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Is it a paradox to be at one time happy with our lives and at another time sad

Is it a paradox to be at one time happy with our lives and at another time sad with our lives even if there is nothing different?

Although there may at least initially appear to be something inconsistent in being happy with one's life at one time and being sad about one's life at another time even though nothing has changed with respect to one's life, provided that one is not happy and sad about one's life in the same respect, there is no paradox--neither a logical paradox nor a paradox of rationality--in such a case. For it is plausible that there could be aspects of one's life about which one had reason to be happy and other aspects of one's life about which one had reason to be sad, and so, depending on which aspects of one's life one focused, one could be happy with one's life at one time and then sad about one's life at a different time, even though nothing had changed in one's life between the times in question. While there is no logical contradiction here, however, such a situation could suggest that one hasn't fully integrated one's attitudes towards the various aspects of one's life. I am inclined to think that the persistence of such opposed attitudes reveals ambivalence about one's life, ambivalence of the sort that can only be resolved by reflecting on one's life and trying to integrate its different aspects into a whole. Such ambivalence does not, in my opinion, manifest any irrationality, and although I am inclined to think that ambivalence is natural and perhaps even maybe the human condition, it may nevertheless be symptomatic of some deeper dissatisfaction with one's life as a whole which thereby merits attention.

I'll try to make this concise, but will probably fail. Many ancient philosophers

I'll try to make this concise, but will probably fail. Many ancient philosophers across numerous cultures recommended moderation or even elimination of the desires and passions as a/the way to deeper understanding or, in the case of Buddhism, enlightenment, whatever that is. I'll assume that the panelists here will be familiar with at least a handful of examples, such as Socrates, Pyrrho, Epicurus, Siddhartha Gautama, Lao Tzu, etc. I apologize for listing several questions, but as they're so closely related I hope that their number will help triangulate on exactly the point I'm hoping to learn about: Is this advice still relevant for modern humans? Is there any reason to pay heed to this aspect of ancient philosophy, other than as an academic topic? Is there any evidence to support the claim that the control, reduction or elimination of desires and passions leads to greater happiness or deeper subjective understanding of the nature of the human experience? Many thanks in advance and in hopes of getting...

What a wonderful question! You are right about there being a long tradition of sage advise on moderating desire. There is an excellent review of this tradition in the west along with some very insightful observations in the book Emotion and Peace of Mind by Richard Sorabji (Oxford University Press, 2002). He considers philosophical projects of moderating desires and the more radical projects of seeking the complete eradication of passion/desire. Not all philosophers have cautioned us about acting on passion; Pascal, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and others seem rather immoderate in their advice and lives. But in any case, I suggest that the case for moderation goes hand in glove with the case for the virtue of integrity and freedom. Having sufficient self-mastery and self-understanding to know when one's anger is way out of proportion to the event at hand seems essential for personal integrity. Similarly, one may lose one's ability to think freely and deliberately about one's action if one is consumed with a passionate, but blind lust or jealousy or an unchecked seemingly limitless desire for drink and drugs, and so on. So, I suggest the good of moderation is as important today as in the teaching of the ancient Greco-Roman moral philosophers. In any case, check out Sorabji's fascination book. Good wishes, CT

What would be the better choice: truth that will make you bitter or a lie that

What would be the better choice: truth that will make you bitter or a lie that would make you happy? Let's say truth would be the better choice. Now the follow-up question: what is there to truth that makes it more valuable than happiness, even if this happiness is produced by a lie?

Here's one way to respond. If one were to suppose, with Kant, that human dignity is intinsically valuable, and that lying to another--even if that lie would promote the other's happiness, say by sparing that person a harsh and painful truth--does not respect that person' dignity, by failing to--in Kant' terminology--treat that person as an end-in-itself worthy of respect--then one might therefore conclude that one has a duty to tell others the truth, and, since, again according to Kant, duty does not admit of exceptions, one cannot compromise that duty in any cae whatsoever, regardless of the consequences of so doing.

Of course, this response presupposes some very strong claims about the nature of human beings and the significance of duty. Implicit, too, is the assumption that morality is more intrinsically valuable than happiness. This is not to say that Kant, or a Kantian, wouldn't recognize the significance of promoting the happiness of others--if I remember correctly, Kant does so, explicitly, in Groundwork 1--but rather that the demands of duty, for Kant, take precedence over promoting the happiness of others.

If, by contrast, one took the maximization of happiness as the basis for deciding which acts are permissible, one might have reason to tell a lie in order to promote the happiness of another. (Although it's not clear that in the case under consideration, even a utilitarian who takes as her ultimate end the maximization of happiness would endorse lying. Her reasons for so doing, of course, would differ significantly from that of the Kantian, and, I must confess that I find the Kantian approach more intuitively attractive than other alternatives.)

Considering that the primary drive which motivates human behaviour is the

Considering that the primary drive which motivates human behaviour is the ubiquitous drive to reproduce; does happiness to a significant extent depend upon how physically attractive you are? From personal experience it seems like this is indeed the case; but how can we make sense of a world in which the ultimate goal of life (happiness) can be dependent upon such a superficial thing as physical attractiveness?

I'm not sure that the goal of procreation trumps all others for human beings, so I can't accept your premise here. But I'm afraid that the world is in fact such that there are certain things that are beyond our powers that have an enormous impact on our "quality of life." I understand that it grinds against our need to feel in control, but I think a person who lives in abject poverty and can do next to nothing to help his or her family and friends, is more poorly positioned to lead a full life, than someone born in better circumstances. And if having friends is an important element of a good life, and I think it is , then being good looking is probably an asset. Of course, a person who relied on this quality too much might not develop sufficient depth to develop powerful relations but that is another issue.

“The House of Pleasure”

“The House of Pleasure” I have often been baffled by what seems to be a relatively straightforward problem which I call The House of Pleasure. I was wondering if: a) a trained philosopher could shed some light on it; and b) whether anything similar has been discussed in the academic literature. It goes like this. It’s a Saturday night and a guy is walking to a party. On the way, he notices something he hasn’t seen before: a neon sign obnoxiously blinking “The House of Pleasure.” Intrigued, he approaches the doorman. “That’ll be $100, sir.” “What? That’s crazy! What is this place?” “Oh,” the doorman says with a glimmer in his eye, “you’ve never been to The House of Pleasure? Let me explain. After you pay me and walk in, your brain will be scanned to identify everything that you subjectively enjoy: physically, sexually, emotionally, and intellectually. You’ll then spend the next four hours experiencing pure, untainted pleasure based on your personal desires. Whatever you enjoy most about...

This interesting thought experiment and associated questions deserves a substantial response. Alas, for now, I can only suggest that you read Robert Nozick's discussion of happiness and the "pleasure machine" thought experiment, a nice discussion of which was offered in the New York Times by David Sosa here.

I know that my life is extremely short and that all of my worries and anxieties

I know that my life is extremely short and that all of my worries and anxieties are transient. I should just learn to enjoy and appreciate the moment. Yet I simply can't seem to let go of my everyday anxieties. There is always something clogging my mind. Is there some philosophical tradition which helps people to transcend such trivial concerns and find a sense of bliss? Would the religion of Buddhism be a useful tradition to explore?

Yes, Buddhism suggests that we need to detach ourselves from our cravings and anxieties in order to escape from our suffering. The practice of meditation is designed to help with this process. By engaging in the focused breathing or other methods of meditation, you begin to learn to control the mind's tendency to wander and obsess. Instructions for a pretty simple type of meditation can be found here. But like any other practice, it is best learned from an expert and by repetition.

One might also argue that the practice of philosophical thinking in general can help one overcome our transient worries and anxieties. By carefully reflecting on whether these worries are rational and on how one can best address them, one can reinterpret them in a way that should dampen the emotional reaction to them. Here, reading the Stoics might help. I also just read Ecclesiastes (from the Old Testament) for the first time, and enjoyed it. While it has a depressing edge to it, Solomon also argues that the best we can do to live a good life is to love one another, work hard at something we enjoy, find pleasure in this love and work, and make the most of our limited time on earth.

Other panelists might have more suggestions. I hope this helps.

Dear Philosophers,

Dear Philosophers, I've been told the "dream girl" as the "dream job" as the "dream life" don't exist. I disagree, I found a wonderful partner and got married to her. It is not a dream, meaning not everything is perfect: I have my flaws and so has she. the question is I've been looking for a career, an activity, anything that can make me happy, energetic, feel alive. (find the job you love and you won't have to work for the rest of your life; find what you love and you will wake up early and go to bed late because without feeling tired, and so on). I've tried to go for the prestige, and worked in bank and multinationals without any results. I then decided to go for the skills, played guitar, surfed, snowboarded, read, did marathons, learnt languages and so on but couldn't get any money from this and evidently it is not my vocation/career. At last I thought I could be a good salesmen and applied for many job. I have a decent job, that for many could be a dream one, as a sales manager, but I hate it, it's...

You are looking for a job that satisfies your three criteria (1) you love it (2) you can devote yourself to it and (3) you get rich. This isn't a mathematical puzzle with a definite answer; just like your search for the perfect mate, it may or may not exist i.e. is is contingent on the jobs available to you.

Obviously you are putting a good deal of effort into your search, and I wish you good luck. It might be helpful to read a basic book on figuring out what career is right for you (like What Color is your Parachute?). But perhaps you have tried this already. Here are some further ideas.

You may not have met your perfect job yet because there is no job that satisfies your three criteria. One option then is to create your own job (find a niche and be self employed). Another option is to relax some of your criteria. "Getting rich" is overrated as a source of happiness (see recent work by Daniel Kahnemann, described in the NYTimes this week, which suggestions that about $75K per household, happiness does not increase). Some people are more fulfilled by the combination of a job and hobbies (or more than one job); perhaps the second criterion could be weakened to "you can partially devote yourself to it." Some people have a single mission, others have multiple (one is not inherently better than another).

I don't think you need give up the first criterion i.e. that you love it (so long as you aren't unrealistic about love--but it sounds like you have a realistic view of romantic love, so perhaps you have a realistic view of love of work also).

Perhaps someone will be able to settle this argument between me and my friend

Perhaps someone will be able to settle this argument between me and my friend once and for all. Whenever I whine about some unfortunate happening or circumstance in my life, my friend will remind me that I'm better off than, say, poor starving children in Ethiopia. However, I think this is a faulty apples vs. oranges comparison. If I were to compare myself to others, shouldn't I compare myself among those who are in similar circumstances? That is, if I were to draw valid comparisons between myself and others, wouldn't it make more sense to compare across socioeconomic strata, rather than to compare myself to someone who is clearly more unfortunate or more successful simply because they were born in extraordinary circumstances different from my own? (Essentially, what my friend is trying to tell me is to not take things for granted. But I find that to be empty advice, especially since I don't think that it's a valid comparison and therefore not a valid argument.) Thanks for your time! --MJ

I think you are right to take issue with your friend. On his or her account, the only person in the world who can legitimately complain is the person who is worst off in the world. Of course, we should be grateful for many things in life - but life is also filled with a great deal of sadness and pain - and we would be better off if we could share our pain and sorrow together rather than to have to listen to the blather that "it could be worse." And it will be worse someday. The fifth acts is almost always bloody and degrading.

Is it possible to quantify suffering philosophically?

Is it possible to quantify suffering philosophically? It's a foregone conclusion that pain has long been measured for actuarial purposes (with proportionate dollar amounts tagged to various injuries) so that an insurer can say, "the loss of vision is worth more than the loss of a pinkie," but can this be sustained philosophically? In other words, can one definitively answer the old parlour game question that usually comes down to, "Which you you rather experience? A long minor pain or a short major pain?" without resorting to the cop-out that "each individual suffers uniquely"?

I can't think of any uniquely philosophical answer to this one. Does it follow from the fact that 9999 people out 10000 would prefer to lose a pinkie rather than their eye sight imply that there is more pain in the latter than in the former? But then what would we say to that one person who wanted to hold on to her pinkie? That she was wrong to choose her finger over her sight. That she made a misjudgment about pain? I don't think so. There does seem to be something intrinsically subjective about these judgments. Might we be able to make them inter-subjective? Not sure.

I know that there are people in psycho-physics working on scaling issues. Linda Bartoshuk is doing some brilliant research in this area. There is a profile of her work in the June 18 issue of Science.

I am sixty and I find myself becoming removed from my life (my very nice life, I

I am sixty and I find myself becoming removed from my life (my very nice life, I might add). I watch, rather than participate. Everything I read about, see, or experience is similar to that which I have read about, seen or experienced before. I've been down that road before, I know where it goes, it's hard to stay engaged. It's hard to care. I know that in the broadest view everything turns out fine- all good things end and all bad things end. I am not unhappy at all. Am I just old?

Thanks for your very well put and honest sigh of a reflection. It does sound as though you are bored and detached. You say that it is hard to care - which is right to suggest that caring is an activity-- not a feeling that washes over. Could you make stronger efforts to care, to get involved? I've often found that Pascal was right - going through the motions can lead to authentic feelings.

I'm in the same time territory and sometimes I think that there is nothing to look forward to - nothing good at least - just losing people I feel as though I can't live without, the body breaking down, not being taken seriously, the nursing home. I think it is a scary period. Not that this makes any difference, but it has also struck me how much being in the present, in America at least, depends upon having a future, a dream. It is as though for us, no tomorrow means no today. Sad. And at a certain point our future does in fact become pretty narrow and, well, terrifying.

I just try to care - to be as kind as I can, to soften my spirit, but this approach has been something that I have gotten from yoga, not from western philosophy. Indeed, I think that the Socrates guild has encouraged us to think that there is no wisdom in the body and movement. And sometimes just moving the body - taking long walks will move the spirit. I would try that when the great numbness comes over you. all the best, Gordon