Aristotle and Ethics in a minute.

‘One swallow doesn’t make a summer’. This is a phrase from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics which nicely alludes to his thought on happiness, meaning that he felt a few moments of pleasure don’t add up to true happiness. When we think of happiness we might think of holidays, chocolate or books but to Aristotle this would not have been enough for a good life, as for Aristotle, happiness is not so much about how you feel but more about what you achieve over a long period of time. It might be understood as the feeling we get at the end of the day when the sun is setting and we feel our days work is done.

Equally for Aristotle, virtue played a pivotal role in his concept of happiness or fulfilment. What Aristotle called the ‘magnanimous man’ was someone different from the Christian saint. quoting Bertrand Russell, ‘he should have proper pride, and not underestimate his own merits. He should despise whoever deserves to be despised.’ This justified Nietzsche’s criticism of religion as slave morality a few millennia later…

Similarly, Aristotle thought that virtue was the means between two extremes. For example, it is bad to not tell the truth, but Aristotle argues that it is also bad to be too truthful, namely, heavily criticising your grandmothers cooking!! Ultimately, Aristotle champions the philosopher and wished to create a society in which children grew up articulating the world with wisdom. This is what Aristotle meant when he said that ethics and therefore happiness was only open to the philosophers. Similar to the famous maxim of Socrates ‘an unexamined life is not worth living’.



Knowledge to be applied in our lives: Epicurus.

like most of the philosophies of Epicurus’ age, they aimed at securing tranquility for the individual. Epicurus is a great example for the universal applicability of Epicureanism as he himself was poor and suffered from ill health throughout most of his life yet still managed to live a life of great bravery and fortitude.

Pleasure:

Epicurus’ pleasure was not quite our modern day definition of pleasure or hedonism. Epicurus himself lived a very minimalistic life eating no more than bread and olives with the occasional slice of cheese, as Epicurus exclaims ‘the greatest good of all is prudence’. Similar to buddhism, Epicurus somewhat renounces the material world in an attempt to flee from the constraints of culture. amongst the prohibitions Epicurus noted an involvement in political life, sexual pursuits and marriage as difficult when attempting to pursue a life of peace. Essentially, for Epicurus his notion of pleasure was cynical, he didn’t believe in consumerist happiness and renounced a lot of what Aristotle or the stoics might have thought of when conceptualising the good life. Epicurus’ philosophy is a one of peace.

Friendship:

Above all however, Epicurus thought that the safest of social pleasures was in fact friendship. Having renounced most of his surroundings he recognised that one was not able to live without friends. This is what I believe we can learn from Epicurus, as he calls for a interconnectivity or a brotherhood of man that seems to be crucial to us as social beings. Although we may not agree with the austerity and asceticism that runs through Epicurus’ work, we can all agree that our social relationships dictate much of our lives and really ensuring these are meaningful to us is a mission worth working towards. But why is it so important?

Friends are their to comfort you in both joy and sadness. They can help you gain perspective when your life has gone astray.

Friends are integral for developing social skills, if we didn’t have friends we would never have been able to act out different personalities, styles and modes of behaviour that help us develop as young people. In the best cases, friends can act as a self-critical group that strengthen your sense of morality.

Making friends can break down social barriers. Making friends with someone of different skin colour, religion or sex is useful for us when expanding our circle of tolerance.

More selfishly, friends can help us with our health and longevity. Studies have shown that old people with friends generally live happier and healthier lives.

Conversations, fraternity, sorority and friendship are what we need if we are to unpack complex problems. Debates we seen on youtube or conversations we see on TV news could be greatly improved if we attempted to conduct our speech in the spirit of friendship.

Knowledge to be applied in our lives: On Liberty(Mill, J.S. 1859)

Freedom and eccentricity:

‘while mankind are imperfect there should be different opinions, so it is that there should be different experiments of living’. This maxim from Mill’s On Liberty is a valid reason for why freedom of speech should never be prohibited as long as it doesn’t transfigure into violent acts. However, there have been debates over whether hate speech in fact propels violence, So I won’t try and answer the question on absolute free speech today, but I will demonstrate the relationship between the precious commodity of eccentricity and freedom.

In this book, Mill coins the ‘harm principle’, which in layman’s terms means that I should be able to do whatever I want as long as I’m not harming anyone, or better put, “my fist ends at the tip of your nose”. Mill also thought that free speech was heavily dependent on where you say it, for example, shouting “BOMB!” in a theatre full of people knowing their isn’t a bomb is a violation of free speech, yet speech to offend should not be prohibited, as sometimes forms of truth are not golden and shiny but instead, cold and frosty. Again, I’m not arguing whether this is patently right as we might be more enmeshed than Mills thought, but that at least there are aspects of importance here that can be applicable to our lives.

Mill gives us the freedom to live experimentally, trying different forms of behaviour and expanding our societies scope for creativity and eccentricity. Most people are content to live a life relative conformity and that is fine, but the idea of being creative, eccentric and individual should always be offered to people if needed. If we all hesitated to criticise someone for wearing a strange hat, walking the dog at 1am or being unusually awkward, we would in fact live freer ourselves as the realms of possible experience would expand, potentially leading us to live more original and interesting lives. Although moral laws are crucial for our collective consciousness, we must admit that freedom of being is yet to fully develop. It is necessary for this to happen for progress as some of the most enlightened adepts of all disciplines and occupations such as Nietzsche, Ghandi, Da Vinci, Wilde, Diogenes were able go lives that defied conventionality. Specifically, Da Vinci as a kid would go out, observe and ask questions about existence such as ‘what is the colour of a woodpeckers tongue?’. Ghandi, coming from a wealthy family ended living in robes usually worn by the poor and Wilde would dress flamboyantly in a time when this was unheard of. It is our job then to preserve this landscape of possibilities for ourselves and for the people who need it the most. Freedom of choice and speech must be seen as ongoing experiments that will at times offend us, but we should reflect on feelings of offence and ask, is it my lack of freedom that makes me externalise this uncertainty?

Knowledge to be applied in our lives(Why pleasure is not enough): Civilization and its discontents(Freud, S. 1930).

Freud in Civilization and its discontents¬†is pessimistic of the human condition in essence. His account of society is that most people follow the simple programme of the pleasure principle as a means for deriving meaning in life. Further, in Freuds view the ‘intention that man should be ‘happy has no part in the plan of creation’ but merely is an ‘episodic phenomenon’ that requires the universe to be tailored to your needs. However, Freud does not discount pleasure as something futile but recognises that the satisfaction of the ‘drives’ can be rewarding all the while understanding that such an ephemeral phenomenon like pleasure cannot be the sole basis for a meaningful and happy existence. Equally, looking at the state of western, consumer capitalism, there is no surprise such an agenda for meaning has been pushed. Namely, Coca Cola’s ‘choose happiness’ or Johnnie Walkers ‘Joy will take you further campaign’ have both played a part in the collective distortion that pleasure does simply equal happiness.

What this clears up is that pleasure is a fleeting, ephemeral form of joy that we can distinguish from happiness. However, once we admit this, many more possibilities arise that are not as closely related to the pleasure principle. Freud even offers a useful example of engaging in creative and intellectual pursuits, this is primarily because it is an endeavour that is stretched out over much time that cannot be achieved instantaneously and thus delays the gratification of pleasure. This is certainly a wiser pursuit than hedonism.

Yet, the reason why I have taken an interest in Freuds civilization and its discontents is not due to his own thesis’ on what makes for a good life but because of his excellent point made about the current state of wellbeing for many in the developed world. There is seemingly a great rise in living conditions and abundance(see: OurWorldInData), yet modernity seems to be malnourished when it comes to what accounts for a good life. This is not to say that many aspects of medical and technological progress have not improved our lives, they definitely have, but rather that there are crucial aspects of the past in which the developed world is lacking. Namely, Hegel states in the phenomenology of spirit that each epoch has had wise and important insights into the nature of experience. My goal is to recover these aspects of the past to inform individuals on how certain aspects of culture, thought and phenomenology certain communities in history fostered, can be useful tools of knowledge to live better in the present. Future posts will be aimed at addressing this through thought, art and film, as well as music.