Time

Time is constant,  or at least the human sense of time is. Time, for ourselves, is also limited. There is only so much designated time left for us before we die. There are X many minutes left before you no longer exist, Y many hours, and Z many days. However much is left, it is limited, and soon enough it will be gone and the sand in your timer of life will run out. In the perspective of the universe, the time we as individuals have is minute, just a blip of life in the great line of existence. For us, life can, at times, feel long and drawn out, while at others it can feel painfully short, and we are left wondering where the time went. Moreover, time won’t hang around for us. Rain or shine, time continues. Time is indifferent to our problems, just like the universe. Time inevitably causes change. In fact, one could perhaps define time as change. Nevertheless, change is unpreventable. What life boils down to, then, is how we use our time, and how we change. We can use the time well and change for the better, or we can use it badly and change for the worse.

Everything passes. Your life has come, and soon it will go. Reminding ourselves of the temporality of our situation can help us enormously, since we realize that if the times are good, we should savour them and experience them as best we can while they are still around. As for the bad, it will pass. Constantly reminding ourselves of the temporal nature of ourselves is key to influencing the change we want to see, be it in the world or in ourselves. Further, time tells us we are mortal, that we don’t have long before we can’t change anything simply because we won’t be anymore.

Life is about using your time as best you can. You must use the time left to create the change you want to see, but remember, time will never wait around for you. If you’re doing what you really want, why are you doing it? Or is it that you secretly want to ‘waste’ your time? If you want to write a book, you’ve got to start now. If you want to start a business, you’ve got to plan now. The simple reason is that the only time is the time of now. The present is the only thing that will help you change anything, so use it, while you still can.

What are you waiting for?

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Eudaimonia: Aristotle and happiness

The Greek word eudaimonia (εὐδαιμονία) is usually translated as ‘flourishing’ or ‘welfare’. This was, to Aristotle, the highest good (summum bonum). But how, especially today, can we reach this highest good?

Aristotle linked eudaimonia with virtue (here meaning ‘excellence’) and reason. For him, eudaimonia entailed virtue and activity, particularly intellectually stimulating activity, since Aristotle believed that reason (logos) is unique to humankind. Of course, however, activity can be mental or physical, since there is practical reason as well as mental reason. Virtue is, for Aristotle, necessary to attain eudaimonia, yet is not enough, since activity of some kind must be involved which attains success by virtuous means. There are, however, other things that appear to be depended on if one desires to achieve eudaimonia. These are goods external to oneself, such as friendship and beauty, and Aristotle would doubt that eudaimonia could truly be achieved without these kinds of external goods, which means that attainment of ‘flourishing’ seems to involve, to some extent, an element of luck.

How can we apply this to our life today? C. D. Ryff defined eudaimonia with six parts:

  1. Self acceptance
  2. Personal growth
  3. Purpose in life
  4. Autonomy
  5. Environmental mastery
  6. Positive relations with others

Not only must be at one with ourselves, we must have good relationships with others. Of course, a definite purpose is necessary, otherwise we will find ourselves wandering around aimlessly as if in a dark room. It is no doubt the case that although we rely on personal circumstances, it is up to us to attain eudaimonia. If we want it, we must concentrate on what we must do to get it, and discover for ourselves what we must implement and what we must remove from our lives.

On anger

Anger is frustrating. At times we may find ourselves in a state of rage, perhaps unsure why we are in such a way, but definitely convinced that anger is the best response to our situation. There is, of course, just anger, as well as unjust anger. The case for unjust anger is a difficult one, and it is best diffused when we are given time and solitariness to reflect on why we are angry, hopefully coming to the conclusion that our anger is not fair or right. With justified anger, it is a different case, however. Justified anger can be worse, since it can build up over a period of time until we snap in a fit of sudden rage. I’m sure we’ve all been in both parts of anger, sometimes justified, sometimes not. Justified anger should be acted upon, yet rationally and calmly, whereas unjustified anger should not be acted upon at all, unless it is at a punch bag or some other cathartic device. Essentially, though, we must give our minds time and quiet to reflect and to allow our more rational side to once again lead our emotional part to a better state. Sleep, I think, is perhaps the best remedy for anger, and meditation also. Moreover, hitting something like a punch bag is good. What one must remember is that our anger should always be expressed, just in the right way. If not, we may find it coming back to us in a disastrous moment of fury.

Choose

It’s hard to face the fact that the time we exist on earth will not enable us to do all the things that we may want to do. For some of us, perhaps this is the case, but for most of us, there are many various things which we would like to do with our lives yet do not have time for, or we just aren’t able to do them because of the packed and full lives we already lead. This is not easy accept, yet it is a reality which must be faced. Life is not short, it is long compared to a lot of animals, and we do have time to dedicate ourselves to certain vocations. It just depends on what those things are. Recognising that we will not be able to do everything we would have hoped to will allow us to realistically and rationally decide what it is that we are going to do with our life. Decide what it is you want to do, then, if you can, do what it takes to get where you want. If we all wanted something bad enough, we could get there and attain our goal. It’s not really about the brevity of time, it’s about the use of that time. If there’s something out there which you have consciously and determinedly decided to pursue, all that’s left to do is to pursue it. If you believe that pursuit is truly worthwhile, very little will stop you. If you can’t do it because of little things such as wanting more sleep or watching more TV, then you don’t really want it. First and foremost, people get where they are because that is they wanted. It all depends on what you want, and how much you want it.

One path to fulfilment

For true fulfilment, for genuine satisfaction, there is no easy way. Nothing worth having comes easily. We all know this, but this isn’t the point. It’s not that we don’t know it, it’s that we’re too prone to forgetting it. We need constant reminders of what we know and the ideas and beliefs that drive us need to be refreshed often to keep us going. It would help if, every day, we took just a little time to stop and to reaffirm to ourselves why we are doing what we are doing with our one life. We want things to come easily. We are impatient and easily fall down before instant gratification. Deep down, though, we know that in the long run, it just isn’t worth it. Perhaps the only way to keep our path as straight as possible is to remind ourselves why we should continue. If you genuinely want something, if you really want to become a different person or achieve a goal, then you will persevere. There will be times of failure, but we should never ever give up. It may require what feels like extortionate amounts of sacrifice but it will be worth it. Yet first, we must remember that for even a small glimpse of heaven, we must delve deep into hell first.

On being normal

More and more often have I recently heard people telling each other they’re not ‘normal’ or asking ‘why you can’t you just be normal?’ The tone is always a slightly insulting one. The thing is, being normal is overrated. When someone says ‘be normal’, what they’re really saying is ‘be average’. Yet it shouldn’t be like this. We shouldn’t be telling each other to be normal, first because the concept of normal is a societal norm, formed by the culture we live, and the consumerist, social-media ridden society we do indeed live in is not something, I believe, to be hugely proud of. Second, because we are not normal. None of us are. However much we might like to convince ourselves that we are or can be normal, that is just not who we are, and a denial of this is, really, a denial to be truly human. This is because humans have strange thoughts, think things which would be considered to be strange or nasty or wrong. We are complex creatures with many opposing and conflicting ideas and beliefs floating around in our subconscious. We are not ‘normal’ and we never will be. We must accept this and move on. Instead of being good at being normal, we should try to become our best self. What that is, no doubt, is another question altogether.

Happiness: Utilitarianism

Happiness is hard to define. Moreover, there are many different definitions and opinions of what happiness is, and many believe happiness to be a totally subjective state, and that each person’s definition of happiness is different to the next person. Over the next few posts I will be looking at different philosophical views on happiness and pondering on what is, if there is one, the ‘best’ definition of happiness. This post will deal with the philosophy of utilitarianism.

To the utilitarian, happiness is, fundamentally, the maximization of pleasure and the minimisation of pain. Furthermore, the goal is life, says the utilitarian, is happiness, which is reached, as the founder of utilitarian thought Jeremy Bentham put it, by using your means to ‘create all the happiness you are able to create’ and to ‘remove all the misery you are able to remove.’ Pleasure is good, pain is bad. A happy life is full of pleasure, whereas a miserable one is full of pain. Bentham’s utilitarianism is called Act Utilitarianism, since each individual act is scrutinised on the basis of pleasure and pain to decide whether the act is right or wrong-the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people is what makes an act right. However, this process can lead to disastrous consequences.

John Stuart Mill built upon Bentham’s Act Utilitarianism by creating a Rule Utilitarianism which bases the rules of a society on the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. This way, Mill thought, there could be trust present in society. Moreover, Mill. unlike Bentham, distinguished between types of pleasures, arguing that there are higher (exempla gratia-reading) and lower pleasures (e.g. alcohol). Mill has received criticism for this distinction because this difference makes his theory an elitist theory, rather than a universal one. As well as this, Nietzsche attacked Mill by saying that people have different needs to be happy, and called him a ‘blockhead’ for such an ignorant generalisation.

Peter Singer, a notorious contemporary utilitarian, argued in favour of negative  preference utilitarianism, a form of utilitarianism which holds that pleasure is the absence of pain, and that happiness comes from having one’s preferences satisfied. Again, however, his views have been met with controversy and a questioning as to the genuine moral nature of his and all utilitarian thought.

Utilitarianism bases happiness on pleasure and pain. Bentham’s utilitarianism is itself generally rejected, yet Mill’s Rule utilitarianism has influenced our society to some extent, and his view that our own happiness stems from seeking the happiness of others is worth keeping in mind, since it may be that if we want to be happy, we must first want the happiness of others to occur. In this way, parts of Mill’s philosophy are selfless and Mill’s ideas of cultivating good human beings is an idea which has influenced different schools of thought and society up to the present. Singer said that ‘my interests cannot, simply because they are my own, count more than the interests of anyone else’ implying that the interests of all those concerned in a situation should be taken into account. It is difficult, however, to always know what the ‘best’ interest is in such situations. Singer has had profound effects on the idea of wealth and poverty and his book ‘Practical Ethics’ is one of the highest selling ethics books of all time. There is, though, another form of utilitarianism, that of G.E. Moore, which is ideal utilitarianism, and this denies that the goal of life is to maximise pleasure. Rather, Moore said that it is friendship and beauty that should be pursued since they are intrinsically good.

The question we must ask ourselves, it seems, is whether our goal is to maximise pleasure and minimize pain, or whether there is something else about life which is worth attaining. Yet, what is it if such a thing exists? And is it a universal goal, or do we each have our own, individual and subjective path to happiness? Is happiness even attainable? These questions will be deliberated upon in further posts.

What should we do with our suffering?

In today’s world, talking about our suffering and pain is mightily encouraged, and keeping things which cause us anguish to ourselves is discouraged and seen as wrong-nobody should have to suffer alone. Of course, there are different scales of suffering, from petty everyday troubles to genuine hardship through poverty, disease, and mental illness. There is no doubt that talking can help, since it allows us to know that we are not alone, and it gives our sufferings an objective viewpoint. Nevertheless, should we always be talking about our hardships and pains of life?

Soren Kierkegaard wrote about the lily in the field and the bird in the sky, saying that even though they suffered, they suffered silently. One should not take this completely literally-obviously the lily is silent! Yet his point is that we, as humans, are not able to remain silent in our suffering. It may be that our troubles always seem so much worse than they actually are is because of our inability to remain silent. Kierkegaard wrote that ‘to suffer is to suffer, no more and no less.’ Perhaps what Kierkegaard may be implicitly calling us to do is to accept our suffering, rather than always trying to talk about it and make a fuss about it which may, ultimately, be a way of fleeing from it. Not all suffering should be accepted, yet not all of it should be extinguished. Life is full of trials and tribulations, and at times the best thing may be to speak to someone, to call out to them for help, but at others, it may be best if we do not speak, but remain silent, and calm, and to use the suffering for something rather than talk about it. Much of the great art we have today may be thanks to suffering. Suffering inspires and motivates. We do not always have to talk about our pains, but rather we can create something-a book, a song, a poem, or a drawing, and through this act of creation, we may discover that not only does it help ourselves, but it has the power to help others also.

Thoughts of Epicurus: The Good Life

Epicurus was a Greek philosopher who lived in the third century B.C., and was a massive influence on the Roman philosopher/poet Lucretius. Epicurus was an atomist, who believed everything, including the mind, was corporeal. One of the greatest questions Epicurus asked was ‘how do we live a good life?’ For Epicurus, living a good life also meant becoming happy, yet what was it that Epicurus believed consisted in the good life?

One of the crucial acts in the art of happiness is, according to Epicurean philosophy, the renunciation of the gods and no fear of death. It is fear of death and fear of the gods that keeps us from becoming happy. Epicurus wrote that because death is without sensation, it is nothing to him, simply because it is without sensation and so cannot truly mean anything to him-the fear of death is irrational.

Pleasure is the absence of pain. The limits of pleasure go as far as pain can be removed, both mental and bodily and so this is a negative view of pleasure. Moreover, Epicurus believed that bodily pain is not continuous, and bodily pain is not usually greater than bodily pleasure, and if it is, it is uncommon and does not generally last for more than a few days. No pleasure is bad in itself, yet pleasure may at times cause disturbances much worse than the pleasure itself, so we must be careful.

To live pleasantly, we must be sensible, noble and just. Likewise, to be sensible, noble and just we must be living pleasantly-they are dependent on each other.

 

Can we be truly original?

True originality is overrated. In fact, it’s impossible. We are constantly acting in the guise of other people. This is even more apparent in today’s consumer culture. We are told who we should be like through the medium of advertising. Growing up, we are sold an identity. We want to be Cristiano Ronaldo or Harvey Specter or Ricky Gervais. Rene Girard talks about this in his mimetic theory, in which humanity is constantly imitating others in a cycle, and there is no such thing as being truly original, contrary to the thought of Friedrich Nietzsche, who believed we should ‘become who you are’. We cannot, with all the immense influences of the world, create something utterly and irrefutably original and unique. We are, in a sense, the compounds of many different influences put together. This may be similar to the idea of Hegel, in which there is a thesis and an antithesis, a view and an opposing view, which form to become a synthesis, which is the result of these opposing views clashing. Of course, two views may be different, but do not have to oppose each other, and so one may take ideas from both sides, perhaps forming a more complete and satisfactory result. We must not, however, become frustrated or anguished that we cannot be truly original. Who should we imitate? We must decide who to imitate in order to decide how to live. It is still up to you. It is your decision who you imitate. Who knows, perhaps one day people may find themselves imitating you. It just depends on how you choose to live your life.