Archive for September 14th, 2017

I’ve just posted on my Blog about: Virtue, meaning, and a good life https://t.co/5rV1EpN2gu

September 14, 2017

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Virtue, meaning, and a good life

September 14, 2017

We finish Daniel Haybron’s very fine Very Short Intro to Happiness today.

More important than whether you’re happy, says Haybron, is your contribution and legacy. Will you be deservedly well thought-of, for having lived well? So much the better if living well makes you happy, but in the long perspective of history the personal and subjective experience of virtue will barely register. Isn’t that all the more reason to make happiness a priority? If you don’t, who will?

That’s not to endorse “acting badly” in the pursuit, but some will wonder what’s to stop any of us from doing so. What compels conscience and compassion, aside from the unpleasant prospect of being poorly thought-of? Decency and virtue might be motivation enough, and their own reward, for the noblest natures. Others rightly care about the judgment of generations to come.

But then there are the deplorables, the philistines, the jerks. They claim the right to be terrible people. Until quite recently I would have said they were marginal to our civilization and not a threat to it. Lately that’s less clear. “One should not be an asshole in the pursuit of happiness.”

“According to some studies, having kids doesn’t make us happier.” Having just graduated a couple of them, I’ve made my own study. I can’t imagine the past 20+ years of my life without them. More than that: anticipating them was a source of happiness long before their births. But I know that’s not everybody’s experience.

“Any life dedicated to worthwhile ends is meaningful,” even if the judgment of worth is uncertain or, again, awaits the verdict of history. While we live we have to make that call for ourselves, have to believe we’ve chosen worthwhile ends, if we’re to experience that sort of meaning. Of course, we may never know.

We do know, don’t we, that those gawking consumer-touroids on p.104 are draining life of meaning even if they think they’re “making memories”? Like selfish and shallow people everywhere, they look more desperate and absurd than happy.

Happiness really is an aspirational ideal, something worth chasing no matter how elusive it may turn out to be.

“Nothing in life is as important as you think it is when you’re thinking about it,” says Nobelist Daniel Kahneman. Hmm. As a professional thinking person that’s disconcerting. More uplifting (and poignant) is that heart-grabbing missive from the battlefield that closes Haybron’s book. “I am such a lucky person to have the life that I have.” That says it.

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