Voltaire, Socrates, Jesus, Kant

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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