Archive for August, 2019

Throw a shoe at him https://t.co/FrLPBxAceR

August 31, 2019

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#mtsu Sep 17 @MargaretRenkl https://t.co/d1veXzCKkA

August 31, 2019

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Impeachment, in the name of truth and philosophy. @adamgopnik https://t.co/nElqmHCXSB

August 31, 2019

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RT @NewYorker: .@adamgopnik on impeachment and why holding President Trump accountable is becoming more urgent: he’s getting worse. https://t.co/561Z3EE1qr

August 31, 2019

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…or at a university whose most prestigious scholarship is named for a Koch-funded alum whose campaign of extreme libertarian stealth has damaged our democracy. #mtsu https://t.co/RfaN0UvPlP https://t.co/eDgjHqfCwH

August 30, 2019

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I’ve just posted on my Blog about: “I’ll be hanging in a classroom one day…” https://t.co/HsvQojVig6

August 30, 2019

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“I’ll be hanging in a classroom one day…”

August 30, 2019

A  student introduced himself yesterday, in Philosophy of Happiness, as “the oldest guy in the room.” Sometimes, when people say that, they mean they’re 3d year students, twenty or so. This guy really was of my generation, even a little older. A “me generation” product of the 1970s, he called himself, before going on to credit Woody Allen with drawing him to philosophy.

I can’t count how many times, over the years, I’ve referenced scenes and lines from Annie Hall, Manhattan, Sleeper, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Midnight in Paris, et al,  to blank stares of non-recognition. Those who’ve heard of Woody at all know him simply as one more old guy accused of sexual misconduct, with a sordid intra-family twist.

I can’t defend Woody’s morals, and of the worst accusations fervently hope he’s not guilty as charged. I do know that, like our “non-traditional” classmate, Woody’s film work was a big positive influence in my life.

The Woody scenes from Manhattan we referenced in class:

An idea for a short story about, um, people in Manhattan who are constantly creating these real, unnecessary, neurotic problems for themselves cos it keeps them from dealing with more unsolvable, terrifying problems about… the universe. Let’s… Well, it has to be optimistic. Well, all right, why is life worth living? That’s a very good question. Well, there are certain things, I guess, that make it worthwhile. Like what?
OK… for me… 

Ooh, I would say Groucho Marx, to name one thing. And Willie Mays. And… the second movement of the Jupiter Symphony. And… Louis Armstrong’s recording of Potato Head BluesSwedish movies, naturally. Sentimental Education by Flaubert. Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra. Those incredible apples and pears by Cezanne. The crabs at Sam Wo’s. Tracy’s face…

You know, someday we’re gonna be like him. And he was probably one of the beautiful people, dancing and playing tennis. And now look. This is what happens to us. You know, it’s important to have some kind of personal integrity. I’ll be hanging in a classroom one day and I wanna make sure when I thin out that I’m… well thought of…

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I’ve just posted on my Blog about: More Epicurean (etc.) happiness https://t.co/C0Cy9DAWWb

August 29, 2019

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More Epicurean (etc.) happiness

August 29, 2019

Following up on our first Happiness class discussion of Epicureans, Stoics, Skeptics, & Cynics Tuesday, here’s an old post on Jennifer Michael Hecht’s discussion of graceful-life philosophies…

Hecht @home

Jennifer Hecht contributes a weekly post to “The Best American Poetry” blog, ranging over all kinds of topics including happiness and atheism. Take a look.
She noted recently, at the passing of People’s Historian Howard Zinn (who inspired both impassioned admiration and criticism), that he blurbed Doubt.
And check out her musings on “poetic atheism“: How strange to find our little thinking and blinking faces amid a universe that is for the most part not alive at all. Believers say,  “If this weirdness is true, why not believe angels,” but adding nonsense is not helpful.

Hecht is one of the breed of kinder, gentler atheists, like Rebecca Goldstein (of whom a reviewer writes: “Whether or not God exists, in moments of transcendent happiness we all feel a love beyond ourselves, beyond anything. [She] doesn’t want to shake your faith or confirm it”).
Neither shaking nor confirming? Sounds agnostic, though it may simply be “doubtful” and pluralistic. In any case, she has a rich and largely-neglected story to tell. The New Atheists stand on the shoulders of giants. Atheism is not new.
About those Greeks…
Hecht really sheds fresh light, in Doubt: a historyon the naturalizing impulse of the pre-Socratic and Hellenic thinkers. For instance, Democritus (the beautiful regularity of the universe was neither created nor maintained by the guiding intelligence of a god), the Cynics (Diogenes‘ advice is that we stop distracting ourselves with accomplishments, accept the meaninglessness of the universe, lie down on a park bench and get some sun while we have the chance)and Stoics (feeling a part of the community of the universe) and Epicureans (there are no ghostly grownups watching our lives and waiting to punish us… we might as well make an art of appreciating pleasure… in this beautiful moment one is alive) and Skeptics (I do not lay it down that honey is sweet but I admit that it appears to be so), with fresh slants on Socrates (among those great minds who actually cultivated doubt in the name of truth) and Plato (whose form of the Good has been illicitly conflated with God for two millennia).
What I like most in her section on Greek doubt (or as I prefer, Greek spirit): the forest metaphor, which offers the most timeless but (in an age of restless spiritual “cherry [*berry?]-picking”) also timely wisdom: The experience of doubt in a heterogeneous, cosmopolitan world is a bit like being lost in a forest… we could stop being lost if we were to just stop trying to get out of the forest. Instead, we could pick some *blueberries, sit beneath a  tree, and start describing how the sun-dappled forest floor shimmers in the breeze. The initial horror of being lost utterly disappears when you come to believe fully that there is no town out there, beyond the forest… Hang a sign that says HOME on a tree and you’re done; just try to have a good time.

As Epicurus realized, it is accepting the finality of death that makes it possible to enjoy the pleasures of the garden. This is a very different garden than the one we got kicked out of in the Eden story. This time you have to eat from the tree of knowledge to get in.

That’s James and Sagan redux: at home in the universe, at ease with the human condition.

==
And, another old post that may be worth pondering today…

Back to Pyrrho and Epicurus… but first a quick follow-up on Plato and Aristotle. Check out this version of School of Athens.

As for Aristotle’s eudaimonia, in some ways it anticipated Epicurus’s garden and what Jennifer Michael Hecht calls “graceful-life philosophies” that proclaim in all simplicity: “we don’t need answers and don’t need much stuff, we just need to figure out the best way to live.” Then, and only then, will we be happy.

As for Pyrrho: If you’d asked him Who rules the Universe?, he might have replied: Lord knows. Cats, again. And pigs.
pig 

Reminding us of Pyrrho’s famous pig, who impressed Montaigne by riding out a storm at sea with much greater equanimity (and, crucially, much less comprehension) than his human shipmates, and of J.S. Mill’s declaration that it’s “better to be a human dissatisfied than a pig satisfied,” Hecht comments: “This whole pig-versus-philosopher debate is pretty hilarious, yes?”

Yes. But I agree with Spinoza and Hecht. “The happiness of a drunkard is not the happiness of the wise,” though of course there are happy occasions when it has its place too. Bottom line: “Knowledge and wisdom are worth it,” it can be everything to have found true love and meaningful work, and both– all-– can end in a flash, without warning. Stay on your toes, but don’t fret too much about the storm.
piranha

One more little animal image for Pyrrho, whose name I prefer to pronounce compatibly with this mnemonic trick: just remember that a pyrrhonic skeptic is like a piranha fish, toothily devouring every proposed candidate for belief. Cats and pigs too, probably.

And as for Epicurus, Jennifer Hecht‘s got his number. It’s listed.
For an Epicurean, somewhere there are beings that are truly at peace, are happy… The mere idea of this gentle bliss is, itself, a kind of uplifting dream. After all, we human beings know a strange thing: happiness responds to circumstances, but, basically, it is internal. We can experience it when it happens to come upon us; we can induce it with practices or drugs; but we cannot just be happy.

No, we must work to “solve the schism” between how we feel and how we want to feel. Happiness is a choice and a lifetime endeavor, and though it comes easier for some than for others there are tips and tricks we can use to trip our internal happy meters and achieve ataraxia, peace of mind, simple contentment, “tranquillity, or the freedom from disturbance and pain that characterizes a balanced mind and constitutes its first step toward the achievement of pleasure.”

Stop fearing the harmless and remote gods, Epicurus said. Stop fearing your own death, it’s not (as Wittgenstein would echo, millennia later) an event you’ll ever experience. “Life is full of sweetness. We might as well enjoy it.”

*Sissela Bok calls Epicurus a hedonist, but that’s only technically correct. Yes, he said pleasure’s at the heart of happiness. But what kind of pleasure?

A happy life is tranquil, simple, loving, and above all free from pain, fear, and suffering, available to all regardless of social status, nationality, or gender. Such a life of pleasure, Epicurus held, would of necessity have to be a virtuous one; 



That’s Alain de Botton, author of a text I used to use in this course, and controversial proponent of religion for atheists. (Don’t confuse him with Boethius.) His interview with Krista Tippett was instructive. Like Jennifer Hecht, he wants us to use philosophy to enhance our bliss and sweeten our dreams.

Pyrrhonian deep skepticism and moral/cultural relativism share a common root. Simon Blackburn voices the right reply to those who say we can function without beliefs, or without discriminating between better and worse beliefs, when he points out that this is simply impractical and socially dysfunctional. Not only might you get run over by a racing chariot or step off a cliff, you also scatter seeds of discord within your community and perhaps even your family.

So I too “would defend the practical importance of thinking about ethics on pragmatic grounds.” To pretend  with “Rosy the Relativist” that we can all simply have and act on our own truths, our own facts, without confronting and negotiating our differences and critically evaluating our respective statements of (dis)belief, really is “farcical.” Lord knows.

I’ve been thinking some more, btw, about a student’s question whether Oprah is a philosopher. I’d say she has philosophical moments, sometimes asks the hard questions, and is indeed seeking to have and share a “graceful” (if opulent) life. So, sure. Same for the poets (like Whitman) who let us off the hook for contradicting ourselves (“I contain multitudes.”) I don’t think the Philosophy Club should be exclusive or restrictive. Many of my colleagues would disagree, amongst themselves, at their annual association meetings and in their ivory towers. They’ll never give me a car, either.

Anyway: we won’t suffer a meaning deficit, though, if we live simply and naturally in the company of friends who’ll help us conquer our fears and address our many questions about life, the universe, and everything. That’s the Epicurean way, when we decide nature’s already provided enough for our peace of mind and our contentment. That’s ataraxia.

So finally there are these dots, connecting Epicurus and Pyrrho:
Epicurus, though no friend to skepticism, admired Pyrrho because he recommended and practiced the kind of self-control that fostered tranquillity; this, for Epicurus, was the end of all physical and moral science. Pyrrho was so highly valued by his countrymen that they honored him with the office of chief priest and, out of respect for him, passed a decree by which all philosophers were made immune from taxation.

Tranquility and a free ride: now that would make me happy. A free ride to the APA, not so much.

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I’ve just posted on my Blog about: Truthiness https://t.co/f1zNS2m1U0

August 28, 2019

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