Various ideas of happiness

  • There has been some discussion here as to how to define "happiness." Here is a brief article discussing how happiness is thought of in different cultures:

    https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2021/07/happiest-country-definition/619441/


    Four different models of happiness:

    - Happiness comes from good relationships with the people you love

    - Happiness comes from a higher consciousness

    - Happiness comes from doing what you love, usually with others

    - Happiness comes from simply feeling good.


    A point made in the article is that you can’t rank happiness, but you can classify it. It brings to mind the subjectivity of happiness, which in turn makes it difficult to define.

  • I would say there the "alleged" subjectivity of happiness, and I think Epicurus would say there is in fact an objective answer, best summarized in what remains of his texts through Torquatus (very close to the meaning of PD2, but with the implication stated rather than implicit):


    Quote

    "For since, if you take away sense from a man, there is nothing left to him, it follows of necessity that what is contrary to nature, or what agrees with it, must be left to nature herself to decide. Now what does she perceive, or what does she determine on as her guide to seek or to avoid anything, except pleasure and pain?

  • One of the issues, from my perspective, that the article doesn't address is the simple fact that "happiness" is an English word. They almost start to address it with the Danish hygge but then rapidly move one. If you ask people whose first language is not English to map their non-English subjective experience to the lexical field of English, you have problems. They're going to pick a "feeling" for which they might use a specific word in their language and then agree to use the English word "happiness" to describe it. I bet that if you asked those Japanese respondents what Japanese word they'd use to describe their "happiness" you'd find a much different semantic field covered than an English speaker saying they were "happy."

    Which brings me back to my soapbox of translation (C'mon! Y'all knew that was coming ;) ). Epicurus didn't use the word "happiness" but ευδαιμονία (eudaimonia). That's why I think it's so important to understand what he meant when he used that word - what semantic field was covered by the Ancient Greek term ευδαιμονία. To say it maps one to one to happiness or well-being or flourishing... Well, you can see right there that there are three English candidates.

  • I agree that the analysis you're using is the right track - and I think the destination of those tracks is the realization that all words are concepts and ultimately concepts do not map one to one with feelings, and that nature provides us feelings, not concepts, so that no single concept can ever serve every use case.


    I think that's what Epicurus was pointing to and those who insist on pegging a single abstract concept as "the good" are going to forever be at war with Nature and with Epicurus.


    And since every single significant religion and philosophy other than Epicurus has "the good" as its goal (whether they admit it or not) - we need to get prepared to continue a very long war.


    And that's why being an Epicurean is not for slackers or pacifists / passivists. There is no escaping that "they" will bring the war to us, because Epicurean philosophy is a challenge and offense to their worldview.

  • I think that's what Epicurus was pointing to and those who insist on pegging a single abstract concept as "the good" are going to forever be at war with Nature and with Epicurus.

    Hmmm. Epicurus equated pleasure (or living a pleasurable life) with the "good", ex., 3rd line in the Tetrapharmakos. Lucretius's summum bonum is just the "greatest good." The "good" is just that to which everything else points (again, using an English word for an ancient concept). The difference is the experience of pleasure isn't an abstract concept... Even though the word "pleasure" attempts to capture that lightning in a bottle. The problem isn't that other philosophies point to a "good" (they all do that, including Epicurus) it's that other philosophies ground their goal or "good" in something other than Nature. Virtue is the "good" of the Stoics, but Epicurus says they strive for their "good" just because "being virtuous" brings them pleasure. Aristotelians find their "greatest good" in the philosophical, contemplative life... Because it gives them pleasure.


    Or are we saying the same thing different ways, Cassius ?

  • I think we are because I would focus on that fragment where Epicurus is reliably (it appears) quoted as criticizing those who walk around harping uselessly on the meaning of the word good.


    I think that's Plutarch and maybe that's a fragment that would be well worth our examining the Greek in detail.


    You know the one I mean? I need a better way to lock down the source but it appears to be;


    Quote

    Plutarch, That Epicurus actually makes a pleasant life impossible, 7, p. 1091A: Not only is the basis that they assume for the pleasurable life untrustworthy and insecure, it is quite trivial and paltry as well, inasmuch as their “thing delighted” – their good – is an escape from ills, and they say that they can conceive of no other, and indeed that our nature has no place at all in which to put its good except the place left when its evil is expelled. … Epicurus too makes a similar statement to the effect that the good is a thing that arises out of your very escape from evil and from your memory and reflection and gratitude that this has happened to you. His words are these: “That which produces a jubilation unsurpassed is the nature of good, if you apply your mind rightly and then stand firm and do not stroll about {a jibe at the Peripatetics}, prating meaninglessly about the good.”


    This is an area where I think it is understandable why Cicero framed Torquatus' argument in the way he did, but I question whether Epicurus would fully endorse that interpretation, especially since Torquatus himself seems to be saying that he disagreed with Epicurus.


    Those are two sources I would compare and contrast as a way to getting to this issue of the "highest good" problem -- and of course I also think deWitt's points on this are worth incorporating as to multiple meanings of the word good and how "highest" might not be the best way to look at things (at least without lots of explanation ) and --- that need for explanation -- is exactly the problem of "concepts not mapping to feelings' that we are talking about.

  • Quote

    “That which produces a jubilation unsurpassed is the nature of good, if you apply your mind rightly and then stand firm and do not stroll about {a jibe at the Peripatetics}, prating meaninglessly about the good.”

    So right there, Epicurus defines "good" as "that which produces a jubilation" (I would like to see some alternative translations there.).Simple, straightforward, pegged to a naturally-occurring phenomenon. He's chastising the "strollers" for adding on unnecessary complications on what should be a straightforward definition. Epicurus seems to have always gone for the most basic definition of words.

    Also, here (emphasis added):

    Quote

    67. I do not think I could conceive of the good without the joys of taste, of sex, of hearing, and without the pleasing motions caused by the sight of bodies and forms. οὐδὲ γὰρ ἔγωγε ἔχω τί νοήσω τἀγαθὸν ἀφαιρῶν μὲν τὰς διὰ χυλῶν ἡδονάς, ἀφαιρῶν δὲ τὰς διʼ ἀφροδισίων, ἀφαιρῶν δὲ τὰς διʼ ἀκροαμάτῶν, ἀφαιρῶν δὲ καὶ τὰς διὰ μορφῆς κατʼ ὄψιν [those by way of shapes and along with vision] ἡδείας κινήσεις [pleasing motion].

    τἀγαθὸν "the good" is the same word used in the Tetrapharmakos.

  • Ok well are we seeing it the same way that he is saying that "good" must be identified with a sensation / feeling, and is not something that can be defined in terms of a particular set of abstract ideas?


    I acknowledge that "the good can only be defined in terms of particular sensations / feelings" is itself an abstract sentence, but I think we'd be able to agree that it's about the closest thing you can get to saying something like "Don't look for a definition of "the highest good" (or "the good") - look in yourself for the strongest pleasurable feelings you can experience having."


    What say you to that Sir Don?

  • pegged to a naturally-occurring phenomenon

    I note you used the term "naturally-occurring phenomenon" rather than "pleasure" - but do we agree that "pleasure" or "the feeling of pleasure" is the ultimate meaning of the reference?


    And I agree that drilling down into what is translated as jubilation would be highly useful.

  • I note you used the term "naturally-occurring phenomenon" rather than "pleasure" - but do we agree that "pleasure" or "the feeling of pleasure" is the ultimate meaning of the reference?

    Yes, The "feeling of pleasure" *is* the "naturally-occurring phenomenon." Living things feel pleasure. I'll try to get to your other questions soon.

  • Ok well are we seeing it the same way that he is saying that "good" must be identified with a sensation / feeling, and is not something that can be defined in terms of a particular set of abstract ideas?

    What he's talking about here is not "good" as in just the adjective "good/bad" it's "the good" ταγαθον (tagathon) as in the goal, the telos, the Alpha/Omega, the beginning and the end of life. Pleasure = The Good. He's planting his flag for pleasure as The Good in opposition to those who would tout virtue, etc.

  • What he's talking about here is not "good" as in just the adjective "good/bad" it's "the good" ταγαθον (tagathon) as in the goal, the telos, the Alpha/Omega, the beginning and the end of life. Pleasure = The Good. He's planting his flag for pleasure as The Good in opposition to those who would tout virtue, etc.

    I was going to bring that up.... DeWitt makes a similar point except that as I recall he refers to the "greatest good" as life itself. Pleasure would then be the telos if I understand him correctly. Greatest good, good, telos, summum bonum... oh my!

  • I understand where Dewitt is coming from with his "life is the greatest good" (because we can't experience pleasure without being alive as in PD2 ) but I fail to see how "life" is going to help me make choices and avoidances other than "stay alive." Pleasure - living a pleasurable life - is at least a target to shoot for. We should strive to live the most pleasurable life using pleasure and pain - long and short term - as our guiding principles.

  • To me, "life as the greatest good" is a fruitful thing to ponder but I probably wouldn't call it Epicurean, at least as I'm thinking about it at the moment. It begs the question "how do I respond to what is precious to me?" Some replies are: study it, appreciate it, respect it, use it fully, preserve it, learn from it, enjoy it fully.... Also, being overprotective of what is precious can lead to pain.


    As an Epicurean I would turn to the guidance of pleasure/pain to understand how to deal with something precious to me: this emphasizes the faculty of Feelings and therefore that maximizing pleasure would be my "goal" in interacting with the precious thing. But a Stoic, for instance, might use virtue or duty as a guide or an end. This could bring them pleasure, but also great consternation.

  • And sometimes we would in fact choose death if we can firmly project that living on would be too painful.


    But I do think it is a good point to say that "pleasure and pain have meaning only to the living" so that overall context of life does need to be incorporated into the "big picture" somehow.

  • And sometimes we would in fact choose death if we can firmly project that living on would be too painful.

    Agreed.


    But I do think it is a good point to say that "pleasure and pain have meaning only to the living" so that overall context of life does need to be incorporated into the "big picture" somehow.

    So, how do you propose to "incorporate (it) into the 'big picture'"? PD2 does a good job of emphasizing that only the living have sensation and so only the living can experience pleasure and pain. I don't want to dilute the goal of pleasure/living pleasurably.

  • Possibly the direction is just to emphasize that the standards of how to live can come only from the living themselves, not from "gods" or from idealized forms. In other words, and DeWitt points to this one to, there is the vatican saying that he thinks should be translated as "the same span of time is the beginning and end of the greatest good."


    Always a translation rabbit to chace, isn't there? ;)


    But I think he is on to something, even if his thought is not fully developed. If only the living have any ability to receive Nature's guidance as to what to choose and what to avoid, you do have to view your assessment of pleasure and pain from the point of view of whether you are living to experience the expected pleasure or pain.

  • i can see the possibility of arguing that every calulation of future pain and pleasure is logically conditioned on your expectation of whether you will be alive to experience that resulting pleasure or pain.


    If for absolutely certain you were sure you would be dead in ten seconds regardless, it might then make sense to jump off the wall of the Grand Canyon to experience the thrill of flight for nine seconds - a calculation that would not ordinarily be valid.

  • You know, we have several times touched on the question of "how long is long enough" to live. Maybe the issue we are discussing now was addressed by Epicurus as part of that question - maybe he explored he issue that every calculation of pain and pleasure involves the two major components that seem to me to be the most intuitive - both (1) Intensity (the word we've debated most) and (2) time / extent of the potential pain and pleasure being considered.


    I would think given our discussion on that issue so far, it's inevitable that to extend the thought process involves not only measures of "intensity" but measures of "time," with our expected date of death to be probably the most relevant of the potential end dates [limit] of any calculation of future pleasure.

  • So that "the same span of time being the beginning and end of the greatest good" would not necessarily mean that "life is the greatest good": but that - however we ourselves choose to feel our greatest pleasures possible to us -- that feeling will certainly occur between the points of birth and death.


    And of course that hits on numbers of relevant issues such as not worrying about gods rewarding or punishing us, how important it is to seek pleasure while we are still alive, that there is no point of reference outside our lives by which to judge our goal of life, etc.


    And there's still the issue that "good" can pretty easily be construed as "asset" rather than the next thing I am looking for that I already don't have."