Having Lives to Lead: Part 2

In the last post, I began with a simple yet unshakable intuition, which was that you and I want to make something of ourselves, to do something with our lives. I went on to suggest that two assumptions about leading our lives and realizing ourselves are at the root of this intuition.

What does this statement mean: I have a life to lead? Well, certainly it means more than the idea that I am a living being, more also than the idea that I can follow my instincts to preserve and nourish myself. It seems strange to think that I ‘have’ something that is ‘mine’ to do with not entirely as I please (since circumstances and outside forces will have an impact of my ‘possession’). Somehow, we cannot shake the idea that I have a life, it is mine, and it can be led.

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Nietzsche on the Life Lived Most Intensely

Lucy Ferry cogently on Nietzsche:

In short, in this [Nietzschean] morality of grandeur, it is intensity that has primacy; the will to power carries the day against all other considerations: “There is nothing to life that has value except the degree of power!” This does not mean that there is no such thing as value. Quite the contrary. We also need to comprehend, as is clear in Nietzsche’s critique of the Socratic cure and of romanticism, that genuine intensity has nothing in common with unleashed passions or the emancipation of bodies; it resides in the harmonious and classical integration of the vital forces; in the serenity, the calm, but also the lightness that oppose Mozart and Schubert to Schumann and Wagner. Like one skilled in the martial arts, the man of the grand style moves in elegance, at a thousand leagues from anything that seems laborious. He does not perspire, and if he moves mountains, it is serenely, without apparent effort. (What is the Good Life?, p. 93)

Nietzsche urges us first to recruit our active forces, making them more and more intense. But this recruitment is not possible for those who are full of reactive forces, only able to oppose Life. They are the nasty refusers, and they surround us, have burrowed into us, have largely become us. What is our soft culture but the continual refusal to do anything but go against the very fiber and grain of Life?

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The Good Life and Sustaining Life: Vague Words and Well-specified Questions

Certain philosophical terms have been slowly creeping into business culture and everyday speech, terms such as ‘meaning,’ ‘value,’ ‘direction,’ and ‘purpose,’ without its being possible, with any clarity or analytical rigor, to pin down their meanings. Calling a project ‘meaningful’ implies that one is drawing a line between projects that are not meaningful and those that are. Suggesting that one’s life is headed in the ‘right direction’ may, albeit only obliquely, suggest that there are right or wrong ways in which your life could head and thankfully, in this case, it is going the right way. And though it may sound good to say that one is doing something of ‘value’ with one’s life or that one ‘has a sense of purpose,’ the listener invariably has to crane his neck and work his ears in order to squeeze out any genuine content from these utterances.

Much of this talk, I suggest, suffers from vagueness and nominalism and quickly results in conversation-stopping. The adjective ‘meaningful,’ for instance, is vague in the sense that it is difficult to pin down what it is referring to in any given context. Yet it is as if the one making such a claim were a nominalist, believing that calling something X were enough to make it so. If I say something has a purpose, then the error is to think that, as a matter of fact, it has a purpose. It may or it may not; quite possibly, the claim may be well wide of the mark.

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The Good Life and Sustaining Life: Definitions (Excerpt)

Preliminary Remark

The good life and sustaining life are two separate, albeit connected, concepts. How they are connected, when they are connected properly, is the subject of this philosophical investigation.

Definitions and Distinctions

 1. By ‘the good life,’ I mean that for the sake of which one ultimately lives.

 2. Throughout the course of this guide, I will often distinguish between ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ in order to bring out the distinction between various viable conceptions of the good life (the higher) and various mistaken conceptions of the good life (the lower). 

Remark: I will claim that the bourgeois and hedonistic ways of life are chief examples of ‘the lower.’ Plato delightfully refers to hedonists as the ‘lovers of sights and sounds.’

3. By ‘wasting one’s life,’ I mean not living out a viable conception of the good life either (a) because such a form of life is not available to us in the modern world or (b) because such a form of life cannot be defended as a higher form of life. 

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The Good Life and Sustaining Life: An Inquiry into Our Great Vexation (An excerpt)

Preface: Our Great Vexation

There may be no greater vexation in our time than the question of how to make a living in a manner that accords with leading a good life. Laypersons may evade the question merely by closing their eyes and keeping their heads down; doing so involves the great effort of remaining blindly unthinking. For the thinking person, however, such is not an option. Yet if nearly every thinking person has faced this vexation at one time or another and doubtless throughout most of his adult life, virtually no one has ventured to think it through in a well-considered, systematic fashion.

Unlike those who despair of what they see or who sound the world weary note of caution that ‘life is full of burdens, compromises, and trade-offs,’ I assume that the question, though surely quite hard, is not so foreign that it cannot be addressed nor so enigmatic that it must go unanswered. This is why ‘thinking through things,’ which Aristotle regarded as the supreme undertaking of philosophy, becomes so timely and paramount today. We cannot go on with this great vexation, yet we do not know how to go on otherwise.

The dilemma catches most people off guard, ensnaring some for life. Over the past four years in my philosophy practice, for instance, I have listened to the nihilist wishing not to be one, to the creative person who is taken, all around, to be hopelessly impractical, and to the relatively wealthy individual who, amid the mental turmoil, lives with a ‘bad conscience’ (Nietzsche). Some, that is, are able to make a decent enough living but sniff out that what they are doing is just a lot of ‘bullshit work’ (David Graeber). Others pursue beauty or union yet have to elbow their way in and hustle to get gigs simply, and clumsily, in order to get by. And others are enmeshed in the kind of well-paying work–say, for a large oil corporation or an investment bank–that is so at odds with any  idea of social good or notion of distributive justice that they quickly fall victim to mental discord.

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