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Before we get to all in this, then you actually brought up a point I wanted to ask. So how would Aristotle judge whether his life was happy using Mortimer Adler’s example. It sounds like you can’t judge a happy life until it’s over. Mhm. Because there’s still the chance of tragedy.
That’s another One of these shocking remarks he makes like children cannot be happy is one of them. Another is called no man is happy until he’s dead. He says he gets that from Solon tells a story about King Cresus in which Solon asked him if because King Cresus was the richest man on the planet, He asked him if he was the happiest man. And Solon said, no, we’d have to inspect that son. Solon says that you would have to you have to look at a person’s biography as a whole. It’s kind of an open question, was King Priam happy given the last circumstances of his life and he died. So disconsolate if he’s a very old man and that was just the last few years of his life.
You can see how people can debate that point is that you have to look at a life overall, Well lived to see if that person indeed had a life overall well lived and obtained all those real goods, the accumulation of which makes you happy and in your pursuit of that. It turns south and you can have bad luck and the tragic side of life becomes catastrophic for you. You’d have to be open to the fact that that person, even though he may have had many advantages many years in his life, he might have died unhappy in spite of the fact that your life may have turned sour in some ways, if you can look to the fact you still impacted your community and your family in a blessed way that somewhat compensates for that.
So then would you say then that the empathy and the contribution that you’re talking about here in the social aspect would be a compensation by virtue of the fact that despite the tragedy, you’ve contributed to the happiness of others. So therefore, in a way that happiness is a part of your overall well being, would that be a fair characterization?
Yeah, it’s back to that point that were communal beings, family is so important and that’s why I’m looking at your life is just a pure individual event.
That it’s a communal, your person within the community to be a person is to be communal. Christianity definitely expands that idea, but it was even implicit in Aristotle, we’re back to that point again, that only God and the beast can think that they can be that each can be happy in isolation from community, a very sad thing today, to witness this and there are sociologists like Charles Murray and Robert Putnam and Johann Hari, who have done sociological studies and argue that one of the great sad events of modern life is that we’ve become lonely and isolated, Johann Hari argues that the sad things in modern life is this over prescription of drugs and that over prescription of drugs is a substitute for the fact that people have become depressed, anxious and sad, mainly because they’re lonely.
If you created a better sense of community and family associations in individual lives, people would not suffer so many psychiatric problems. He did a study where in an earlier study, sociologists found that if you asked a british citizen in case of a crisis event in your life, whom could you call on to help you? About 40 years ago, the average Brit would have said four or five people, not relatives, but people otherwise other than relatives that would help them. He said today they have done the same survey and the replies: zero. Yhere are no people to help them outside their own family and that’s a breakdown somehow of community.
And Johann Hari says that’s a failure of our understanding of the human person to be a human being, is to be a communal creature. If we forget that we throw lives on the lake of despair. Two other questions, I’ll ask the first though, so when to be a person is to be this communal creature. So then we could say then tragedy, it could happen, obviously it happens individually to a person, it could happen to communities because the tragedy could happen to like a nation for example, or state or city or whatever.
Um So, tragedy could analogous lee be applied to different levels of human existence, because we’re both individual human persons as well as like you said, we’re communal by nature. What would be a first step in your opinion too? So let’s say you realize you’re lacking the communal side, what would be a first step for someone to to start to alleviate that? Like, the survey you mentioned? So instead of zero, maybe it’s one or like how would he approach that? Because obviously we’re getting into the question of friendship,
But yeah, well, first of all is knowing what the problem is, Johann Hari Charles Murray has said this also, you know, 40 years ago, if you met a fellow citizen at the coffee shop and sat down to have a cup of coffee with him, you would discover that that person, some connection with his family, some religion in his life, had a job, a vocation that meant something to him and had a sense of community, was operating and active in the outside community.
Both say today that you’ll find many, many people in society. They they have none of those, not one of them. One of the ways that since we’re not born into this world for ourselves alone, you have to have people who listen to others and are connected with others. If they’re all these other things are broken down, they just have to work to retrieve that because it’s essential to their human nature. What’s essential to human nature is not just essential to you as an individual, but also to your society as a whole.
So these two go together, that’s what it is to be a person. And this is the genius of Christianity. It understands this personal. Person is you have to relate to others. And according to Christian theology, that’s why there’s a Trinity. You don’t just want a lonely god. You wanna since to be a person requires communal dialogue and interrelation. God is a Trinity God is three persons and were made in the image and likeness of God. So we have to always remember that that goes back to your first question about empathy that is central to our pursuit of happiness is not just some rigid stoical, rugged, individualistic project as it sometimes, if this is fair to say, would it be fair to say then that because remained the image of God, we need community and like you said, the people at the coffee shop is that every person created by God has it has this obligation by virtue of themselves to not only to be to give themselves to other because we need them meaning if everything is communal and every human person is unique.
According to Catholic theology then that means that every person has something to give to others by virtue of being who they are. Is that a fair characterization and how would that play in here?
Yeah, exactly. Right. That in your dignity as a human person, you have your person because you have of reason and free will, all of us have the potentials then to give happiness to ourselves and happiness to others. People can do that in distinctive ways, but there’s something you have to pay attention to in this line of thinking then.
So let’s let’s bring back and real and apparent goods according to Aquinas is in relation to Aristotle, position on as well. Um so then a person may say, well, wait a minute, okay, so I have something to give every everyone, I don’t feel that way. I know you, I know you’ve laid out a convincing case that I should develop myself based on, you know, this as as you said earlier, this norm of Aristotle’s normal call it for now this idea of well being good spirit, eudaemonia.
But the thing is I and again, it’s not a psychological state happiness because I could be doing like an activity or an action. I should say, I should be doing an action that is part of my happiness, you know, part of all the parts that make up a happy life for me, but that doesn’t mean I may be experiencing pleasure at the time of doing it. You brought up this idea of athleticism and pain. You may, you know, being a an athlete, maybe part of the person’s making a happy life, but, you know, practice as an athlete.
I noticed that it’s painful. It’s like, you know, you’re going through physical pain in a lot of ways. So what how would you respond to that objection and saying, okay, well, to give someone, basically the to show them that it’s not how they feel. It’s not that there’s some external norm floating out on there, it’s something within them that is the driving factor towards pursuing a happy life or not. So, how would you answer that objection?
Well, I guess a lot of it may go back to the underlying or our first level of philosophical debate about human nature. If you don’t believe in human nature, then we’re just these an anarchic individuals and you can invent life anyway, you want. And a lot of people today, I do believe that Aristotle would say that is one of them would be one of the great catastrophes in civilization. For people to forget what it is to be a human being, What is human nature? You run an experiment against human nature.
You’re going to lose and that would be a disaster for yourself and for society as a whole, and Aristotle if he were alive today would say it looks to me that that’s what’s going on in modern culture. They’re running an experiment against nature and civilization. So you have to be question about the significance of human nature and we’d have to have a front-end debate about that other issue he would bring up is you have to distinguish between happiness and what you count as your personal or individually tailored success, that people think that happiness is the same as success.
But Aristotle would say that’s not the case, because I made a lot of people who are very, very successful in life, who are not happy. You sense that they’re not happy. In fact, you sometimes sense that there pursuing success to compensate for their lack of happiness known successful people. And I’ve, just from my own anecdotal observations, I’ve noticed that the people who are very successful and happy tended to be people who are happy in the first place and had they not been successful, they have probably still been happy, find people who were unhappy and they became successful and they still tend to remain unhappy.
That’s just been my own anecdotal observation of the matter. So would remind us about human nature and be sure you don’t mistake your own wants and accomplishments, even if the world says you’re a very successful person, you know, you might find some oligarchical, multi billionaire who the world outside thinks that person must be a paragon of happiness. And then you find out he doesn’t have a friend in the world and all this is just camouflage is that their individual accomplishments themselves can actually militate against your happiness, even if the outside world doesn’t see that, let alone the front end question about human nature, that has to be debated.
Let’s assume for the sake we’re gonna take acquaintances and Aristotle’s understanding of human nature, obviously the broader catholic christian, so I would argue St. John of the Sross as well, general understanding that, I mean you’ll debate certain things, but let’s just take that for now and then you have the point you just laid out, which has said, look, if a person is successful, that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s going to make them happy. They if they were happy prior to the success, they’re more likely to be happy after which I have observed as well.
So we’ll we’ll take anecdotal evidence as that’s generally the case. But then to your point or then you brought in friendship, which means, you know, brought a thought to me which is to say maybe one of the solutions the starting solution is if empathy is important and community is important, then the question really becomes empathizing in a real way, not in a Rousseian way, but real empathy with a fellow human person and building a friendship. So then then therefore friendship becomes a crucial component in happiness and I was wondering if you could comment on that.
Yeah, it absolutely is. And Aristotle’s much of his conversation about happiness is associated with his two books on friendship that Cicero has this remark when he said, what would be the point of happiness if you didn’t have somebody to share it with? So that’s just a reminder that we’re social creatures and that we need relationships to fulfill our human nature. So without friendship, you can’t be happy. Aristotle would say that was just very obvious to him. And then the question is friendship to can take you into the sphere of distinguishing between apparent goods and real goods.
This guy looks like he’d be a great friend for me, because he’ll help me expand my resume, break up a friendship with this person. It turns out that he’s a very toxic person and actually hurt you. And to what kind of friend could he be? Even if you enjoyed spending time with that person, That’s one of the great seductions of apparent goods is you seek a friend. You think that person has to be a great friend because you enjoy such time with that person. But that person, Aristotle said, could be undermining your good moral habits and could actually be destructive if not in the short run.
In the long run have to discern different types of friendship. Friendship of utility friendships of pleasure. And then there’s friendships of of a moral kind that perfect you and your cultivation as a virtuous and excellent human being. And it’s the third kind of friendship that always has to be the standard to judge the other’s friendship is again, a way of expressing our need to be communal creatures. Friendship helps develop our moral perfection as well. So we’re getting back to happiness as both an individual and a communal pursuit.
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