“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Sunday, May 09, 2010

kant on boredom and gambling

“The question of whether Heaven and not been more provident in caring for us by providing us with everything so that we didn’t have to work is certainly to be answered no; from men demand activities (Geschaefte), even such that include a certain element of coercion mixed in them. Just as false is the idea that if Adam and Eve had remained in Paradise, they would have done nothing but sat together and sung arcadian songs and observed the beauty of nature. Boredom would certainly have martyred them as well as it does other men in similar positions.” - Immanuel Kant's sämmtliche Werke: Th. Metaphysic der Sitten, in zwei Theilen, 405, my translation

Boredom in the Metaphysics of Ethics appears as a theme and a term (Langeweile) in the context of ‘play’ – and notably, playing cards.

In a more extended consideration of the sources of playing in the lectures collected in Menschenkunde oder philosophische Anthropologie, Kant connects up the notion of Edenic contexts, work, play, and boredom – for it turns out that, in circumstances where our needs are abundantly satisfied, boredom comes into play as the motive pushing us to work or to certain forms of play. It complicates an old equation that posits lack, or need, as the driver of work, or productivity – since boredom is not the same kind of lack as other lacks. What it is, however, is hard to say. “Boredom is the quintessence of unnamable pain.”[Langeweile ist der Inbegriff des unnenbaren Schmerzes.”]

Kant begins with a cultural universal that reaches all the way into the Canadian wilderness:

“The passion for play [zum Spielem – gambling is implied] is met with in every nation, even the Canadian savages like to play, while Chinese are given over to play to the point of mania, so that they bring their wives and children and even themselves into slavery through play. The interests [stakes] in play serve to enliven it and contain therefore such great charms that it constitutes the pastime for most of our society. The cause is that fear and hope continually change places in play…” [257]

The reasonable man, for Kant, then, plays with that alteration of fortunes in mind.

“A rational man, who sets down to play, can not have gain as his intent [Absicht], but he must believe, that he at least in the end must be paid for his stakes. Therefore his intention must be something else other than gain. During the play his intention is, of course, only to win, but he did not undertake participation in the game to do so. Here it is a purely a question of hope and fear, that are fundamentally vain; but one is distracted during these circumstances, and has distracted oneself from the one that one calls boredom. Such an evil, which is what boredom is, one commonly doesn’t know how to name, nor what countervailing means to apply to it. This evil of boredom springs out of the lack of activity.” [258]

The division between the game as a whole – which is played for the sake of being played – and the different moments of the game, the hands – which are played to be won – gives us, then, an activity that isn’t ‘serious’ – and yet one that fools boredom, playing its own game in the margins.

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