coromandal


contemplating the order of things

There is life and good life. ‘Life’ is infrastructural and sustaining (concerned with labour and reproduction); and ‘good life’ is flourishing – the pursuit of justice, the common good, political and moral order. Good life needs life to support it, but to merely live life and to fail to make life good is … not human, says Aristotle via Charles Taylor below.

But consider now the balance or lack thereof of what we think and talk about in our world today. Infrastructural ‘life’ talk and energy (labour and reproduction) nearly eclipses ‘good life’ discourse. The economy, your job, family dominate while … well, when is the last time you heard anyone bring up the common good? Are we living sub human lives?

Some Aristotle via Charles Taylor:

‘Ordinary life’ is a term of art I introduce to designate those aspects of human life concerned with production and reproduction, that is, labour, the making of the things needed for life, and our life as sexual beings, including marriage and the family. When Aristotle spoke of the ends of political association being “life and the good life” (zen kai euzen), this was the range of things he wanted to encompass in the first of these terms; basically they englobe what we need to do to continue and renew life.

For Aristotle the maintenance of these activities was to be distinguished from the pursuit of the good life. They are, of course, necessary to the good life, but they play an infrastructural role in relation to it. You can’t pursue the good life without pursuing life. But an existence dedicated to this latter goal alone is not a fully human one…. The proper life for humans builds on this infrastructure a series of activities which are concerned with the good life: men deliberate about moral excellence, they contemplate the order of things; of supreme importance for politics, they deliberate together about the common good, and decide how to shape and apply the laws.

Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self, pp. 211-12, from Andrew Taggart blog post Sustaining Life is not the Good Life



pleasure and welfare coexisting

Context is a pesky thing.  In isolation, we’re free to believe what we like, what suits us.  Ignorance and bliss and all that.

When we talk about happiness for instance, it seems we have removed ourselves from the context of our own shared history in which the understanding of the important emotion was very different and arguably a lot more optimistic.

Today in America when we talk about happiness, we mean personal fulfillment, generally.  Or at our most generous, fulfillment for me and mine, for my family and my company, and so on.  Furthermore, there is a visceral suspicion of any broader definition of our most beloved of emotions.

As the following excerpt from Gus Speth’s book review makes clear, the originating idea of happiness in the American context included both personal fulfillment and public welfare.

The image is of an octopus of ideas at America’s founding that through abject misuse constricts and deforms and ends today as a simpering, undifferentiated, limbless, more than a little toxic mass.   The splendid and multivalent ‘octopus’ came from many sources:  the Ancients – happiness comes from devotion to public good and civic virtue; the Enlightenment – everyone has a right to happiness; Bentham – the greatest happiness for the greatest number; and our very own Jefferson – the pursuit of happiness.  The mass we are left with today is basically and depressingly:  get what you can and get out.

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