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How To Be Happy

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KyaryPamyu

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Schopenhauer was a big influence on Nietzsche, and Rand liked Nietzsche more than just a little. "His 'Thus Spake Zarathustra' is my Bible.  I can never commit suicide while I have it.", wrote Rand, answering a questionnaire, circa 1935[1]. By way of spiritual lineage, could it be that some of Schopenhauer's ethos inadvertently found its way into Objectivism? Well, probably not, but I'm getting paranoid! It's time for a trip down philosophical hall of fame.

Like many philosophers of his era, Schopenhauer believed that jumping straight into philosophizing about this and that is irresponsible. If we're going to use philosophy to gain insights, we ought to take a look at philosophy first:

Philosophy is concerned with explaining things, so explainability is assumed from the get go. Furthermore, if something requires an explanation, it means that it doesn't explain itself - some other thing does. In short, we assume the motion from an explanatory cause to that which it explains, from one state of matter to another.[2]

As the above analysis indicates, things like matter, motion, cause and effect, object-for-a-subject are already built into metaphysical inquiry, like your lungs are built into your body. As for logical, mathematical or moral investigations, they each come with their own inbuilt structure as well, according to Schopenhauer.

Interestingly, as Kant observed, those structures can mess up metaphysics big time. For instance, consider the claim that the world is One interconnected whole:

From one angle, 'Mankind', 'The State' etc. are mere abstractions, because only real individuals exist, like Sally, John, and Suzy. From another angle, everything is just a word or name for something else: 'pillow' is a name for feathers and cotton, 'feather' is a name for alpha-keratin and beta-keratin, ad infinitum. Individuals are illusory, the Whole alone is real.

This dilemma is rooted in the nature of the concepts themselves. Parts and wholes are two poles of a perspectival relation, similar to 'left and right', or 'here and there'. They are not something concrete like beef and candy, but ways of relating beef and candy, and all other empirical content.

In Book II of The World as Will and Representation, Schopenhauer proposes an alternative: instead of describing what the world is like, we might simply describe what it's like to be it. And what looks from the outside like a hand being raised, from the inside looks like raising a hand. Those are two ways of looking at the exact same thing, i.e. the angle of perception, plus the angle of a drive-for-activity.

Quoting Robert Wicks, "as one is a part of the universe as is everything else, the basic energies of the universe flow through oneself as they flow through everything else."[3] Schopenhauer calls this second aspect simply Will.

Will is harmless - unless, of course, Will is perceived through human cognitive structures like part-whole relationships, each part requiring others for its being, a veritable fight for existence. And, as Rand observed, the alternative between life and death grounds all values, and therefore all joys and woes as well.

Schopenhauer's Guide to Happiness

Suppose you're given a choice between two computer operating systems. They are identical in every respect, save for a key difference: one is aesthetically pleasing, the other is a crime against visual design. Which one would you pick? Most people would probably pick the pretty one.

Sure, being biased toward beauty makes sense in a sexual context, but come on - we're talking about pixels smeared on a screen! But Schopenhauer would have explained that the value of graphic design lies precisely in its uselessness for things like booting speed, security, software selection and the rest.

Beauty is a normative ideal for what something ought to look like. It's not an individual, it's a unified standard that individuals can succeed or fail at embodying. Thus, archetypes are not specifically concerned with you, or your friends, or what has been or will be; they make you think in Absolute terms rather than relative ones. In other words, during aesthetic contemplation, you lacking something doesn't even cognitively register.

Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that at the core, we are neither fragments nor wholes, but simply Reality proper. Remembering this can lead us to a more laid-back and friendly attitude to the world. In effect, we see ourselves in others. Universal empathy is, thus, another mark of happy individuals, according to Schopenhauer. And it's just as rare as artistic genius.

But those are temporary. If we're honest, the only way to not be disturbed by anything ever is to not care about anything to begin with. Sometimes this attitude comes naturally to individuals who are genuinely fed up with the cycle of distress. They will gladly ignore their leftover habitual clinging - a "dark night of the soul" - for the prize of tranquility. Asceticism, then, is the aesthetic or ethical consciousness made permanent.

However, poetic genius, empathy or ascetic inclination are reserved for extraordinary people, and those are one in a million. Everyone else must study the science of happiness, which Schopenhauer calls eudaemonology (Greek εὐδαίμων [happy] + λόγος [treatise]). However, just in case we forget that the world is not a problem-free place, Schopenhauer elaborates that the 'happy' part is an euphemism for "living tolerably."[4]

So, what should we do to become cheerful, according to eudaemonology? Well, that's a trick question. We don't do things to become cheerful; we do things because we're cheerful. The "genial flow of good spirits" is like the zoomies your cat or dog has, an energy that flows naturally from your constitution. Once possessed by it, you blow off steam by engaging in activity. "To secure and promote this feeling of cheerfulness should be the supreme aim of all our endeavors after happiness", says Schopenhauer in The Wisdom of Life.

He adds that nothing opens the gate to cheerfulness more than your physical condition, since the state of your body is also the state of your mind. However, "a man may be perfectly sound in his physique and still possess a melancholy temperament and be generally given up to sad thoughts. The ultimate cause of this is undoubtedly to be found in innate, and therefore unalterable, physical constitution."

Schopenhauer presents us with an indirect route to a bearable (and if fate allows, enjoyable) life. "The first and foremost rule for the wise conduct of life seems to me to be contained in a view to which Aristotle parenthetically refers in the Nichomachean Ethics: [Greek: o phronimoz to alupon dioke e ou to aedu] or, as it may be rendered, not pleasure, but freedom from pain, is what the wise man will aim at."[5] In other words, it's impossible to enjoy ourselves when we are in pain, so we ought to always set the stage for happiness by keeping preventable woes at bay.

(What about un-preventable problems, though? They are not the Boogeymen you think they are, according to Schopenhauer. His analysis of that is well worth a read.)

Rand and Schopenhauer

I did not feel discouragement very often, and when I did, it did not last longer than overnight. But there was one evening, during the writing of The Fountainhead, when I felt so profound an indignation at the state of "things as they are" that it seemed as if I would never regain the energy to move one step farther toward "things as they ought to be." Frank talked to me for hours, that night. He convinced me of why one cannot give up the world to those one despises. By the time he finished, my discouragement was gone; it never came back in so intense a form.[6]

It did come back though, even in that less intense a form. Rand was not exactly shy about making it known that the world isn't as it could be and ought to be. But Rand is Rand. It seems to me that Rand treats life the same way she treats a lover. When you love someone, even their flaws become glamorized to some extent. It's as if saying "although I don't necessarily approve of this flaw, even it is marked with my lover's scent." (Other people's flaws can go to hell.)

You know that a novel is a drama before you place your order on Amazon. That's what novels are, and novels are what you're into. So with life. I think Nietzsche had this element as well, of romanticizing life itself. And let me tell you: this is not for everyone. If you're not that kind of person, philosophy won't turn you into one. This romantic spirit might be like musical inclination, or introversion, or (as Schopenhauer says) physically-induced melancholy.

Corollary: to fully grasp all the nooks and crannies of Objectivism, or Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, your spirit must already be a little bit like theirs.

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FOOTNOTES
[1] See the first footnote of Lester Hunt's essay, Ayn Rand’s Evolving View of Friedrich Nietzsche.
[2] For Schopenhauer, human cognition is built around the principle of sufficient reason, to which he dedicates his PhD thesis, On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason (1813).
[3] Wicks, Robert, Arthur Schopenhauer, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2021 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
[4] Schopenhauer, Arthur, Introduction to Aphorisms on the Wisdom of Life.
[5] ———. Counsels and Maxims, §1.
[6] Rand, Ayn, Introduction to The Fountainhead.

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KP— Rand was continually and deeply at odds with Nietzsche, as shown in my Nietzsche v. Rand series. And surely any kinship in feeling she had with his outlooks went flat as she developed her philosophy. I have a favorite passage in Z, Before Sunrise, though only when I've stricken or bent some of that text. I read Nietzsche though I don't have any kinship to his spirit. Once I had studied him far enough, my overall feeling toward him was revulsion. In that I've some likeness with Rand's spirit. Indeed, I've much affection for her spirit.

My feeling towards the spirit of Schopenhauer is some warmth. I see now that "Counsels and Maxims" is contained within my copy of volume II of his Parega and Paralipomena, which I've yet to study. What I've studied of him pretty well thus far are The Four-Fold Root of Sufficient Reason, On the Basis of Morality, and The World as Will and Presentation. I thought that he agreed with Kant in thinking that happiness and morality are regularly at odds, though he disagreed with Kant on what was the basis and content of right morality. I thought Nietzsche came to be at odds with Schopenhaur concerning the nature of the will and evaluation of the will. Certainly Nietzsche came to sharp disagreement with Schopenhauer on the rightness of indulging in empathy, compassion, and pity (starting at least by the time of Daybreak 133). He put Schopenhauer among those secularists still clinging to Christian virtues, which should be discarded, at least the ones distinctive of that religion. It's hard to think of Nietzsche thinking highly of happiness, his sights of blessedness being conflict and beings higher than we humans from which they, the higher, might emerge.

Rand made enjoyment of life the purpose of morality (for genius and common person alike), unlike Schopenhauer or Nietzsche, it seems. Where Schopenhauer has the sensible goal for humans to be painlessness and not pleasure, Rand would spit, I'd think. And communion with Idea, Schopenhauer's redemption from life in art, is opposite the metaphysical import Rand sees in art. In quick sum, so far, I'm thinking you've got too much commonality among these three philosophers, at least in their mature views.

Delicious topic. Stimulating. Thanks for sharing this. 

Edited by Boydstun
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