Published by the Center for the Study of The Great Ideas (founded in 1990 by Mortimer J. Adler and Max Weismann)
In association with the The Adler-Aquinas Institute and Aquinas School of Leadership
Member of the Alliance for Liberal Learning

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The happiness of free people

Click on the title link to go to the great ideas forum if you would like to discuss the implications of the November issue of Great Ideas Online http://www.thegreatideas.org/21w/TGIO496.pdf , where Dr. Adler explains the Aristotelian concept of eudaimonia or happiness.

As usual, I am grateful to Dr. Adler for stimulating essays, but find I totally disagree with his conclusions and most of his premises. In this case, I have argued that the Aristotelian definition of happiness is suitable only for a nation of rulers and subjects and propose an alternate definition, based on Stoic philosophy which I will argue is more suitable for a free people.

5 comments:

  1. The only standard we have for judging all of our social, economic, and political institutions and arrangements as just or unjust, as good or bad, as better or worse, derives from our conception of the good life for man on earth, and from our conviction that, given certain external conditions, it is possible for men to make good lives for themselves by their own efforts.


    What Every Person Needs in Order to Live a Good Life [Happiness]

    LIMITED GOODS -- Enough, or as much as justice allows.

    These goods are not completely within our own power to obtain

    BIOLOGICAL SUSTENANCE - Food, Drink, Clothing and Shelter

    HEALTH - Physical and Mental

    WEALTH

    FRIENDSHIP/LOVE - Family, Associations and Fraternities

    PLEASURE

    LIBERTY

    CIVIL PEACE

    POLITICAL POWER - Citizenship with Suffrage

    FREE TIME - For Omnibus Self-improvement, Rest and Play

    SATISFACTION - Of Innocuous Wants

    GOOD FORTUNE

    =========================

    UNLIMITED GOODS -- Cannot be possessed in excess.

    These goods are completely within our own power to obtain.

    MORAL VIRTUE * -- The Habits of Right Desire; habit of right choices about
    actions to be taken.

    TEMPERANCE -- Habit of resisting and limiting immediate pleasures for a
    future good.

    FORTITUDE -- Habit of suffering pain or discomfort for a future good.

    JUSTICE -- Habit of concern for the good of others and community welfare.

    PRUDENCE -- Habit of right judgment or choices of the means for attaining the
    right end.

    * Analytically distinct but not existentially distinct -- you cannot possess
    one without the others.

    ---------------------------------------------

    INTELLECTUAL VIRTUES * -- Good Habits in the Use of the Intellect.

    SPECULATIVE -- Knowledge, Understanding, and Speculative Wisdom.

    PRACTICAL -- Art or Skill, Prudence or Practical Wisdom (habit of right
    choices about decisions to be made).

    * Analytically and existentially distinct -- you can possess one without the
    others.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Max,
    Your saying, "The only standard..." does not make it the only standard. I have recently become aware that there are, in fact, other ways of looking at the problem of conduct. www.cnvc.org is a good reference for one of them.

    As I argued on the great ideas forum, I regard your list of required goods as the products, not the requirements for happiness. Happy people will produce prosperity, virtue and liberty. One reason for the confusion is the coincidence of happy people with the goods on your list. It is easy to mistake the effect for the cause.

    When I encountered thinkers who addressed the problem of conduct in aesthetic, rather than ethical terms, I thought they had really come up with something unique. Then I ran across Plato's symposium. Socrates quotes the teachings of Diotima who addressed the problem of conduct as a search for beauty - in aesthetic terms.

    Since then, I have thought that Aristotle converted an essentially aesthetic question into a moral one. In so doing, he enabled domination cultures with rulers and subjects, masters and servants for over 2000 years.

    The big conceptual error in Aristotle's thinking here is that he was unaware of the fact that good and evil reside in the will alone (Kant, essay on ethics). We can excuse him that, since he predated Kant by 2 millenia. Since you and I can read Kant and others, we don't have the same excuse. The good is in the will, therefore happiness is in the will or it is nowhere.

    As Buddhists and other transcendental thinkers have discovered, the only real requirement for happiness is a deep inner connection to ones own feelings, needs and inner life.

    ReplyDelete
  3. “Show me a man who is fashioned according to the doctrines which he utters. Show me a man who is sick and happy, in danger and happy, dying and happy, in exile and happy, in disgrace and happy. Show him: I desire, by the gods, to see a Stoic.”

    Discourses of Epictetus, Book II, chapter 19.

    (and he isn't talking about a transitory emotional happiness here)

    ReplyDelete
  4. >Your saying, "The only standard..." does not make it the only standard.

    There can be only one correct standard.

    I have recently become aware that there are, in fact, other ways of looking at the problem of conduct. www.cnvc.org is a good reference for one of them.

    As long as you persist in using terms like “Happy people” in its psychological sense, we have nothing further to discuss.

    >As Buddhists and other transcendental thinkers have discovered, the only real requirement for happiness is a deep inner connection to ones own feelings, needs and inner life.

    That is Stocism.

    ReplyDelete
  5. First. In the context of this discussion, I have never used "happy" to mean "psychologically well adjusted" or "cheerful". I have always meant it in the philsophical, eudaemonic sense. I believe, however, that those living the eudaemonia have a tendency to be psychologically well adjusted. Emotional states are transitory, however, no matter what kind of a life you are living.

    I concur with your assessment of Stoicism. Having become a practicing Buddhist, I have been impressed by how close Buddhist and Stoic thought are. If Christianity had not intervened, I think the gap between east and west would be much smaller than it is today. I also think that Aristotle got it wrong and has lead the west astray for nearly 2000 years in both physics AND ethics. It just shows how much damage one really intelligent guy can do if he messes up on some fundamentals.

    I would prefer to let everyone make their own standard of eudaemonia, but if you insist on having one and only one standard, then it is this: eudaemonia (happiness) is in the will or it is nowhere.

    To clarify: One of my positions is that happy people (people living the eudaemonia) tend to generate the goods on the list you mention. Those things are the product, not the cause, of happiness (eudaemonia). The coincidence of the goods on your list and happiness(eudaemonia) has led some to make the wrong causal connection and assume that external goods produce happiness when it is the other way around.

    ReplyDelete