Delight Springs

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Virtue and Happiness, and beer

Not much to crow about this morning, World Series-wise, for a recovering partisan midwesterner. Must retreat to my default mantra, on such demoralized days after: it's only a game. I will say, I'm very tired of ballplayers in biblical beards, especially the ones nested under stylized B's. Time to wield Occam's Razor. Virtuous fans are happily consoled in the wisdom of Crash Davis ("Bull Durham"):  Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains. It's a long season, ya gotta trust it. And don't forget your cliches.

Virtue and happiness is our theme today in HAP 101. But I must first acknowledge what's really on my mind this morning, besides all those questions we didn't get to last time. (I'd love to hear what the class thinks about candles, rebirth, reincarnation and karma, Vonnegut's rule of kindness, and whatever other old business they'd care to mention.)

Last time we noted the Dalai Lama's Meaning of Life and its seeming endorsement of what naturalists like Flanagan and me and at last a handful of others in our class would consider supernatural woo ("woo," that's a technical term deriving I think from Michael Shermer's Why Do People Believe Weird Things, maybe), regarding death, rebirth, karmic lives, candles etc. We can talk about that, if anyone would care to. I'll shut up and listen. Take my seat and take my answer off the air, as Dean put it.

What else is on my monkey mind this a.m.: TPA, AA, WJ, the DL (His Holiness I mean, not the Disabled List), the desiring will, the addictive personality, windows & monkeys & beer. Oh my.

Don't worry, class, the reading assignment for Tuesday is slim. We can catch up, if we get distracted at any of those windows G.W. ("Superficiality Incarnate") Leibniz said we don't have.
Although most Buddhist systems posit six types of consciousness, the picture is often one of a monkey going from window to window in a house... like the single monkey at many windows, [consciousness] is only one... karmas are not lost or wasted...
Attachment is depicted as a person drinking beer. This is easy to understand, is it not? No matter that you realize that it makes you fat and you do not want to be fat, you still keep drinking and drinking and drinking it. Attachment is a mental factor that increases desire, without providing any satisfaction. Dalai Lama, Meaning of Life
I like beer. Sometimes it makes me a jolly good fellow, or at least a mellow fellow. It almost never makes me drunk, or angry, or sad. (I don't write country songs.) And thanks to my walking/biking/hiking addiction it doesn't make me fat. I find it satisfying. I consider it a voluntary attachment. Am I deluded? That's not a merely rhetorical question, on Happy Hour day, and on TPA eve. My topic there, again: "Alcoholics Anonymous & God: The Sobering Affect of the Pragmatic Method." Help me out, class. (Thanks for the Penn & Teller link, Jon.)

 [Tennessee Philosophical Association..."A Jamesian Personscape"...AA, SOS, TPA, Beat LA!...AA and the sunny side of life]

Now, where were we? Right...

In Chapter Six of Bodhisattva's Brain Owen Flanagan says Buddhist, Aristotelian, Stoic, and Epicurean ethics "are all worthy participants in a potentially profitable anachronistic, ethnocentric, and cosmopolitan conversation about the good life."

It's still not immediately clear why we should take any great interest in fostering an anachronistic or ethnocentric conversation, even recalling Flanagan's admonition way back on page one that we "Allow it." Allowing anachronism is supposed, apparently, to free us from total time-and-place parochialism.  But what does ethnocentrism get us, again?

It gets me a powerful hankering for cosmopolitanism, which it seems we can never get enough of. I'd just place a few more seats at the table, for the pragmatists and utilitarians and Rawlsians and maybe even a token Kantian or (do we dare?) libertarian. Just don't all talk at once.

One of the absorbing issues here: What's the connection between virtue and happiness generally, and what connection should there be? Another, for Flanagan, is whether Buddha's or Aristotle's virtue is better. And, how surmountable are the "destructive states of mind" that block our paths to virtue and happiness?

I always thought Aristotle's catalog of virtues was plenty thick, but Buddhists may have a point about compassion, mindfulness, joy, equanimity, kindness et al. "One can go wrong in a lot of ways."
Aristotle's Law: Virtue is a necessary condition for happiness, and usually sufficient too.
Buddha's Law: Wisdom, virtue, and mindfulness together form a necessary (and "reliable") condition for happiness.
Those are the initial versions, then supplanted by "weaker and more plausible" versions:
AL": Virtue (& reason) is the normal and reliable cause of happiness.
BL": Virtue (& wisdom & mindfulness) is the normal and reliable cause of happiness. 
Much to ponder in all this, so far, though maybe not so much to dispute. But here's a contentious suggestion, a "normative exclusion clause" disallowing happiness acquired via "magic pills" or "false belief". "Happy states born of delusion are undeserved." Do we agree?

And, are we bothered by the return of the superscripts to muddy the waters and render our two versions of happiness potentially incommensurable? I wonder why we should be, unless our goal is to draft a blueprint for a new univocal republic of happiness.

Virtue involves the amplification of our social nature... which becomes ever more pleasant the more fully it blossoms.
Mother Nature wired us over evolutionary time to feel positively about being with others and about their well-being, especially relatives, and those others with whom we share communal projects... Excellent social relations are a source of happiness.
That's good. But we're also wired to prefer our own tribe, right or wrong, "enabling certain unfortunate tendencies of moral chauvinism." That's bad.

"These tendencies could be overcome by also teaching about the danger I have just spoken of." That's optimistic.

And so, I suppose, is the emphasis on our "shared humanity" both Flanagan and I and Confucians and unitarians and others like to invoke as our great unifier and chauvinism breaker, our best reason to be as good and kind and compassionate and generally virtuous as possible.

Imagine actually acting on that, continually growing our native capacity for fellow-feeling, exchanging residual egoism and mutual suspicion for spontaneous compassion and kindness, not giving troubled thought to other lives  than those of the other sentient beings who need our compassion. Or to another life, an afterlife.

Imagine all the people, living in peace, living for today (& echoing John & Jon).  Wouldn't you call that Buddhism naturalized?

Shouldn't we call it virtuous happiness? 


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