The Good Life

UPDATE Just to spice things up, how about if each of us comes to the meeting armed with one misconception other people have that prevents them from leading or having or enjoying A Good Life?  (This idea borrowed from Thinking About Love's post-meeting analysis:  http://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Cafe-Philosophique/messages/boards/thread/46056982#[masked].)

========

Here's another eponymous artifact, offering an approach to the same topic Aristotle addressed in his Nicomachean Ethics.  Tony Bennett made this song a standard with his 1963 rendition:

Oh, the good life, full of fun, Seems to be the ideal.  Yes, the good life lets you hide All the sadness you feel.

You won't really fall in love, For you can't take the chance.  So please be honest with yourself:  Don't try to fake romance.

It's the good life to be free And explore the unknown, Like the heartaches when you learn You must face them alone.

Please remember I still want you, And in case you wonder why--Well, just wake up, Kiss the good life goodbye!  (Distel/Broussolle/Reardon)

Bennett (as the disappointed lover, but it's a short stretch from love to trust) starts by agreeing with the very sentiment that he wants to defeat (in order to persuade his beloved to settle down).  Aristotle, too, starts from agreement:  most everybody wants to be well, or happy.  Then Bennett attributes a reason why that life is "good," one that probably the other wouldn't be eager to accept:  that it distracts us [for it is we who are being serenaded] from our sadness.  The unvarnished truth (you won't really love me) is offered as something that can be lived with, whereas the status quo of pretending to love is implicitly rejected.  Is this not the philosophers' plea:  "be honest with yourself"?  

Tony Bennett and Aristotle address their audiences with the same purpose in mind, that ofcreating the good life, as opposed to merely contemplating it.  Which puts the usual debates--over how "much" is required for a good life--into interesting relief:  the only way in which deciding one's bottom line would constitute some practical progress toward the good life, is if one regarded oneself as negotiating for that good life (say, with some greater power capable of bestowing it).  Or maybe we're worried about economizing our efforts (whenever those might be exerted), about making sure we don't do more than absolutely necessary.  It's funny how the original meaning of to realize--literally, to make real--has been largely replaced with the light lifting of mental reflection.  

Hmm, maybe that loss of traction is due in part to the Greek philosophers themselves.  For Aristotle, the rubber meets the road in development of right habits, especially those of conscious reason; yet ultimately, he passes the buck to legislators to develop them.  He regards intellectual virtue as a solo act, effectively saying to others, "do as I say, not as I do."  Tony, though, can't be satisfied with merely identifying problems, because his own (love) life is at stake.  He finds himself locked out, hoping that the strange dissonance of continuing to be loved might jar his beloved awake, in time for them to realize the good life, together.

If good living is a common project, a reciprocal effort, then how fortunate that there will a group of us to work on it!  No, we're not striving to live happily ever after--but the two hours we are together is a form of life itself.  By creating a space in which others may flourish, and inhabiting the space created by others, we can make that form of life "good."

-Jeff


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    • Jeff G

      I'm mystified as to why my apparently equivalent text string is converted to "www.meetup.com/Con­versations-on-Hu%C2%ADma­nkind/events/[masked]/"­ but I did replicate the error.

      November 10

    • Jeff G

      Putting the "http://";­ in front tells meetup.com that it is a link, so that is the better practice.

      November 10

  • Jeff G

    Viktor Frankl was among the topics touched on in The Good Life. There is a discussion scheduled on excerpts from his "Man's Search for Meaning" Monday evening in SF: www.meetup.com/Conversations-on-Humankind/events/[masked]/ (says it's full but it's a large room) This was a man with a heavy dose of Real Life who invented an existentialism that might be termed Life Despite Itself.

    November 9

  • Carlos C.

    Jay, So I overstated my case. Aid programs can work, they just typically don't. The first paragraph of your first reference states that unequivocally. The problem with your statistics is that improvements have come during the increased investment period. And your second ref comes from US's federal aid agency, not exactly an unbiased source. The Africa aid problem is pretty well documented. This BBC article makes it pretty clear: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/4209956.stm. We can play data wars all day, because societies have so many variables that you can dig up a bad study to show anything you want. You have to want to find the truth, and do your own research or compare the best in bread with different positions. I wont try to convince you further than that.

    But the question is where have the broad gains in wealth come from in developed and developing countries? Did the US, Japan, China, Chile become econ success stories through aid or selfish trade?

    August 23

  • Harlan L.

    Africa is the new Asia for growth and investment. However, it is unlikely that the rapidly growing wealth will be shared at all equally or even fairly. http://www.forbes.com/2010/08/12/asia-china-africa-trade-growth-markets-economy-investment.html "These projections reflect the strength of Africa’s economies today and their solid long-term prospects. Africa’s GDP rose twice as fast from 2000 through 2008 as it did in the preceding two decades. The continent’s combined economic output, valued at $1.6 trillion in 2008, is now roughly equal to

    1 · August 23

  • Jay C.

    "Why have years of giving to Africa yielded nothing but deterioration?" The simplest answer is, they have not.

    Small-scale efforts by a growing number of NGOs have shown promise as tools of poverty
    alleviation. These successful aid initiatives have similar characteristics, which if lacking, cause aid
    efforts to break down. The following four characteristics are commonly found in successful aid
    projects: simplicity, engagement, resilience, and indigenous involvement.
    http://www.du.edu/korbel/hrhw/researchdigest/africa/AfricanAid.pdf

    Child mortality in Africa has dropped by nearly a third over the past 20 years...
    The number of people newly infected with HIV is decreasing...
    Ten African countries...reduced ... malaria cases and deaths by over 50 percent in the last decade... primary school completion rate increased 53% /1993 to 70%/ 2011....past ten years, personal income has increased > 30 percent.

    http://www.usaid.gov/where-we-work/africa

    August 23

  • Carlos C.

    Charlie, You might want to start a blog and refer us, I'm sure you'll have a following. I will step into this melee of commentary, to interject a point. Why have years of giving to Africa yielded nothing but deterioration? Only in recent years with heavy investment from China, parts of Africa starting to show some signs of progress. Nietzsche pointed to a very dark side to generosity, that which creates dependency and subservience. When you invest and even pay them nickles a day that they willingly accept, you create a relationship of mutual dependence and a path to improvement. When you come to need them, that is a gift far more valuable than all that giving. If you step away from all the ideological prattling and look empirically at what has improved standards of living through the ages, you'll find peaceful commerce front and center. It may not feel as magnanimous and romantic as giving, but it's honest and provides tangible improvement in peoples lives.

    August 12

    • Carlos C.

      On the grand scale of starvation to prosperity, consumerism is such a minor problem. There is a place for giving, don't get me wrong. The elderly and infirm for example, just can't overcome harsh predicaments. But when I ask what is moral behavior, the way we *should* conduct ourselves, I want results. To my analysis, peaceful creation and exchange are far more important generosity. Aligning desires in a positive-sum way beats fighting natural, life-sustaining desires any day.

      August 12

    • Jeff G

      Carlos, you have anticipated our upcoming holiday theme of GIfts. 2012's Charity might give you a head start;-) http://www.meetup.com...­

      August 23

  • Harlan L.

    From the Atlantic article:
    "Now researchers think they've found another answer, at least for the short term: Happiness is the management of expectations. In a study published earlier this week in the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences," a team of British neuroscientists created an equation that they say accurately predicted the short-term happiness of more than 18,000 people by comparing their expectations of an event to its real-life outcomes."
    Read more: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/08/an-equation-that-predicts-happiness/375653/#ixzz39qoSYFqm

    August 8

    • Jeff G

      Yes, but are our expectations any easier to manage than the conditions of life themselves?

      August 23

  • Joy

    Love this cafe! I enjoyed the discussion very much!

    1 · August 13

  • Jay C.

    I had thought this poem I remembered from High School was Nash or cummings, but it turns out to be Auden.

    Jay
    http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/unknown-citizen

    http://www.shmoop.com/unknown-citizen/summary.html

    August 11

    • Charlie5

      The components in a galaxy's equation of state were seven, and now I remember the last, after glancing through various articles naming various speculations on the "state" of galaxies; it was RADIUS - and that's like our "ideative" radius, how far our ideas have stretched,
      then there's the galaxy's mass, density, velocity, pressure - they live at the center of hot clusters of galaxies or out on the fringes and so consume very different pneuma; magnetic field, and velocity dispersion - their variance from the flow of the group they are a member of, which varies alot apparently.

      August 12

    • Charlie5

      Nobody lists that out on the internet, but those are the components most usually stick to. (The physics world went free, suddenly, about 20 years ago, all the journals now previewed for "peer review" on xxx.arXiv.org.)

      Here are two statements out of physics articles on the web relating to the equation of state, and it is kinda relevant to a "good life" if you accept the basic analogy.

      "Another convenient quantity that describes dark energy is its equation of state, typically denoted by w. In physics, an equation of state is a formula that relates several macroscopic observables of a system; an example is the ideal gas law, relating pressure, density, and temperature. In cosmology, dark energy must have a “perfect fluid” equation of state, characterized entirely
      by its energy density  and isotropic pressure p. -- http://arxiv.org/pdf/...­

      August 12

  • Andre

    I wouldn't call myself a happy person, and yet, if I were to die today, I would say that I have had a good life. I wouldn't want to trade it for anyone else's.

    Curious that I could feel unhappy and yet feel as though I have had a (very) good life.

    August 12

  • Jay C.

    Carlos, I find N. to be one of the most romantic of Philosophers, his protestations to the contrary notwithstanding...

    "Nietzsche was in many ways a quintessentially romantic figure, a lonely genius with a tragic love-life, wandering endlessly (through Italy, no less) before going dramatically mad, taken by his gods into the protection of madness
    (to quote Heidegger's epithet on Holderlin)"
    http://www.scribd.com/doc/135230784/Nietzsche-and-Early-Romanticism-Judith-Norman

    August 12

    • Carlos C.

      I threw Nietzsche in as a reference point. My points stand on first principles. Schopenhauer had a similarly pathetic existence and he loved the concept of generosity as morality. I didn't understand N. until I read the lecture on N. by the Teaching Company. Jay, You would like N.'s defended use of ad-homenem attacks. ;-)

      August 12

  • Becky

    “You'll get mixed up, of course, as you already know. You'll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go. So be sure when you step. Step with care and great tact and remember that Life's a Great Balancing Act. Just never forget to be dexterous and deft. And never mix up your right foot with your left.”
    ― Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

    1 · August 12

  • Harlan L.

    People, especially young people, spend huge amounts of money on music (recorded and live shows). Is music a doorway to happiness?

    August 11

    • Charlie5

      "Daydreaming leads to creativity, and creative activities teach us agency, the ability to change the world, to mold it to our liking, to have a positive effect on our environment. Music, for example, turns out to be an effective method for improving attention, building up self-confidence, social skills and a sense of engagement. "

      August 12

    • Charlie5

      that's from a new york times article today http://www.nytimes.co...­

      August 12

  • Jeff G

    It seems that many other singers use an alternate lyric: "Wake up, and kiss the good life 'hello'" Which is better?

    August 11

  • Charlie5

    "From joy all beings are born, once born, by joy they live, toward joy they move, into joy they merge" - the Taitiriyopanishad

    Pierre in War and Peace said after he came out of that boxcar and his prisoner of war experience with napolean, that he suddenly realized life's problems weren't from scarcity, but from superfluity. But the ads these days tell everybody, all the time - "Enjoy!"

    "Enjoy" is more like "un" joy, to remove joy, consume it, use it up, as opposed to "cultivate-joy", the war for grace, to fill up the storehouse, like a tree giving joy to those who can find it, for the tree it's not like "let's enjoy tea together" but an act of giving, like the cells of angels - sleeping hedgehogs wrapped in layers of Way, launching joy, they cultivate joy in deep stillness and it becomes part of the strength and joy of life all around it, and sometimes, there's a side effect, a little yin for the angel of yang, "enjoyment".

    August 11

    • Charlie5

      The good life in "it's a wonderful life" was cultivated throughout a lifetime with the community, and when the time came for the big scene where everybody comes with some money to help save the savings and loan together, it's that kind of "enjoyment". And the good life in "life is beautiful" was more of an example of that cultivation launching joy as a gift onto the lives of others.

      You can dream yourself into the mud, or dream yourself away, into the sky, or you can dream yourself into a divine integration in the flow of life and humanity, feeding strength, way, the treasure storehouse - joy - into the beautiful and blossoming garden in time;

      1 · August 11

    • Charlie5

      In Aztec religion, there were four brothers who ran the universe, three of them were tezcatlipoca and one was quetzalcoatl. tezcatlipoca was the "hungry chief" who "plucked the flowers in paradise" - "enjoyed" them.
      quezalcoatl, cultivating and sacrificing himself, shines radiant light and brings philosophy, poetry, and literature.

      August 11

  • Harlan L.

    Dr. Samuel Johnson (as recorded by Boswell, of course). "Life is not long, and too much of it should not be spent in idle deliberation how it shall be spent: deliberation, which those who begin it by prudence, and continue it with subtilty, must, after long expence of thought, conclude by chance. To prefer one future mode of life to another, upon just reasons, requires faculties which it has not pleased our Creator to give us." Of course SJ was religious and a moral conservative. Could one sum this quote as "The (too much) examined life is not worth living?"

    1 · August 8

    • Nathaniel G.

      I agree too much examining can be bad for me at least, but I really enjoy thinking about life philosophical. I remember at the last meeting someone said, "instead of thinking about life, we should go out and live it." I remember thinking though, this is how I enjoy my life, by thinking about it. I like "idle deliberation," and to me often that is what gives me meaning in life, deliberation. There can be too much of it at times for me, but if a large part of my life did not involve "idle deliberation," it would bring me unhappiness and I would feel a sense of loss and privation.

      1 · August 8

    • Charlie5

      Like children bursting out of the schoolhouse to escape from too much yin, too much concentration of effort on extracting and arranging, bursting out into the yang fields and air, to absorb and merge into the deep yang joy ocean of heaven and earth, play till they fall asleep and silently gather it's pneuma and essence, ready for more fires of yin at the schoolhouse in the morning. Yin for the purpose of beauty.

      Philosophy books are yin fire. Cook the fish lightly; in the fires of consciousness,don't­ overcook it. (I might have twisted that line from poetry somewhere)

      August 11

  • charlie

    Joining the discussion, I'd say that the happiest part of my life is what I experience lying awake in bed in the morning.

    August 9

  • Jay C.

    Harlan, it Looks to me like Dr. J was talking about the illusion of choosing. We don't choose our life, it chooses us.
    Randomly.
    IIRC, Woody Allen opined that the examined life was not necessarily any more worth living. We are ill-equipped to examine it. For example, a very good case can be made for the ancient custom of arranged marriages.

    August 8

    • Harlan L.

      Well, he was a religous Tory, so I guess he believed that God chooses our life. He was scared to hell of Hell.

      August 8

  • Harlan L.

    I know many of you will ABSOLUTELY HATE this post because it implies happiness can be measured (for the very short term). And I have a lot of skepticism about such psychology experiments (at least it wasn't on rats). But the idea that happiness may be linked to expectations is something that makes some sense to me as at least one suggestion.
    As far as consumerism and materialism goes, from what I can see, most Americans put a high value on family (not as much though as I experienced in France). Since most, most Americans can't compete in lavish consumerism because they just don't have the money, I think they tend to gravitate to more soulful rewards like love, friendship, family, and food (home cooking).
    Descriptions of America tend to show that wealth is radically skewed to fewer and fewer at the top. I think the idea that we are all insane consumerists is a leftover from the insane fifties and sixties.
    See the related post below.

    August 8

  • Charlie5

    The biggest distinction to be found among concepts of "the good life" is that of "giving" versus "getting".

    The Aztec Nahual directive on the way to live life was to "have a wise face, and a firm heart".

    The modern American directive is to pursue happiness, to take "all life has to offer", to get "everything out of life", (take it where?).

    A sage, devoted and full of the will to sacrifice, on a project to "store up yang", opposed against the consumer culture of yangless yin monsters, "depthless, antitragic, nonlinear, antinuminous, nonfoundational, antiuniversalist, suspicious of absolutes, and averse to interiority", a eudaemonic culture that judges the good on what is most "comfortable".

    1 · August 8

    • Charlie5

      Life is on fire, and in the midst of change, the ecology is in crisis, so, with that as part of the picture, is any envisioned hedonistic capitalistic view of the good life valid?

      The catholic church put out the "lives of the saints" as it's biggest possible library of different "models for divinity", the catholic version of the "good life", in fact a new one came out this year, an army chaplain who sacrificed for his troops and spent most of his life in prisoner of war camp, a 20th century "good life".

      A Daoist seeking salvation has a "good life" in leaving his family, abandoning wife and children and cultivating immortality, in isolation, while the american vision of the good life involves as many family and friends and interactive society all around the clock as possible, "intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence of nations".

      August 8

    • Charlie5

      Daoist hut isolation versus american social intercourse, i think too much is too much and not enough is not enough; i didn't design my "good life", i pointed it and let it happen. i read alot, think alot, write alot, talk alot, walk alot, get lost alot, and in the red dust cloud that all this stirs up, I stand in the center and watch the whole thing pulse, with life. And it is good.
      -charlie5

      August 8

  • Carlos C.

    I'm sad to miss this one (away on vacation), since ethics is my original draw to philosophy. Here's an observation I've made, that I'll offer up as food candy: Aristotle asserted that the good life consisted of acting with a mean between extremes on each of the virtues, none of which was selflessness. A common, modern conception of 'morality' is simply a synonym to selflessness or altruism, so much so that many social scientists (Frans de Waal, Jonathan Haidt, and others) build their theories around that essential definition. And now morality consists of this 'positive ethic' (see Schopenhauer) in as much quantity as you can bare. Mother Theresa and Gandhi, max it out baby! Morality has become this impressive feat for somebody else, while most of us have to put meat on the table and maybe enjoy our lives a little. Was Aristotle so primitive relative to we enlightened moderns, or are we woefully running astray? I think the virtue vs action ethics distinction doesn't cover it.

    1 · August 8

  • Jay C.

    Spinoza could have had the good life, he was clearly recognized as the brightest member of his community, could have been the leader, the Rabbi... but the life he chose got him excommunicated under the harshest terms at age 23. Lived the rest of his life alone, in voluntary simplicity. And this is the guy who would later express the thought, "There can never be too much joy".  A good life ?

    August 7

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