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.

Continue reading “The Good Life and Sustaining Life: Vague Words and Well-specified Questions”

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. 

Continue reading “The Good Life and Sustaining Life: Definitions (Excerpt)”

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.

Continue reading “The Good Life and Sustaining Life: An Inquiry into Our Great Vexation (An excerpt)”

The only 3 ways of making a living: Reflections on sustaining life

Yesterday, I had a breakthrough in how I think about economic relationships when these are understood in the most basic terms possible. The occasion for my thinking about this question is my upcoming fall course, ‘The Good Life and Sustaining Life,’ at Kaos Pilots. There are three principal questions that make up the course I’ll be teaching:

Continue reading “The only 3 ways of making a living: Reflections on sustaining life”

How to know that I’m not wasting my life

One needs some kind of perspicuous conceptual distinction between the good life and sustaining life if one hopes to be able to make any sense of one’s doubt concerning whether or not one is wasting one’s life. (I take ‘wasting my life’ to be a philosophical question raised most clearly, most existentially only within the confines of the modern age.) Only if there is a distinction between higher forms of life (good life) and mere persistence in one’s existence (sustaining life) can one assuage oneself of such a doubt.

Now, when I wonder, ‘Am I wasting my life?,’ I am asking whether I have any reason for living apart from merely going on day after day. This question occurs to anyone who can meet his material needs (and possibly then some) but who would like to know why it is worth all the bother ‘in the end.’ ‘What is all the bother about?’–this is a (perhaps, thephilosophical question of the first order.

Continue reading “How to know that I’m not wasting my life”