Selflessness, The Good, and Happiness--jk

Selflessness, The Good, and Happiness--jk
Happiness & Scientific Psychology--jk
The Art of Loving: A Behaviorist Approach--jk
A Lesson on Love from Cats--jk
THE DECALOGUE: Greek Moral Philosophy Modernized--jk
THE GOOD LIFE--Greek Philosophers Teachings
No Free Lunches: The Role of the Stock Market--jk
Plato's Dream Fulfilled by Science--jk
The lessons from the previous essay, How Congress Works--jk
On Dying Atheist: A Doctor's Words

The Emotional Foundation for Inner Joy 5/30/15



     Every theory about morally right conduct, saintliness and such, has a kernels of truth, some foolishness, some neglected and some overstated issues.  The best of the general theories are the Greek philosophers’ analysis of the good-life and that of utilitarianism which is built upon the Greek foundation:   both have as their core the concepts of happiness and pleasure as the foundation of good.  (Charity, honesty, and other like categories are derived from the consequences which are measured by pleasure.)  But but moral philosophies fail to develop the topic of loving emotions.  The moral maximization of happiness is called upon to answer the question of “why to be moral”--without relying on divine reward.  This answer to the moral question of why is most clearly stated in the teachings of Epicurus. However, little is said on the loving emotions.  In most of the essays in the utopia section of this website, I have placed love at the center of living the good-life, a key to happiness. 

      While I don’t like writing in the first person, especially when it makes me appear to be walking on water, in this case the topic is quite personal and my observations are my best vehicle for its presentation.  My experience shows that unleashing the loving emotion greatly increases the enjoyment of nearly all of our activities. This essay is further developing topics found in The Gospel of Love.   


How to be counted among the truly fortunate


Introduction, the Greek foundation:  AS a junior and philosophy major at Temple University in Philadelphia I took Ethics given by Prof. Elizabeth Beardsley, a noted philosopher and admirable person.  Having been exposed to the teachings of the most modern of ancient Greek philosophers, Epicurus in her class, I decided to learn more, and did a term paper on his ethics for my English class.  I was allowed to pick a topic.  I first chose “the historical Jesus”, and found out after searching the University library, that there wasn’t an historical Jesus (the Biblical account is not supported outside the Bible), thus we have only the Jesus legend.  I then chose the teachings of Epicurus.  The hours spent on this essay drove home what I had learnt in my ethics class on the good-life, which occupied just an hour of class time.  Epicurus’ insights are expressed in maxims on pleasures.  His views concerning the good-life opened a door for me.  The next semester I studied the Greek philosophers of which 4/5th of the course was on Plato and Aristotle (much more of their writings have survived).  I paid special attention to those topics relating to the good-life—such as “can virtue be taught”?   But I was not satisfied with how far they went:  marriage, romantic love, and fellow-feeling were barely mentioned.  They held that personal happiness was obtained through a certain lifestyle and promoted by studies and like-minded male friends.  Later Greek & Roman philosophers barely raised the topic of love.  David Hume called loving emotions “fellow feeling”.   We love our friends, home, pets, feel an attachment to our belonging, plants, country, city, and so on; these are examples of fellow feeling.  We also feel it when helping others.  Fellow feeling is what bonds us to our comrades, children and spouse.     

      Some people, like my father were very happy, while others like my cousin Morris and my mother were very moody.  I developed gradually a vision about how I could become an extraordinarily happy individual.  I have learnt from the Greek philosopher, observing others, self-observation, and the study of psychology in the universities.  One method is verbalizations (silent, out-loud, and written).  What we think, say, and write affects what we become. Thus I like to put down my thoughts on the good-life and related topics.  Teaching is the best way of learning.   

Epicurus approached the promotion of happiness in two ways, one by advanced studies for to think deep and long about meta-ethics affects behavior. He also supplied maxims concerning behavior affecting the good-life.  He held that one could not be secure and thus happy if one feared their neighbors because they have treated them immorally.  An example of Epicurus’ teach is to remove over-weaning pride, a defect in character which though producing pleasure has costs.  One of my favorite of his maxims is, to him who little is not enough, nothing will be enough (Cyril Bailey’s translation of Epicurus).  In another he says, we should always seek the pure pleasures.  The display of possessions to impress others is attended with the discomfort of expense, and consumption of time better spent.  And such pleasure is fleeting, mild, and sets that person on the path to acquire more and more.  This is compounded by the pleasant and popular activity of shopping.  Epicurus’ maxims helped me focus on how empty and corrupting is the pride of possessions and the passion for more possessions.  And it is in an impure pleasure accompanied with expense and consumption of time which could be better spent. My rational side in furtherance of this goal analyzed my actions and moods concerning possessions.  I do more than just repeat a phrase; I discussed this topic with others, wrote about the simple life, visualized living the simple life, and practiced living that way.  I sought to avoid such impure pleasures, and grew through studies and reflection to understand what the good-life is.   

The Greek philosophers have two words (concepts) associated with the good-life, edaemonia & ataraxia; both are connected to happiness from inner peace.  A one sentence dictionary definition fails to capture the sense in which those terms are used.  (For the important schools of Greek philosophy—stoics, epicureans, and Aristotelian their differences were not major.)   Eudaemonia (also spelled eudemonia, and eudiamonia) refers to the happiness which comes from doing the best one can.  Aristotle uses the example of a navigator of a ship.  He also writes about acting according to one’s character.  He means that person promotes the good through, and finds satisfaction in so doing.  The well-balance person is by nature given to doing good things.  Aristotle held that the good physician and navigator were happier; and similarly for the good spouse, citizen, etc.  Such people are also reward by being respected by their family, neighbors, and fellow workers.  Eudaemonia is part of the foundation of good in the moral sense.

Ataraxia overlaps in meaning with eudeamonia.  Ataraxia means a tranquility that comes through studies of de rerum natura (the nature of thins).  Man by nature wishes to know the nature of things, and in doing so removes the fears associated with the irrational world full of gods—a world beyond knowing.  Aristotle, Epicurus, and most of the other Greek philosophers consider such knowledge as useful.  Besides removing the fears that plagued the common, uneducated common people, education would result in the association with like-minded people.  They held that man mans is a pack animal, association was important.  Aristotle wrote at great length on friendship.  And all of them held that it was important to limit one’s time with the common herd.  Studies and the associates a person given to studies will have, thus promotes an inner tranquility and pleasure. Finally, studies strengthened the rational side of human nature, which then becomes more dominate over the reckless animal side.  Aristotle defined man as a rational animal. Rational control is a good thing. Epicurus considered the pleasure that comes through studies by a person with inner tranquility the highest because it was the most enduring and separated the person from the common herd, and is the purest of pleasure because it seldom had negative consequences.  Thus eudeamonia and ataraxia play key roles in living the good-life.  

Given that studies were held to be central to the good-life, a summary of their main points follows.  Studies free the mind from the belief in evil and vengeful spirits and gods.  Studies are an activity that separates through association the person from the common herd.  Studies promote control over the animal part of the brain.  Studies are a purer pleasure.  Schooling in the Greek world began in the teen years at institutions set up by the philosophers. This experience created a person who was likely to follow the teachings in the school. 

They held that this path lies through studies to the good-life was, and this was compatible with ethics.  The philosophers recognized that they must convince the parents and their students that through studies good, wise citizens were made.  Here there was some divergence as to civic obligation, with Plato and Aristotle arguing that it was prudent to become involved in the government.  The polis had an assembly of the citizens which directed government.  They held that by being counted in the assembly one assured its proper action.  Epicurus however advised to stay clear of the assembly because associating with the common herd there was not compatible with inner tranquility.  


My personal journey:  I was moved by their view of the good life.  Studies promote this, though not all studies are of equal value.  After graduate school studies now became my principle leisure-time activity (the websites attest to this).  With the analytic skills honed and having a large and diverse body of knowledge the world grew more interesting, which reduces boredom.  I get far more pleasure from contemplation than the norm.  I write about various questions that I examine, and this is pleasant task.  Once done, I then post them on the website (such as this essay), and thus I have a double reward one of preventing boredom and that of the pleasure from fellow-feeling derived from the thought of doing a good thing for mankind.  A third reward is that my conversations are more interesting: talking about topic which challenges the intellect please me and often those whom I am talking with.  This is confirmed when I ease-drop on the conversation of the common person and listen to the banal chatter.  Finally major benefit is through association with people who are both learned and less likely to have the major behavioral problems of the common herd.  Among the rewards from the studies is a greater inner tranquility (ataraxia) and associated with this is that I enjoy more contemplating, writing, and conversing than the common person.  And such activities act as a dam for preventing the diversion of recreational drugs, which hinders complex analysis.   The Greek path for better direction of the animal side enable me to avoid the all too common problems of the common heard, such as obesity, tobacco, lack of physical conditioning, etc.  For me to think best, talk best, and write best I must have a healthful lifestyle. 

The meditation upon the good is the most important one for the development of right perspective and enduring happiness.  Epicurus’ maxim:  “Meditate upon the good (pleasure) for without it we do all to get it back.”  This essay is an example of such meditations.  Upon my studies I came across of an improvement made upon the Greek teachings as to the ethical foundation of behavior.  I am a utilitarian, so the good is measured by long-term happiness, mine and the well-being of society.  Utilitarianism is used both as a tool to measure personal actions and the actions of the state and other bodies such as the church.  Good is defined as the greatest happiness for the greatest number.  This theory while not commending involvement in politics, implies that I should promote the well- being of associates, of the community, and of the world. Utilitarianism gave direction to my concerns for the people of the world.  A concern made personal when I moved to Canada to attend graduate school, major philosophy, during the Vietnam War.  In graduate school, I wrote a 90-page paper term paper on utilitarianism.  Recognizing the harm done by our corporatist state, I became involved in the anti-war movement and in radical politics.  Slowly my vision of right character improved.  There is an inner glow that is founded upon right perspective, selflessness, pleasing contemplation, excellent physical conditioning, rationality, and supportive socialization: the 6-fold path[i]. 


1)  Right perspective is the foundation to the other paths.  It is a deep, heart-felt concern for the greater good--and not merely for family, friends and community.  Right perspective is a commitment to promoting the good for all.  It is embodied in the utilitarian maxim, the greatest good for the greatest number.  It is to be full loving feelings, and thus eschewing the hostile, angry feelings (a topic thoroughly developed in my essay The Gospel of Love).  Other elements are a love of truth, lack of greed, minimizing personal concerns, and avoidance of the use of negative and aversive conditioning.  All these promote right perspective.  The passion for doing good has many rewards.

There is a well of pleasant emotions that this right perspective and behavior drinks deeply from.  David Hume asked the question:  Why be moral and replied because there is an emotion which he termed fellow-feeling.  Why do we feel good when helping people in need?  The parent enjoy teach their children?  Why do we become attached to our spouse, friends, children, and possessions?  This is because the human animal has the emotion fellow-feelings.[ii]  This is the emotion that makes man a group animal and caring parent.  Man enjoys doing good things because of this emotion.  The good parent sets up a pattern of behavior in their children which permits frequent dipping into the well of fellow-feelings (both parent and child).  Similarly for the good worker, the good spouse, the good citizen that part of the brain producing this type of pleasure is frequently stimulated.  The more simulation of fellow-feeling, the greater is inner happiness.  For example, the acts of cleaning the dishes as an expression of doing an act that pleases your spouse is rewarded by the pleasure coming from fellow-feeling. Fellow-feeling promotes the good life, and is part of ataraxia.  Anger, meanness, hostility, violence, aversive behavior (including thoughts which are best defined as “silent whispers”) and the like reduces the frequency of the pleasant loving emotion.  Fellow-feeling is essential to maximizing happiness:  this I call “the love of all things, LOAT.” 

LOAT is a key to being counted among the fortunate[iii].  With the right perspective, good behavior springs from the inner person.  The Greeks held that character was more important than acts.  This person helps his friend because it is the right thing to do and he enjoys helping friends.  Another person with a character like a merchant helps a friend in need because he will be amply rewarded later, and if reward is unlike the help is unlikely.  It is much better to do the right things because they are pleasant to do, as compared to doing it because it is prudent.  Doing things in a way that dips into the pleasant emotion of fellow-feeling produces a greater joy in doing ones duty, ones work, etc.  If a person loves all things good, then things he does are more pleasant than another short on this emotion doing those same things.  The love of all things is an essential part of the good-life. 


2) Selflessness:  focusing on the good, places my self-interest in the background.  Now I am concerned with the good that results; thus now the concern for my own well-being is measured by improvements in my ability to do good things—my pleasure is not an end in itself.  Employment, investments, even developing a relationship with a woman is measured by how it will further the general good.  Money is sought not for the object I could buy or the places I could travel, but for to secure a quite environment for to write, to hire an editor, to develop the websites, to get published, to help friends, and to contribute to worthy causes.  I now exercise vigorously daily so that I may both be more productive and set a better example for my beloved, friends, and associates.  Selflessness entails that I fret less over problems, such as when the car needs repairs or the future of my business.  I simply consider the time lost having the car serviced as pulling me away from more useful activities in promoting the good, and I don’t fret of the expense.  My primary concern is the good things that I accomplish.  I’ll be happier in a trailer park than an oceanfront home because cheap living entails having more funds available for the promotion of the good and less material distractions.  My Selflessness is sensed by my friends and associates who quickly learn to trust and like me.  Selflessness changes the way I see the world and the way the world sees me.  I am not angry over adversity as when Robert lied to me over conditions at work, for I could no more be angry with Robert than I could with the North Wind for being cold upon my back.  Selflessness makes it much easier to eschew angry thoughts. 

In promotion of selflessness, I meditate (cogitate) upon the good.  I constantly ask myself, what would an Angel on earth do in my situation? (I am assuming him to be a pure rational being.)  Alternatively, I ask, what would the gods approve of me doing in this situation?  These thoughts guide my actions.  Removing as much as possible the greedy I from my behavior has contributed greatly to my happiness. 


3)  Contemplation of good things gives me many hours of happiness; this lies at the heart of ataraxia (see The Gospel of Love).  But being a utilitarian, I don’t spend endless hours reminiscing over the good times, or savoring past loves.  Positive contemplating about my beloved, however, helps me to be nicer to her, which brings her happiness.  Her happiness entails a union which allows us to be an inspirational example to others, entails her emotional support, and in general gives me greater determination to pursue the good. While working I often enjoy the task because I am contemplating that this is a thing that is good for those around me.  When driving instead of listening to talk shows interrupted by advertisements, or music, I listen to books on tape mainly biographies, histories, and science related topics.  These both increase my understanding of the world, but also stimulate constructive thoughts.  When I listen to music, which is only at the gym, it is to block their background music.  I select that which uplifts my spirit.  When I am get bored at home, I select activities, such as going to the gym so that my mood will improve.  Refreshed I come home.  Thus I avoid the consequences of boredom upon a relationship (click on link).[1]  I study behaviorist psychology which opens a door of perception that remains closed with cognitive psychology.  My writing is a sort of mediation.  Most topics I choose are on vital topics that affect quality of life.  My selection of going to the gym, educational books on tape, behaviorist psychology, and subjects I write on are all affected by my utilitarian ethics.   When I write about something that is corrupt, like corporate medicine and corporate media, I am not being stimulated by anger but rather a love for mankind, and thus I am experiencing the pleasure from ataraxia.  The loving emotion is the key to ataraxia; it gives many hours of rewards.   


      4)  Exercise is done because I have noticed how much fitness contributes to happiness. And with the exception of Elizabeth Beardsley, my ethics professor, the happiest people are physically fit.  Exercise gives balance to my days.  There are three types I do regularly:  racket ball and tennis for diversion and conditioning; weight training for muscle tone and mood elevation through muscle tone; and a very intense 1 to 2-mile run for cardiovascular conditioning and endurance.  Intense running has the greatest rewards, and it takes the least time.  All three bring long-term mood elevation.  Fitness training makes me more vigorous, more self-confident, a better lover, and in a better mood.  My physical fitness coupled with a cheerful attitude produces admiration  among my associates which allows me to communicate more effectively to on topic which promote their general well-being.  Physical fitness is a very important piece in my overall pursuit of happiness.    


5)  Rationality is another important piece of the good-life.  The direct approach is through the study of logic (click on link and), next is the application of logic in the evaluation of complex subjects.  Rationality promotes the prudent selection of behavior.  Second it gives me the skill to learn about and write about things I ought to know more than the average person knows (visit my website on enlightenment and on health).   Third these allow me to effectively communicate to friends, associates, and on the websites.  Rationality permits me to avoid the foolishness found in religion and e pick out their best ideas.  It allows me to understand the nature of the universe and my place in it.  It has allowed me to be free of the common fears.  And it has allowed me to develop an understanding of scientific psychology, and thus to be aware of the counterproductive pitfalls that are endemic to relationships.  Moreover, not only do I see the patterns and causes underlying human behavior, but also I can through rational guidance avoid those pitfalls.  Rationality, gained through years of study, including 12 years of university schooling has given me the skills to see deeply concerning the good-life.  As Ludwig Wittgenstein said (roughly put), “through my skills develop solving complex philosophical problems such as about the analytic a priori    The Greek philosophers held that it was philosophy (which back then included science) that separated them from the common herd and helped them immensely in the pursuit of the good-life. 


6)  Supportive socialization has important consequences that affect attainment of happiness.  What I think is influenced by the people I associate with; by the images and sound (messages) though television, movies, songs, and written sources.  Where I live, where I work, what I work at, and what I take in school all influence what I think of.  So too does the amount of leisure time I have.  Too much work, school studies, recreational activities, family duties, they all combine to leave little time for development of higher consciousness.  I have limits on them so that I can devote more time to promoting the general good and my own higher consciousness.  Personal and spiritual development ought to be actively sought.  It is for me a duty proscribed by utilitarianism; one which I assiduously attend to, and I enjoy so doing.   

      Of all forms of socialization, the contribution of the beloved is of exceptional importance.  A person worthy of love, and who has developed a loving relationship with you, this will result in an incredible unleashing of the loving emotion. To be counted among the truly fortunate, you must be in a loving relationship. 

In 1989 I had obtain for several months a high portion of inner happiness while living alone in Mexico, and I was without a woman.  This radiant glow ended when I started again to live with my former girl-friend, a nice person and one who satisfied the need for sexual release and companionship.  It is best to have a spouse who is on the same path. 


Conclusion:  Happiness and the inner glow, is akin to romantic love.  We have the emotion of love.  This emotion is not simply fixed upon a person of the opposite sex, but extends in a milder way to other things, such as to the love of parents and siblings, to the love of country and community, to the love of pets, and to an attachment for material things[iv].  David Hume pointed out that people enjoy being moral because of an emotion he called fellow-feeling.  This is the mild form of the emotion of love.  I feel something for the people around me, and I enjoy doing good things for them.  The more I remove the self (my concern for personal gain) from my actions, the stronger is fellow feeling.  It becomes at times almost as intense as when I do good things for my beloved.  Thus by finding more ways to tap upon the emotion of love, the happier we will be.  Placing the self in the background and seeking to promote in all actions the greater good, this taps upon fellow feeling, taps upon the emotion of love, and it makes me exceptionally happy.  The journey to be among the truly fortunate is a journey upon tapping into the emotion of love. 

The utilitarian prospective plays an important guiding role, for pleasures now are within a complex balancing system, balanced between the animal appetites, the intellectual gains which at the same time relieve boredom, and the utilitarian directive to create the greatest good.  I use the label “Benthamite” to describe my commitment to the public weal.  Thus I enjoy doing good things not just for my community, and country, but for mankind (and for animals).  This commitment to the public weal helps me select activities, thus researching and writing about issues of health and bad pharma, of the parasitic banking industry of the perverse under regulated corporate system, all for to help people see the conflict between the maximization of profits and the public’s weal. Through the utilitarian ethics I am maximizing the activities which dip into the loving emotion. Studies and writing have a purpose and with purpose my enthusiasm increases.

The six-fold path coupled with the meditation upon love with a suitable beloved that brings me close to the fabled nirvana.  I have built upon the Greek wisdom of pure pleasures and the good-life, added the improvement of utilitarianism which made public service part of the ethics, rather than a thing separate.  From this foundation the six other pieces in promotion of happiness quite naturally follow.  The rational side understands the 6 aspects to the good-life:  exercise, learning, supportive socialization, selflessness, right prospective, and happiness.  I thank the gods frequently for the focus and insights that has given me so much joy.



[1] When with one’s spouse, boredom is commonly linked to quarreling, which is brought on by use of aversive behavior.   

[i] The 6-fold path alludes to the Buddhist 3-fold path.

[ii] This feeling has evolved in higher animals because of survival of the off spring and thus genes.  It is particularly strong in primates that form groups of both sexes.  Tribe needs bonding between members to protect territory from intrusion and violence due to population pressures from neighboring clans.  For at least the last 4 million years our ancestors lived in bands, and judging from the chimps even longer.  The territorial, violent struggle has been observed in the chimpanzees.

[iii] I am given to stories, “counted among the fortunate”.   One of the truly great stories is about Croesus and Solon.  Croesus was the fabulous wealth and fortunate king of Lydia in central Turkey had Solon in his travels visited him.  Solon was the wise leader of Athens who was made dictator for 10 years so as to set things right.  None of his changes could be undone without his approval, so he left Athens.  At the court Croesus showed him how favorable the gods had been to him, hubris, and asked Solon if he could be counted among the truly fortunate.  (Hubris entails impending misfortune, at the hands of the gods and fates).  Solon replied; No one could be counted truly among the truly fortunate unless they were dead.  The subsequent events preserved by Herodotus confirm this reply.  For the next 200 pages develop the story of Croesus, his defeat in war, and enslavement in Persia.  Miletians had set a high standard, and Herodotus learnt well—his father Hecateaus was an historian from Mellitus.  The Greeks not only gave the world philosophy (which included science) they also gave us literature—their poetry, plays, theater, fiction, and history have not been significantly improved upon, and it all started in Miletus on the cost of Turkey 2 centuries before the Golden Age of Pericles.  The Greek world through it Roman conquerors who preserved in Latin and developed further the Greek teachings and arts, that formed the foundation of our modern world.  A rebirth occurred out of the religious Dark Ages though a rediscover of those Latin works (Latin was then the second language of the educated) during the Renaissance.  This created a need for a translation of others Greek and Latin works which survived only in the Muslin world.  The Renaissance was built upon the classical world, and the modern university system with its science was built upon the Renaissance.     

[iv] The Greek had the term “Philo” mean love applied as a prefix, thus “Philosophy” is “the love of wisdom”.  In their language they had terms for many types of love. 

Enter supporting content here