Monday, May 17, 2010

Leisure, Philosophy, And FLG's Happiness Theory

As FLG keeps telling you the diminution of the word leisure to mere free time leaves many blind how foundational it is to our civilization. To the extent that it has been diminished in our minds, FLG contends our civilization has correspondingly. Does he really mean that? No, but it sounds very contentious, doesn't it?

FLG saw this on the NYTimes page today:
As Alfred North Whitehead said, philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato. Let me risk adding a footnote by looking at Plato’s provocative definition of the philosopher that appears in the middle of his dialogue, “Theaetetus,” in a passage that some scholars consider a “digression.” But far from being a footnote to a digression, I think this moment in Plato tells us something hugely important about what a philosopher is and what philosophy does.


Theodorus, Socrates’ interlocutor, introduces the “digression” with the words, “Aren’t we at leisure, Socrates?” The latter’s response is interesting. He says, “It appears we are.” As we know, in philosophy appearances can be deceptive. But the basic contrast here is that between the lawyer, who has no time, or for whom time is money, and the philosopher, who takes time. The freedom of the philosopher consists in either moving freely from topic to topic or simply spending years returning to the same topic out of perplexity, fascination and curiosity.

Pushing this a little further, we might say that to philosophize is to take your time, even when you have no time, when time is constantly pressing at our backs. The busy readers of The New York Times will doubtless understand this sentiment. It is our hope that some of them will make the time to read The Stone. As Wittgenstein says, “This is how philosophers should salute each other: ‘Take your time.’ ”. Indeed, it might tell you something about the nature of philosophical dialogue to confess that my attention was recently drawn to this passage from Theaetetus in leisurely discussions with a doctoral student at the New School, Charles Snyder.

Socrates says that those in the constant press of business, like lawyers, policy-makers, mortgage brokers and hedge fund managers, become ”bent and stunted” and they are compelled “to do crooked things. The pettifogger is undoubtedly successful, wealthy and extraordinarily honey-tongued, but, Socrates adds, “small in his soul and shrewd and a shyster.” The philosopher, by contrast, is free by virtue of his or her otherworldliness, by their capacity to fall into wells and appear silly.

This ties in with FLG's theory about happiness, which is that basically the less you rely on others to make you happy the happier you will be. This doesn't mean be an emotional island, not care about people, horribly introverted, or rude. It just means define happiness for yourself and to the extent possible in ways that are within your control. And this includes most importantly not defining yourself by society's expectations. Everybody can always be thinner, prettier, smarter, richer, etc. Best just to set your sights on what you want to do, what really matters to you, and then try your best to get it done. If that goal is to try to prove something to somebody, your parents, society, your spouse, whomever, then you really need to think things through. You just don't have the time to live your life for somebody else. So, to conclude this Oprahesque rant that began with Plato, three millenia of philosophy tells us that the secret to happiness is to take time for yourself and seriously engage with what you enjoy.

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