I often hear people say they aren’t “much for philosophy.” I respect and understand that. The worst grade I received in all of my academic career was in Philosophy 101. While the professor clearly lacked the necessary pedagogical skills restless twenty-year-olds require to confront Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, there was nothing I considered interesting about that class, much less applicable to real life. I got a D in that course, one step above failure.
Until that time, studying, had always come easy to me. But it was perhaps, my brief brush with underachievement that sparked my thirst for questioning, igniting a need to define and destroy said definitions. Which is why I am writing this today, to kindle in you a small curiosity for reasoning.
What is Philosophy?
For me, it is the art of questioning everything; un-defining the defined and then questioning again. It is the examined life. Nothing is to be taken at face value. And when you find yourself comfortable in the definition of things, ask again. That is what we do in the Big Questions workshop and on last Friday we questioned happiness.
The quest for happiness is as ancient as time itself. There isn’t a philosopher dead or alive who hasn’t reflected upon it. And while we had agreed upon a few things, we had yet to define this abstract concept everyone is supposedly searching for.
Before defining and then un-defining, we looked a bit closer at how the concept of happiness and all its definitions had mutated extensively throughout the years.
For example, if we divide the philosophers into two groups, the Eastern and Western we will see that the Greeks equated happiness with ethics. This essentially meant that you did good because because you were virtuous and in being so, you achieved harmony. Harmony combined with the elimination of suffering is at the root of nearly all Eastern philosophers arguments. But things on the Western forefront changed with the arrival of Christianity. Happiness moved from something sought after in this life to something achieved in the afterlife. It became a reward. But it didn’t stop there. The Medieval times twisted Christianity’s definition ever so slightly adding that one must have a “godly attitude” if they were to achieve their reward. Pack your bags we are going on a guilt trip! It wasn’t enough to live a good moral life, you had to live a pious one if you wanted to achieve happiness in heaven. Finally, with the arrival of modern times, happiness transformed into something of a social achievement. And that is how we view it today. Happiness can now be lost, found, purchased and put on display. It is equated with positivism and the power of the mind, with staying clear of bad vibes and above all else appearing happy. God forbid your response to the question, “how you are feeling today?” be “terrible!” Every day there is more and more pressure to appear happy. If you don’t appear happy, you have to at least be in search of a path to get there.
But is happiness something you can find? Can you create it? Is it something to be achieved? Does it even exist? Is pleasure and happiness one in the same? Are they dependent on each other?
We do not have all the answers, but after two hours of examination we came to a group consensus:
- We all felt happy in the moment that we were reflecting as a community
- Happiness, at face value, seems to be determined by your circumstances. However, when you delve into it a bit more, happiness exists in spite of those circumstances.
And finally, we challenged good ole Aristotle’s by taking his famous quote, “Happiness depends on ourselves.” one step further. Because according to our reasoning, “Happiness doesn’t depend on yourself, it depends on overcoming your self.”
The #BigQuestion Philosophers of EinR
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Our next meeting is set for June 17th at 18:00.