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Saturday, July 28, 2007

a little miss and the greatest orator: happiness again

In the Rhetoric, Aristotle takes a stab at illustrating happiness, and then defines it using the method one uses to describe organisms – he sorts through its various constituent parts. This being long before functional accounts of organisms, there isn’t any attempt to show the necessary connection of these parts or how their coordination brings about happiness. On the other hand, though in some ways a rather wild analysis, much of what Aristotle says has been adopted by economists to talk about well being. Happiness, regarded from the outside, then, and reduced to its most typical circumstances, looks something like to Aristotle:

It may be said that every individual man and all men in common aim at a certain end which determines what they choose and what they avoid. This end, to sum it up briefly, is happiness and its constituents. Let us, then, by way of illustration only, ascertain what is in general the nature of happiness, and what are the elements of its constituent parts. For all advice to do things or not to do them is concerned with happiness and with the things that make for or against it; whatever creates or increases happiness or some part of happiness, we ought to do; whatever destroys or hampers happiness, or gives rise to its opposite, we ought not to do.

We may define happiness as prosperity combined with virtue; or as independence of life; or as the secure enjoyment of the maximum of pleasure; or as a good condition of property and body, together with the power of guarding one's property and body and making use of them. That happiness is one or more of these things, pretty well everybody agrees.
From this definition of happiness it follows that its constituent parts are: -- good birth, plenty of friends, good friends, wealth, good children, plenty of children, a happy old age, also such bodily excellences as health, beauty, strength, large stature, athletic powers, together with fame, honour, good luck, and virtue. A man cannot fail to be completely independent if he possesses these internal and these external goods; for besides these there are no others to have. (Goods of the soul and of the body are internal. Good birth, friends, money, and honour are external.) Further, we think that he should possess resources and luck, in order to make his life really secure.”


Further in the Rhetoric, Aristotle elaborates – for instance, that wealth would consist of having plenty of coin and slaves. This concantenation has served as a useful guide to the limits of conceptual talk about happiness, but not a very good guide to its cause, or as an explanation, really, of the feeling of happiness and the use of happiness to describe these states. In other words, why should we call any of this happiness?

Hume elaborated a critique of Aristotle’s hierarchical notion of happiness and its attachment to certain conventional circumstances, in his essay, the Skeptic, that may well have been what Tolstoy was thinking of when he famously wrote, in Anna Karenin, that all happy families are alike. Hume’s skeptic claims:

“The inference upon the whole is, that it is not from the value or worth of the object, which any person pursues, that we can determine his enjoyment, but merely from the passion with which he pursues it, and the success which he meets with in his pursuit. Objects have absolutely no worth or value in themselves. They derive their worth merely from the passion. If that be strong, and steady, and successful, the person is happy. It cannot reasonably be doubted, but a little miss, dressed in a new gown for a dancing-school ball, receives as compleat enjoyment as the greatest orator, who triumphs in the spendor of his eloquence, while he governs the passions and resolutions of a numerous assembly.”


Hume’s comparison of the little miss and the orator is alive in the debate today about the relationship between wealth and happiness – which is a debate that is not very loud, and is pursued idly, but that does have to do with the very reason we feel we have to keep the treadmill of production going. Although distantly – long ago the governing class decided that the happiness or unhappiness produced by economic growth would have no relevance to the question of economic growth.

Now that we've all read Nietzsche, we may be disposed to give Aristotle points. We might see this view of happiness, which excludes any interior state and depends wholly on exterior circumstances, as consistent with that great, Homeric culture we all get a little nostalgic for, now and then. Hume's skeptic, in this view, is an example of the leveling that comes with the discovery of interiority. After all, one of the things about Aristotle's list is that it is very frankly about a triumphant aristocracy that could well be overwhelmed by slave revolt or exterior enemy, and would then be unhappy. There's no happiness in defeat. Except it turned out that there was - which may be why the Hellenic period, a period when the Greeks were defeated, was the golden age of the Stoics and Epicureans, both of whom held to notions of happiness that weren't tied so explicitly to the warrior ethos.

However, what interests me is that even with Aristotle, these circumstances are labeled with an affective word: happiness. For the Hebrews, for, say Job, those circumstances would be blessed - not happy. And for those Homeric Greeks - wouldn't they have talked of fortune? Of being fortunate?

Already, here, something is going on.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

hey, contrasting old piethagorosy (non-symmetrical, carbon based, diffusiomysticlue feminine) tunes with most (techno silicatious freemason-i-c((an´t)) see my tree((very well ever))) since, citing 60 books 5 times over each (just guessing there .. . they all focus on either physics, music, freemasonry, a magic sort of spirituality ((chi-gong and lotus positions get a plug here and there)) or all three at once . . .. . chapter 9 and 10 are smoother than the stacatto style earlier ones) in one and so far only blogpost (after various forum and blog commentage .. .and he calls it a book really) had me spellbound and confused for about a week.. .. could use some enlightening comment to make it an even more stimulating read. Really slams Arguelles and the like by the way. Exposes neo(radio)eugenicism by the likes of Reiser whom he nevertheless praises and damn near treasures as smart. Ambiguous fuck? Yeah, tried to tell him too but thanked him for the type of entertainment that is an obviously valiant struggle for clarity though overly omnivorous mentally with concomittant neglect of the physical begebenheiten. I´conclude calling it promising (right before the pointer) and hope to be proven right: http://mothershipislanding.blogspot.com (300K post plus 5 comments

roger said...

If you are exposing radio (neo) eugencism, how can I not get behind that? Although I'm not sure what it is.

Otherwise, good luck!
Uh, you did know this post is about happiness, right?

Anonymous said...

If you cite from "Rhetoric", you're going to get Aristotle at his most commonplace and conventional, since those are the terms of rhetorical appeal. For Aristotle, it is simply an incontestable truism, to which all would agree, that human actions aim at "eudaimonia" as their end. We're in a background frame of substantialist/teleological metaphysics here, into which humans to must be fitted, as actualizing substances, so there is, indeed, a certain functionalist cast, as the fittingness that is the fullest possible actualization of the substance in question, the zoon politicon that to logos echon, the Greek male, adult citizen. Eudaimonia also concerns the whole course of a life and its conduct, not any merely momentary sentiment or vississitude, such that it is a commonplace that a man can not be adjudged "happy" until his life is over, (a bit of a paradox, too, though note that NE was hugely influential in the formulation of "Sein und Zeit"). And we're far from an Homeric warrior ethics here, but rather one concerned with participation in the good order of the polis on the part of its citizens who may perchance double as hoplites, so still perhaps an honor ethics, but one with different and considerably more variagated sources and objects or ends of estime.

But it's in "NE" that the issue of eudamonia is closely joined in terms of construing and distinguishing the "true" ends and excellences conducive to genuine eudamonia from illusory or "false" construals, and hence with distinguishing, integrating and (hierarchically) ordering the excellences and ends of human action. The usual footnote is that "happiness" is an inadequate translation for "eudaimonia", with "human flourishing" suggested instead. But since "eu" is the favorable adverbial modifier and "daimon" is a spirit, "well-spiritedness" might be a literal translation. It is a matter of what in actions is worthy of praise or blame, (such that much goes unmentioned, as part of the necessary course and order of "things" and unworthy of praise or blame, since not a matter of free deliberative action on the part of citizens and the rational capacities involved). And it is a matter of the integration of actions and their habitual dispositions into the fittingness of the order of the polis. "Eudaimonia" is produced from the successful exercize of one's (rational) capacities as a citizen. There is, of course, another conception of "happiness" in Aristotle, "makarios", "blessedness", associated with the gods and with the bliss of contemplation in the bios theoretikos, in which the soul momentarily becomes god-like as the activity of noesis noetikos, which is a way to be proof against the accidents and misfortunes of political life. The interrelation between the two is the problem of the famous 10th book of "NE", (in which I think theoria functions as the ultimate limit condition of human praxis and its ends, without quite reducing or subsuming it, in the manner of Sein-zum-Tod in "SZ").

But, of course, you're coming out of the other end of the time machine, with a conceptual disenchantment with the concept of "happiness". What distinguishes Aristotle's conception of eudaimonia from Hume's reduction of "happiness" to the momentary intensifications and instrumentalities of the passions is, most of all, that Aristotle ties "happiness" to the rational capacity to construe, within the paasions and their circumstances, the normative validity of ends. If there is a certain externalism attaching to those ends, inspite of being a production of deliberated choice, prohairesis,- (I think "resolution" might be a better translation than "choice")-, it is because they are tied to a vision that situates human action within an harmonious ordering of a natural cosmos that exceeds the human. That human action could collapse the ordering of nature and, as a result, collapse the human through its advance into the inhuman is a possibility that Aristotle would never have conceived of.

Anonymous said...

uhm, yes, i am in a pretty uniquely stuffed archive projekt-werkstatt.de (an ideologue of ´attac´ like i was trying to be one of indymedia ((main wire)) in its bloggentariat foreshadowing frenzy filled days ... oh the evil examples we set when intent on good and we look for reinforcement instead of adjusting requirements) by and for the type of activist who think they can and do make the general public happy (rather than frustrate them) with clever, unexpected and inexpensive direct action ... by (way of((f)) glueing money slits on ticket sale machines or the locks on voting locales ((lokaal = classroom and kaal is bald, preverb of clearcut in this kintext)) shut for instance, thereby providing mentioned populace an excuse to travel free (wheeeeee!!!!! hopeiyeiyiiii. Personally i don´t care to try ask attention for worthy causes when it obstructs commuters rushing across long since clearcut spaces (cussed out the demo crowd for their blockage of a tram and stupidly incessant referee whistle blowing on the same day i handed Ruud Lubbers a slip of paper).

Living trees are quite another matter though, i read the account of why Jeff Luers (in jail for deciding to commit a case of arson ((.. .probably to compensate for freezing his butt sore)) on top of a tree, found the movement unworthy of a hunger fast on the present blog Deb Frisch (nonk9) runs (harbaughboyz.blogspot.com). i make free to call that a slightly assinine way to encompassingly compensate (for) dualities such as Drew too struggles with (indicated above) and all those who stretch and flatten the springy spirals of time and protein into linear, dead end full stop, apportionable, attainable and at aimable entities with jump in and cut off points well signposted and definable .. ..all with a(n inadmissible ult(ra-int)erior view to being fee- and finable, forgetting that not only are pure ma- and/or patriarchy a mixed blessing at best but only as pure as only hypothetical unmixtures can be ((no offense to ((((subjectively (((-ivity of the stubbornly unceasing to be born childish kind)))) sticking with differences between))) day and night of course)), a mix period).

Now look at the least symmetrical captured within the most symmetrical (flame in the tent; find flameletter and dan winter, the little quarter vs half an apple peel photographed in the seven symmetry positions of a tetrahedron), a totally Joycean plagiarism dispute that cost Dan Winter his name(site, though his clones spread like wildfire and understandably so cause we all need pretty curves) and you might start to join me being a little circumspect ((or is that -spicious?)) about the on/off, once but ever since, within/without types of rhetoric, people who have a point but lose it the wrong way, through too tight a hold or one not tight enough to pulverize, end up merely thinking they have).

Forget going after wetware grip cause it is sure to slip (you upside down and up you((rs)) too) and to conclude: happiness is (the name of) an album by The Weepies and my fave station Folkalley played it as i was trying to think up a polite answer to you.

roger said...

Anonymous 2: interesting observations about Aristotle. A few comments.

a. Actually, I am trying to get Aristotle at his most conventional, which is why the Rhetoric appeals to me, here - especially as I am working out how Aristotle might be seen in the Early Modern period, when it seems to me that the rhetoric would exercise more influence than the Nicomachean Ethics.
b. I think you are right that Aristotle is not giving us a warrior ethic a la Homer, but an ethic connected in every way to order in the polis. But that order is hierarchical - even when Aristotle considers democracy in the populace, he does not consider a state of complete equals. In Book 5 of the Politics there is an extended consideration of statis - internal conflict - which is helpful in thinking through the effects of hierarchy in the order of the polis. There are a lot of internal conflicts Aristotle considers, and a lot of meanings put upon honor, but one of his precepts of government does seem to get at what I mean by the quality of external risk that seems to emanate from the Rhetoric's description of happiness:

"Constitutions are preserved when their destroyers are at a distance, and sometimes also because they are near, for the fear of them makes the government keep in hand the constitution. Wherefore the ruler who has a care of the constitution should invent terrors, and bring distant dangers near, in order that the citizens may be on their guard, and, like sentinels in a night watch, never relax their attention. He should endeavor too by help of the laws to control the contentions and quarrels of the notables, and to prevent those who have not hitherto taken part in them from catching the spirit of contention."

c. I don't think the Hume quote points to a 'conceptual disenchantment with the concept of "happiness"', but a reconfiguring of the concept. However, that the reconfiguring comes through the voice of a persona in the series of essays entitled the skeptic, the epicurian, the stoic, points to how this reconfiguration uses these ancient figures. In fact, I think dissatisfaction with Aristotle's notion of happiness comes long before Hume. It comes with the Stoics. And - as I'm going to write about soon - the Christian tradition, in particular Augustine's quarrel with the stoics in the City of God, finds a perverse but interesting echo in the advancement of volupte by certain early modern thinkers.

Alan said...

"This concatenation has served as a useful guide to the limits of conceptual talk about happiness, but not a very good guide to its cause, or as an explanation, really, of the feeling of happiness and the use of happiness to describe these states. In other words, why should we call any of this happiness?"

"However, what interests me is that even with Aristotle, these circumstances are labeled with an affective word: happiness."

Roger, I'm reminded of an example used, I think, by Collingwood. He talks about they guy who translates the Latin triremes as "steamship" and then criticizes the Romans for the very odd ideas they held about steamships.

Translate eudaimonia as "flourishing," as is frequently done these days, and what happens to the argument here?

"We may be disposed to give Aristotle points. We might see this view of happiness, which excludes any interior state and depends wholly on exterior circumstances . . . ."

???? The passage you quote from the Rhetoric lists a number of internal goods.

"Hume elaborated a critique of Aristotle’s hierarchical notion of happiness and its attachment to certain conventional circumstances, in his essay, the Skeptic."

"One of the things about Aristotle's list is that it is very frankly about a triumphant aristocracy that could well be overwhelmed by slave revolt or exterior enemy, and would then be unhappy. There's no happiness in defeat. Except it turned out that there was - which may be why the Hellenic period, a period when the Greeks were defeated, was the golden age of the Stoics and Epicureans, both of whom held to notions of happiness that weren't tied so explicitly to the warrior ethos."

First, I don't see how the notion of happiness presented in the passage from the Rhetoric is "hierarchical." (Some of the goods he mentions may require a hierarchical ordering of society, but that's different.) More important, though, I don't follow your line of reasoning here at all, since Hume's explicit target in "The Skeptic" is Stoic philosophy -- Seneca, Plutarch, etc.

(The bit about Tolstoy makes be wonder if you're borrowing somebody else's argument here. N'est-ce pas?)

roger said...

Alan, let's go through this from bottom to top.

a. Hey, who else noticed that about Tolstoy and Hume? I wondered whether somebody else caught that. I saw the Hume argument referenced in a book on Hume and Johnson, but I don't think the author ever mentioned Tolstoy.

b. Uh, I don't really care who Hume's argument is directed against. The fact is that owning slaves and coins, having honors, etc. all point to the fact that Aristotle would have a very hard time finding the little miss' happiness equal to the orators. Here's Aristotle's list again, and you can check it against Hume's little girl: "good birth, plenty of friends, good friends, wealth, good children, plenty of children, a happy old age, also such bodily excellences as health, beauty, strength, large stature, athletic powers, together with fame, honour, good luck, and virtue." She might count on the good birth, I don't know. Good luck might be there too. That is about it, though. As for the list including internal goods, this is an odd thing - for goods of the body are included, here, as internal. I think this clues us in that internal means something for Aristotle that it does not for us. But I agree that virtue is, in a sense, an internal quality. Interestingly, there is no mention of feeling in this list at all. Would that mention be of thumos, the heart? Is there mention of that in the Rhetoric? There is in the NE, but - apparently, the vocabulary about emotion is a hotly disputed topic in classical studies.

c. But this should get us into what happiness is in Aristotle, which is really two questions. One is, whether Aristotle's rhetoric is translated in English consistently using the term happiness as it appears in the rhetoric, or whether this is some unusual case. If it is a consistent translation, I think we can throw away the steamboat example. Hobbes translates it as happiness in his translation of the Rhetoric. Cope's introduction to Aristotle's rhetoric translates it as happiness. M. Cassandre, in 1714, translates it as felicite, which is nice. By by 1852, Norbert Bonafous translates it as bonheur.

d. But the point of all this is that happiness - and I think I'm justified in using that English word here - is, in this discourse, used for two different structures - one a structure that has to do with virtue, and one a structure that has to do with circumstances. Now, it would be odd for Aristotle, really, to say that if the fortunate circumstances be there and no agent to act within them or see them, that the circumstances are really 'happy'. Although I don't know the NE well enough to know if he does make this argument. But if this effect, what you might call the 'hedonic fallacy', paraphrasing Ruskin's pathetic fallacy, does mark the beginning of a very influential discourse on happiness, then my historical reconstruction, here, doesn't seem so odd or fallacious as you are making it out to be.

roger said...

ps
Looking up some other Rhetoric translations, I get eupraxia as prospering, but the general consensus seems to be eudaimonia is happiness, here.