I thought my friend Alan at Milanda’s questions was going to continue biting holes into my social psychological arguments about happiness, but since he has stopped – he has other fish to fry – and because he raises some interesting questions, I think I’d like to take up a particular theme in his objections, which is that I am using a non-standard, or at least a non-Aristolean, notion of happiness.
As I wrote in the last post about the imago of the dominatrix, switch in hand, who cut such a path through 19th century porn, written so often by men who, as little boys, suffered blissful spankings at public schools and felt bereft thereafter – the certain energy goes out of the theme of volupté as the early modern period comes to an end, and happiness, or the pursuit of happiness, triumphs in the official world – the world to which all justifications must refer. To remind y’all – and hey, I’m sorry about being so repetitive, but I can’t really expect my readers to remember all this shit – I am interesting in the way volupté emerged on the margins, in natural philosophy, under the aegis of Epicurus, in the 17th century, and quickly became a slogan for the libertines and for a certain protest against, on the one hand, Christian doctrine, and on the other, the unofficial religion of the intellectuals, which since the Renaissance had been a sort of stoicism derived from Cicero and Seneca. There are a lot of questions both about the emergence and the way it so quickly made its way into a major vector, that group of “idle’ nobles in England and France whose political energies were, essentially, put into the libertine lifestyle – a lifestyle characterized by its distance both from the bourgeois and the monarch. Of course, I’m giving you a pretty rough map, here, of social tendencies into which are folded philosophical themes – but it is a good enough map to predict the kind of conflicts that will occur in the confrontation of theses and little groups. One can talk about salonwork here.
But let’s not be distracted by the formal characteristics of philosophical history as I am presenting it, like Hegel, Jr. What happened in the Anglosphere was that the dialectic of volupté was aborted – in contrast to what happened in France. In its place, the Scottish Enlightenment expressed the mores of proto-liberal culture in a systematized ethics of sympathy and a theory of the market – the former justifying the raw terror visited upon various global populations by the embodiment of the latter.
So, to return to Alan’s question, or to derive a historical question from one of his questions: how does Aristotle’s idea of happiness, which has become central in contemporary philosophical ethics, fit into this story?