I’ve just posted on my Blog about: Schopenhauer happy? https://t.co/VqQSmPzBQh

September 26, 2017

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Schopenhauer happy?

September 26, 2017

Today in Happiness we tackle Schopenhauer, who always seems to hover around our discussions. We kicked off the semester with his potentially disillusioning (but also potentially liberating?) disavowal of the whole subject.

“What disturbs and depresses young people is the hunt for happiness on the firm assumption that it must be met with in life. From this arises constantly deluded hope and so also dissatisfaction. Deceptive images of a vague happiness hover before us in our dreams, and we search in vain for their original. Much would have been gained if, through timely advice and instruction, young people could have had eradicated from their minds the erroneous notion that the world has a great deal to offer them.”

And yet, we noted him last time explicitly identifying health as a condition of happiness. So, he throws not a total disavowal but at least a big dash of cold water into every smiling face. 

Likewise, his statement that “man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills.” The intended implication may be that health and happiness alike are a matter of luck, not design. The inevitable rejoinder, from happy people everywhere, must be Branch Rickey’s: sometimes, at least, luck is the residue of design. Get happy.

 Carl Jung’s “process of individuation,” I’ll bet, hits philosophers and philosophy majors earlier than most and before forty, for sure. Isn’t that why we take courses like this, to get to the bottom of our “true individuality” and “pay more attention to our own sensibility”-even if only to challenge and replace it with a corrected view?

Goethe suggested that sensibility, character, and taste are less affected by externals than by the sheer spontaneous surge of “personal being” that defines “a child of Earth’s chief happiness,” but that’s not Schopenhauer’s (or the Buddha’s) view. Or is it?

Frederic Lenoir says Schopenhauer “took up Goethe’s idea and went even further… our nature predisposes us to be happy or unhappy.” But Will is not personal for him. How we respond to the hypothesis of implacable impersonal Will might be. 
Plato long ago distinguished grouches (duskolos) from more cheerful types (eukolos). But as some self-avowed grouches insist, whether the glass is happily half-full depends on what’s in it.

Schopenhauer’s “curious contradiction” suggests we can be determinists and at the same time be happier, mostly by acknowledging Will and then not choosing not to feed it. Lenoir says that’s not what he means by changing our inner lives. “We can be happier… by modifying our view of things, our thoughts and beliefs.” We can “will what we will,” then? But can we confirm that we can? Is it better if we can’t?

Sonja Lyubomirsky says 40% of happiness “stems from personal efforts,” a vague-enough statement to entertain if not entirely to understand. I’m hoping that won’t be conclusively disconfirmed, 40% sounds good even if it implies a slight tilt to genetic predisposition that we probably shouldn’t call determinism and certainly shouldn’t call fatalism.

“No one will be happy if tormented by the thought of someone else who is happier,” said Seneca before surrendering his own happy pursuit to the madness of the tormentor Nero.

Flaubert said “everyone takes his enjoyment in his own way and for himself alone.” Some do, but there are altruists among us who aren’t in it for themselves alone. The egocentric view may reassure hyper-egoists, but I hope the rest of us find it beside the point. 

Do we all have a peculiarly personal “deeper nature”? If you find the “atmosphere that suits” you best, have you found something deep? Must atmospheres be deep, to conduce to happiness? Or just, as the pluralists say, wide enough, at least, to accommodate the varieties of happy experience? 

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I’ve just posted on my Blog about: Socrates & Plato in love https://t.co/yraa7Si9qd

September 25, 2017

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Socrates & Plato in love

September 25, 2017

In CoPhi today it’s another (simpler) look at Socrates, Plato, and reports on Peter Singer’s altruism, Homer Simpson’s pursuit of happiness, and George Orwell’s ideological dystopia in which “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

Before all that, though, a new John Lachs podcast interview reveals the heart and mind of “a wise old wizard” forever seeking the true pivot point between stoic acceptance of limits and a pragmatic “can do” spirit of intelligence and reason brought to bear on the boundless challenges of living. Living is hard, and Lachs loves to stir things up by saying the thing you least expect to hear. Here, for instance, he declares compassion and guilt useless emotions, and activism too often a misspent passion. In fact he’s one of the most compassionate and caring people I’ve ever known, and one of the most committed agents of constructive change. He’s a tireless proponent of liberty, hence a foe of “meddling”. He says we all need to stop telling others how to be happy, and let them seek their own good in their own ways. He’s a paragon of the purpose-driven life.

Another new podcast features my Vandy friends Aikin and Talisse, delivering 15 minute bursts of unscripted philosophizing. So many good words, so little time!

We would be remiss, on this holiday of love, not to take just a bit of time and spend a few good words on the subject. In Socrates in Love one of our contemporaries says “I’m worried my beloved America is becoming as loveless as ancient Athens in its days of decline.” There’s a lot not to love, lately and always, but also the reverse. The same speaker says Socrates “epitomized the fact that you’re meant to stay open to all views, to all human experiences, because that’s how you deepen your love for people and of wisdom.” All views, in this Age of Deplorables? No. But the spirit of the remark is true.

Is there any figurative truth to the old Greek myth that humans originally had four arms, four legs and a head with two faces, before Zeus split us into two separate parts so we’d have to search for our better halves? Is that any part of the story and glory of love? Or is it a formula for frustration and self-inflicted solitude?

In Plato’s Symposium, Socrates say Diotima taught him all about amor. “She was my instructress in the art of love,” which she declares an intermediate “spirit” between mortals and the divine. It begins “from the beauties of earth and mount(s) upwards for the sake of that other beauty, the notion of absolute beauty, and at last knows what the essence of beauty is… beholding beauty with the eye of the mind, he [the true philosopher of love] will be enabled to bring forth, not images of beauty, but realities…”

Sounds good, I guess, but these realities of a higher love sound a bit thin and wordy. Academic, even. On Valentines Day, and most days really, don’t we want something a little more substantial?

Romantic love is deemed to be of a higher metaphysical and ethical status than sexual or physical attractiveness alone. The idea of romantic love initially stems from the Platonic tradition that love is a desire for beauty-a value that transcends the particularities of the physical body. For Plato, the love of beauty culminates in the love of philosophy, the subject that pursues the highest capacity of thinking. The romantic love of knights and damsels emerged in the early medieval ages (11thCentury France, fine amour) a philosophical echo of both Platonic and Aristotelian love and literally a derivative of the Roman poet, Ovid and his Ars Amatoria. Romantic love theoretically was not to be consummated, for such love was transcendentally motivated by a deep respect for the lady; however, it was to be actively pursued in chivalric deeds rather than contemplated-which is in contrast to Ovid’s persistent sensual pursuit of conquests!

Modern romantic love returns to Aristotle’s version of the special love two people find in each other’s virtues-one soul and two bodies, as he poetically puts it. It is deemed to be of a higher status, ethically, aesthetically, and even metaphysically than the love that behaviorists or physicalists describe. IEP

That’s a step in the right direction, back down the ladder. Count on Aristotle to move away from the Academy and keep us grounded. But it was bachelor Nietzsche, of all people, who knew “it is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.”

If you can believe the crowd that sources goodreads, Marilyn Monroe was the great authority on love. “You’ll never find that half who makes you whole and that goes for everything… [but] Keep trying… keep smiling, because life’s a beautiful thing and there’s so much to smile about.”

Plato was rightly (if insufficiently) “nagged by a doubt about the Academic way of life: ‘I feared to see myself at last altogether nothing but words, so to speak-a man who would never willingly lay hand to any concrete task.” That’s a reasonable concern. If you’re holding out for “absolute beauty” you may be spending a few holidays alone. Better to climb the ladder of love in both directions. Remember what Heraclitus said about the way up and the way down? Don’t kick that ladder away. The cave can be a very cozy place, with the right company, and your “better half” may not be a needle in a haystack after all.
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2.14.17. Happy Valentine’s Day, when “more than a billion letters of affection are sent and 60 million pounds of chocolate are purchased”… 36 questions lead to love… On this day in 1895, Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest opened in London. It expressed his philosophy that “we should treat all the trivial things of life very seriously, and all the serious things of life with sincere and studied triviality.” I wish I’d said that, Oscar. Since it’s my birthday, today I will.

5:30/6:37, 42/49/40, 5:25

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“Dotard”=senile decay marked by decline of mental poise and alertness, from Korean “neukdari”=old, lazy, useless, demented. Synonym=”drumpf”

September 22, 2017

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I’ve just posted on my Blog about: Voltaire, Socrates, Jesus, Kant https://t.co/zY8Yi50Q3S

September 21, 2017

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Voltaire, Socrates, Jesus, Kant

September 21, 2017

Interesting quartet, in Happiness today.

Voltaire’s response to my question the other day, as to whether any of us ever regret the examined life and would occasionally prefer to swap places with Forrest Gump or Winnie the Pooh, is as acerbic as you’d expect. “I should be happy if I were as brainless as my neighbor, and yet I do not desire such happiness.” Maybe he’d have been happy to live in a better neighborhood. For my part, as I was saying in class, I try to spend a bit of relatively brainless time in the neighborhood every morning with the dogs. It’s a happy time of day. Knowledge and lucidity aren’t obstacles to happiness, but too much thinking can be.

Our author Monsieur Lenoir is still pushing us to the “Max”: last time he urged maximum pleasure and reason, this time he invokes Andre Comte-Sponville for “maximum happiness in maximum lucidity.” Is it always really so wise to push the pedal to the metal? Let up on the lucidity accelerator occasionally, I’d say. It better suits the rambling narrative of this Philosopher’s Guide.

“Happiness is the awareness of an overall and enduring state of satisfaction in a meaningful existence founded on truth.” I guess. Sometimes it’s just a warm puppy, though. Awareness can be implicit and pre-verbal.

Satisfaction is a happy word, when coupled with the love of life. Matthieu Ricard’s wish for wisdom, flourishing, and peace in every moment is lofty. But as we were saying last time, wasted moments are gone forever. Make a wish. A smart and willful wish, leading to well-chosen goals. Nietzsche’s formula was for “a yes, a no, as straight line, a goal.” He wasn’t that happy, though, do you imagine?

Nor was Kant, I imagine.  “Full and complete happiness” may not exist on earth, but the promise of their attainment after death rings hollow to Epicureans, humanists, and others who think the “earth of things must resume its rights.”

The really vital question for us all is, What is this world going to be? What is life eventually to make of itself? The centre of gravity of philosophy must therefore alter its place. The earth of things, long thrown into shadow by the glories of the upper ether, must resume its rights. Pragmatism

Deferred gratification is often a necessary condition of our happiness, but is deferred happiness ever a good idea?

Some more questions: Does illusory happiness interest you? Can you be happy in the absence of meaning and truth? Do you share Matthieu Ricard’s “primary aspiration”? Does it set the bar too high? Do you know people who “lose themselves in a permanent hyperactivity, artificially filling the emptiness of their lives”? Is that a fair characterization, or an external view from an unsympathetic perspective? Is it your duty to make yourself worthy of happiness, to be as happy as possible, both, neither… or is talk of “duty” irrelevant to the question of happiness? Were Socrates and Jesus happy? Are martyrs happy, generally? Do you wish for a cause to die for?

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I’ve just posted on my Blog about: Socrates https://t.co/daFoo9yYeK

September 20, 2017

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Socrates

September 20, 2017

It’s Socrates and the Socratics (including that dog Diogenes) today in CoPhi. Socrates, they say, was firmly devoted to argumentative reason as a better method than revelation or hope. Should we call his devotion “faith“? Not if that means an unwavering refusal to seek and ponder all evidence, to entertain challenging questions, even to welcome those that question the utility of argumentative reason itself. His fabled humility, his ignorant form of wisdom, officially invites every challenge.

But unofficially, Socrates was definitely betting on reason against superstition and tradition for their own sake. His trust in reason was firm, his delight in philosophical argument was inextinguishable. He drew his dying breath in the middle of an argument his successors have continued to this day, as to the meaning and practical value of a life committed to virtue, curious inquiry, and intellectual integrity. He died in contempt of what he considered the misplaced presumption of fearing death more than vice, “which runs faster than death.”

That’s how we’ve come to see him, as a pedestal-mounted figure larger than life, gazing across the centuries in reproach of small-mindedness and irrational fear. We downplay his personal shabbiness and eccentricity, forgetting the actual figure he must have cut as the ancient Athenian equivalent of a street person. How did such a vagabond manage to ingratiate himself with the upper crust elites of his city? It was his spellbinding gift of gab, tiresome to many but entrancing (“bewitching,” said the smitten Alcibiades) to many more. People looked beyond the pug nose and the ugly-ass mouth (“more ugly even than an ass’s”) to the beauty within.

His conversation was compelling but it was not personally revealing. His version of dialectic withheld affirmative assertion, instead soliciting others’ definitions and demonstrations in order to trip them over their own inconsistencies and send them (and us, peering over their shoulders) back to the philosophical drawing board.

Athenian democracy had just been overthrown by the Spartans and decimated by their Thirty Tyrants, as Socrates went to trial. His own anti-democratic leanings were well-known. 

If you were heading out on a journey by sea, Socrates asks Adeimantus in Plato’s Republic, who would you ideally want deciding who was in charge of the vessel? Just anyone or people educated in the rules and demands of seafaring? The latter of course, says Adeimantus, so why then, responds Socrates, do we keep thinking that any old person should be fit to judge who should be a ruler of a country? Socrates’s point is that voting in an election is a skill, not a random intuition. And like any skill, it needs to be taught systematically to people. Letting the citizenry vote without an education is as irresponsible as putting them in charge of a trireme sailing to Samos in a storm.  Why Socrates Hated Democracy, SoL

But did he really hate democracy? Gottlieb says no, he was in fact too democratic for his time and place. He was an ultra-democrat, committed to the examined life for all. This may have sounded to some like an endorsement of “exaggerated individualism” but for Socrates the examined life is also the collaborative conversational life. “Philosophy is an intimate and collaborative activity: it is a matter for discussions among small groups of people who argue together in order that each might find the truth for himself. The spirit of such a pastime cannot accurately be captured in a lecture or a treatise.” It’s best captured in talk, preferably while walking. Hence Plato’s dialogues, and ours.

Not even the Delphic Oracle‘s authoritative declaration of Socrates’ wisdom could stifle the gadfly’s appetite for rational argument and inquiry, provoking him to “check the truth of it” for himself. Can we possibly take literally, then, his claim to philosophize at the behests of God or his daimon? No. He just did it because he thought it was the right thing to do. 

He also thought it best not to weep and wail for our finitude, even at death’s door. “No one knows with regard to death whether it is really the greatest blessing…” Maybe he’ll get to meet his “heroes of the old days.” Or maybe he’ll just have a nice long sleep. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to him to worry about an unpleasant or hellish alternative. He was ahead of his time, and Epicurus’s, in this regard.

Socrates and Plato were both “unworldly” but in different ways, the former in his shambling indifference to social status, hygiene,and finery, the latter in regarding carnal existence as a form of incarceration in the shadow of eternal essences and Ideas. Socrates kept a sharper focus on the duties and blessings of this world, “not simply a preparation for something else.” And he thought we could all do that. “For Plato, philosophy was the ladder to this elevated world of the Forms, but not everyone could climb it.” For Socrates, “anybody could examine his own life and ideas and thus lead a worthwhile existence.”

The paradigmatic Socratic question: Is something good because the gods approve it, or do they approve it because it’s good? The Socratic answer: it can’t be the former, that’s arbitrary. Real gods don’t play darts with the universe. Hypothetical gods shouldn’t, either.

What would he say about people who achieve wealth and success by behaving badly? Or about the state of our democracy? Would he agree with William James regarding “our national disease“? Would you?

We know how it ended for Socrates. They told him to shut up. He persisted (like Elizabeth Warren, and like Paul Kalinithi), until the hemlock shut him down. It’s up to the rest of us, now, to persist when we’re told to “shut up about the bad stuff.”
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2.9.17. 5:40/6:42, 32/40/26, 5:20. Happy Birthday  to Alice Walker, who said “no person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow”… and to Irish rebel Brendan Behan, who said “Never throw stones at your mother,You’ll be sorry for it when she’s dead, Never throw stones at your mother, Throw bricks at your father instead.” On this day in 1964, the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show for the first time… 

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Colbert normalizes “truthiness”-The Shameful Embrace of Sean Spicer at the Emmys https://t.co/mDcMbubWu1

September 19, 2017

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