(NOTE: This transcription has been automatically generated through an AI program. Consequently, this transcript may not match everything you hear in the podcast episode, and it may contain errors such as spelling, grammar, word choice, etc., due to the limitations of current AI technology.)
Hi everyone. So this is an encore for season three. Originally, my plan was to continue commenting on the problem of evil. But then after hearing from listeners and speaking again with Dr. Curtis Hancock, we decided to record a bonus interview on the nature of happiness which is the flip side here of the problem of evil. So there will be a couple more episodes this season on the nature of happiness. So we are going to start right now with the first part of our second interview with Dr. Curtis Hancock on the nature of Happiness. Enjoy.
Welcome everybody. We are here with dr Curtis Hancock again who was just with us discussing the problem of evil. And now we are going to discuss the flip of the coin, which is what is the nature of happiness so well what is happiness?
When I think about these kinds of issues, I always go back to classical wisdom to see how the ancient Greeks understood the matter. And Aristotle as a person who developed in philosophical depth the idea of happiness and he called it eudaemonia, which is a combination of two greek words, good spirit.
So it’s a way of having a sense of well being that endures through life because one is in the pursuit of goods are desires that really fulfill him that actually is and perfect his or her human nature. So that’s how Aristotle understood happiness and I think it’s hard to improve on that
when you’re saying with_eudaemonia_ this idea of pursuing the good and having this, it’s restful happiness, would that be, would he characterize that as joy? Would that be a fair characterization of what he means with eudaemonia compared to let’s say pleasure.
That’s the thing. At some point, you gotta nuance all these terms. Happiness is not the same as contentment which isn’t the same as serenity which isn’t the same as bliss. Is that the same as joy? and so someone has to do some philosophical parsing about that terminology. But in general, I think Aristotle would say happiness is a standard by which one regulates decision making so that you don’t bungle the business of managing your well being in life and you make smart choices and you don’t make dumb choices.
But he would say about terms like that is today. If he were alive today and look at how people mismanage their happiness, he would say part of the confusion is that people don’t have a real understanding of self personal fulfillment. And there deceived by terms like joy and pleasure. They mistake well being for some kind of immediate satisfaction. Whereas Aristotle happiness is not immediate, its long term, it has to be something enduring. And one of the biggest mistakes we make is we think happiness is about getting some immediate joy like going to the amusement park and having fun.
The problem with that, you see that’s temporary, it doesn’t endure. So a prudent person manages his life to overarching well being, not just immediate pleasures satisfactions. So if you mean, if you take joy to mean some kind of enduring satisfaction, he would be on board with that sometimes can be used to just meet and immediate or short term enjoyment. So how would Aristotle deal with something? Like for example, in his time, you know, he had Homer, you know, and and or like think of like good drama or good music.
So there’s all these things that are there obviously finite. But but there’s there’s a difference between finding pleasure and good drama and good music, you know, higher things, let’s call them rather than let’s say like drinking beer. So like how, how would Aristotle respond to this? Like a hierarchy of goods here, This idea of even in those higher goods, to be fair, you could only watch a good dramatic play or listen to good music so much before you need to back off and relax.
So even that is not your complete well being that it’s so important for it. So how did how would Aristotle negotiate that?
Well, what your culture provides you to edify and deepen your wisdom is very important. And the ancient Greeks had the benefit, you mentioned the Greek playwrights like Sophocles and Aeschylus and Euripides and Aristotle was actually a friend of your Euripdes. So he’s very intimate with that very familiar with that community and Aristotle would say that you read these greek playwrights or you go to the theater and theater and witness them.
That is very instructive because it reminds you of one very important thing that bears on your happiness. And somehow, analogically, in our modern world, when we experience artworks and cultural events that we have to adapt to. This same kind of insight and and conclusion is that this is one of Aristotle’s paradoxes about happiness. In order to be happy, you have to have a strong sense of the tragic condition of life.
Life can be a tragic experience and you have to brace yourself for that because in life everybody will have losses and that will certainly up in for the for a time, your sense of satisfaction, but it need not permanently mar your happiness because that’s just part of the human condition, everybody will experience some kind of loss.
So it sounds like it’s counterintuitive to say that if you appreciate the tragic side of life that will amplify your happiness. But in fact it does, he said, and there are certain reasons for that, it reminds you that everybody has to deal with that on some level, hopefully they won’t be catastrophic losses. It helps instill a sense of gratitude. If you realize that we are all vulnerable, the tragedy of life, you appreciate more when you have things that are not tragic.Happiness is something to be sought, worked for and it’s against the backdrop of a tragic human condition.
So how does how do things like empathy play a part in with tragedy? Let’s say you don’t experience the tragedy, but you see other you know, obviously, like in a dramatic play, you’ll see the tragedy play out. So, like, basically, like how does that make us understand happiness in a way that relates to this tragedy that you’re talking about?
Well, there might be different ways to approach that, but on the face of it, I would say we we need to be reminded that for Aristotle, happiness is not just an event we stumble into in life.
Happiness is a moral obligation. It’s a basic obligation in life and it’s obligatory in the sense that you have an obligation to be happy and you owe it to other people to help them be happy because we’re not born into this world for ourselves alone. Our happiness is not just a private affair, it impacts other people. He says, if one doesn’t believe that, ask a child who was brought up by an unhappy parents, whether other people’s happiness has some relationship up, some impact on others, helps people become better and more decent people.
And so it emanates well being to others. And so it’s very important if you have an obligation to other people’s well being, if you have empathy for others that you cultivate your own happiness. So it makes you a better person because it actually eases your human nature because for Aristotle, that’s what happiness is. Happiness is not feeling good. Happiness is about pursuing all those attainments of real goods. Things that cannot help but be good for you. Like health and love, honor and reputation in life and a sense of accomplishment and hard work, all those things that unless you look at happiness that way, you will be lost in the immediate seductions of pleasure.
So again, we’re back to happiness. It is understood by Aristotle in a normative sense, it’s a way of eudaemonia as a way of looking at the whole assembly of achievements in your life that perfect your human nature, actualize your human nature. Whereas today we tend to look at happiness psychologically, it’s just a state of mind you happen to have lapsed into at a certain moment an hour later. So right now we’re feeling good an hour later, we’re not feeling good. Oh, I’m so unhappy, Aristotle says that’s ridiculous.
That’s not it. Being happy is actually compatible with episodes perhaps sizable episodes of not feeling good. So, if you want to be an olympic athlete, you have to go through a lot of severe and painful and distressing training, but that doesn’t mean you’re unhappy while you’re doing that, that’s precisely part of the project. And so if Aristotle were alive today, he would say that’s one of the saddest afflictions and confusions that we have about happiness. We’ve lost a sense of happiness as a norm for defining our life overall as a project towards actualizing our human nature. And we’ve turned it into moments snapshots of psychological pleasure.
So when you’re saying that happiness is a norm for a catholic, our norm are measures God’s will for us and the beatific vision, but Aristotle obviously didn’t have that. So when you’re saying it’s a norm, could you dive into more about what you that would have meant for Aristotle’s?
Yeah, for Aristotle happiness is about human nature, he would say again, if he were alive today, he would say he was not surprised that people have difficulty attaining happiness today because they don’t understand its connection with human nature.
You’re a happy person, you achieve eudaemonia. A well developed sense of personal self actualization over a life long lived one achieves happiness in this way by recognizing that in life you have choices between apparent goods, things that you want that may be good for you, but in the end may not really be good for you. So you have to distinguish between apparent goods and real goods and when you attain real goods, like some of those things we mentioned before, like knowledge and love and self esteem and connectedness to community.
One achieves those kinds of real goods, then they actualized they make you as a human being better. That’s different from what you want. For example, I ought to want, what I need. What I ought to want is nutritious food. But if I start my day every day with lucky charms and the fifth of Jack Daniels, that maybe what I want, but it’s clearly militating against my happiness. So the normative sense of happiness is the fulfillment of human nature and we all have these potentials and that the potentials that make you more human ought to be actualized.
But because we have limited understanding, we bungled the business of life, especially if we weren’t brought up. Well, that’s why Aristotle has this remark where he says that if you didn’t have good parents, you probably won’t be happy because as a child you need habitual direction in life. So that making smart decisions, prudent decisions, as he would say, cultivating practical wisdom comes better for you as an adult. If you didn’t have that, you’ve got to figure it out as an adult on your own terms. And that’s not likely to happen.
Family is very important for Aristotle. In fact, if you ask Aristotle, how should I learn about ethics, Aristotle and ethics and happiness go hand in hand because happiness is an ethical project because through ethics we perfect our human nature. If you went to Aristotle and asked how could I find out about ethics and happiness, should I go to some philosophy department and find out about it. Mr Aristotle. He would laugh and say, no, go to a family, find a family that has a reputation for happiness, cultivating happy children.
They’re happy parents and observe how they do it. That’s how you learn about happiness. We do not get it in a philosophy book or some Ivory tower lecture.
So that’s the first part of our bonus interview on the nature of happiness. I will release the second part. Soon take care.
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