pray. In the Jesuits, we called that mission “ora pro Soc” which means to “pray for the Society” (the Jesuits are more properly called the Society of Jesus). That’s a perfectly legitimate mission.

    By the same token, the hermits weren’t abandoning their fellow men. They were trying to escape the corruption of then-current society, but that’s different from escaping the people of God. They were  just serving their neighbors in a different way, without putting themselves in danger of secular corruption. The distinction is important.

    • #18
  19. DrewInWisconsin Member
    DrewInWisconsin
    @DrewInWisconsin

    I find solitude very appealing. Maybe all one has to do is consider the opposite — life in the panopticon, always observed by others, always accompanied by others, always under the watchful gaze of fellow citizens (or worse, authorities) — to understand the value of solitude. (I’ll note that one of the things cults do to break down people is to never let them have any alone time.)

    Because I’ve got a wife’n’kids, solitude is a rare thing these days, and I treasure it when it happens. (In a couple weeks they’re heading off visiting relatives, and I’ll watch a LOT of television. But I wouldn’t trade bein’ a family man for anything.) I keep suggesting to my wife that we move farther north to a smaller town . . . and I know that’s my natural tendency towards solitude coming out. She also wants solitude, but isn’t as drawn to the far north as I am.

    Must be why I took up birding as one of my hobbies because it means lots of time spent outside, alone, in nature.

    I guess other people golf, but why ruin your alone time with that sort of frustration?

    • #19
  20. EPG Inactive
    EPG
    @EPG

    KC Mulville:

    The Christian hermits didn’t think they were abandoning their fellow man.

    . . .

    Excellent point.  There is a long tradition of withdrawal from the world in Christianity (which the Protestants tend to forget or ignore).  Even within monasticism [which does imply living in community], there are those who are called to contemplative orders, and even hermitages of various lengths and/or degrees of seclusion. 

    I suspect those with a materialistic world view, or even a non-sacramental world view, would have a harder time accepting the concept of hermitages. 

    • #20
  21. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    DrewInWisconsin: I guess other people golf, but why ruin your alone time with that sort of frustration?

    It’s not frustrating if you’re doing it right.

    • #21
  22. virgil15marlow@yahoo.com Member
    virgil15marlow@yahoo.com
    @Manny

    There are different types of hermits and not all are completely removed from society.  Still the notion of an eremetic life is hard to fathom if one takes great pleasure in being absorbed with worldly things.  I too had a problem at one time with hermits.  It strikes one as being self absorbed.  However, we each have our vocations.  People who are attracted to eremitic life feel they connect with humanity by its very distance.  What exactly do hermits do?  They pray, and if you don’t think that prayer has any merit outside of oneself then you will see them as useless and self-absorbed.  I’ve changed my mind on that.  They also push themselves to the extreme of holiness, and through that they give insight for the rest of us.  Is it moral to be a hermit?  They are certainly not immoral.  Yes I think it’s moral.  Here’s an interview with a hermit: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/deaconsbench/2011/04/meet-a-modern-day-hermit/

    And here’s a blog from a hermit as to what her life is like: http://notesfromstillsong.blogspot.com/2009/02/questions-regarding-what-is-catholic.html

    • #22
  23. thelonious Member
    thelonious
    @thelonious

    Can one truly be a hermit nowadays.  A hermit still has to reside in a country and a state.  He’ll still be subjected to taxation and other obligations of citizenship.  A couple thousand years ago a hermit could just find a hidden cave somewhere and drop completely out of society. One can move away from society but they’ll still in some way still have contact with it.

    • #23
  24. J Climacus Member
    J Climacus
    @JClimacus

    Along the lines of KC’s thinking… if we are talking about Christian hermits (and here I am referring specifically to hermits in historic communion with the Catholic Church), the Church has a much deeper and transcendent understanding of community than does the secular world. The community of the Catholic Church extends across space, time and even other dimensions – this is why Catholics invoke saints in their prayers, because the saints in heaven are part of the same Church I am, the same community, only in the next world rather than this one. It’s also why Catholics in different parts of the world pray for each other, even though we’ve never met each other. And it’s why hermits united with the Church are part of the universal community, living out their particular vocation to bear witness to the one thing needful, the pearl of great price in light of which everything else may be sacrificed, in a life of solitude and prayer.

    • #24
  25. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    iWc:

    I think that everyone needs at least one other person. We are not able to grow properly beyond childhood unless and until we are married.

     Christianity takes a different view. Many people need spouses, but some have a gift that leaves them complete without. No prominent Christian has ever thought that all Christians ought to live in the desert as ascetics, but Christianity has benefited considerably from having a minority who did live that way.
    There are, of course, others for whom a celibate life must be encouraged; pedophiles might feel more fulfilled if they were to give vent to their romantic urges, but society benefits (I hope that this formulation is inoffensive to our libertarian friends) from those urges being suppressed. 

    • #25
  26. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    thelonious:

    Can one truly be a hermit nowadays. A hermit still has to reside in a country and a state. He’ll still be subjected to taxation and other obligations of citizenship. A couple thousand years ago a hermit could just find a hidden cave somewhere and drop completely out of society. One can move away from society but they’ll still in some way still have contact with it.

     Hermits were always mostly residing within a state. Historically, that state was Byzantium for a plurality of hermits. You just need to choose a state that tolerates hermits, and live your life in a manner compatible with that state’s laws regarding hermits; don’t look like a spy, poach, poison, or destroy stuff, etc. 
    Today if you want to be a hermit, it’s my understanding that there are religious orders you can talk to who will organize a lot of the paperwork for you. I’ve only talked to Orthodox monks about this, but I’d guess you could do it as a Catholic, perhaps as an Episcopalian or traditionalist Lutheran. It’s a serious decision requiring some effort, but not impossible. 

    • #26
  27. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Manny:

     I see you’d answered my question before I asked it. I apologize for failing to read all the comments before posting.  Your links to contemporary hermits are fascinating. 

    • #27
  28. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    J Climacus:

    Along the lines of KC’s thinking… if we are talking about Christian hermits (and here I am referring specifically to hermits in historic communion with the Catholic Church), the Church has a much deeper and transcendent understanding of community than does the secular world. The community of the Catholic Church extends across space, time and even other dimensions – this is why Catholics invoke saints in their prayers, because the saints in heaven are part of the same Church I am, the same community, only in the next world rather than this one. It’s also why Catholics in different parts of the world pray for each other, even though we’ve never met each other. And it’s why hermits united with the Church are part of the universal community, living out their particular vocation to bear witness to the one thing needful, the pearl of great price in light of which everything else may be sacrificed, in a life of solitude and prayer.

    Yes, well stated. I would only add that hermits live intimately with the person(s) of God, something which may only be understandable from a Christian worldview.

    • #28
  29. virgil15marlow@yahoo.com Member
    virgil15marlow@yahoo.com
    @Manny

    James Of England:

    Manny:

    I see you’d answered my question before I asked it. I apologize for failing to read all the comments before posting. Your links to contemporary hermits are fascinating.

     Sure thing.

    • #29
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