Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A very interesting meditation on the good, transcendence, society and eudaimonia/fulfillment/happiness.

From TPM and John Cottingham, ├╝ber Cartesian expert.

Sanka freeze dried version.

1. There are three conditions of human happiness, none of which is sufficient (that is; possession of any one alone does not guarantee you’ll be happy), but all of which are ultimately necessary.

He then treats each in turn, providing counterexamples to objections aimed at falsifying the non-sufficiency claims.

A. Opportunity (and exploitation of same) for achievement, exercise of human capacities.

He presents a fictional case, Don Giovanni, of someone who does exercise his human capacities to scheme, plan, and otherwise exercise his rationality, in the interests of getting what he wants, when he wants it, with little or no regard for others. One can, no doubt, multiply instances here, and need not resort to fictional cases, but the gist is that there is a fundamental level connectedness of persons, man is, to use the phrase, essentially a ‘social animal,’ and any fulfillment must include this social element, or otherwise, at some level he will suffer for it, most probably in some form of guilt, though it need not be only in that form. This brings Cottingham to his second thesis:

B. This achievement must be aimed toward furthering of the good. Otherwise dissolution of integrity and a nagging sense of lack of fulfillment will result. The good here not merely being one’s own good, but involving others.

However, there is a risk here of disillusionment; for real life is also replete with instances of failed attempts to serve the good, triumphs of monstrous evil. Human history seems to show no trend toward abatement of viciousness. So, one may fall into cynicism, if not despondency. Cottingham doubts that we can rest satisfied in Camus’ world where the futility is all there is, we cannot be content playing the absurdist hero Sisyphus, always taking up the burden yet again.

Yet, in suffering, and in this futility, is found fellowship and connection with vulnerable others as we attempt to deal with it, not in isolation, but in connection with those others.

C. The others, he surmises, but admits he may not be able to establish, also includes a transcendent other, as source of, anchor for the good, that thing we humans are uniquely able to grasp. This source brings us to his last necessary condition for fulfillment/happiness/eudaimonia; a search for transcendence, or meaning in life that allows one to endure its pains and sufferings, with no guarantees that it will turn out in any way we can describe or believe as being 'better in the end.'

One is reminded of Admiral Stockdale’s reading of Job when one reads this very penetrating piece on evil and the human condition by Cottingham.