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Bang on. Loved this.

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Thank you!

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May 13, 2023Liked by Massimo Pigliucci

I find pleasure and a kind of joy, happiness in the practice of giving away things, refraining from buying new ones (I gave up any kind of impulse buying - YAY) and Döstädning (Swedish word for the gentle art of death cleaning). I'm 47y.o, but the idea of ​​regularly cleaning the things I've accumulated in my life really appeals to me. It's also a good opportunity to practice memento mori :)

Last week I read in the Atlantic in one of the articles by Arthur C. Brooks that the very important elements of happiness are enthusiasm and being kind.

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Different things work for different people! I'd never heard of the word Döstädning. Interesting!

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May 13, 2023Liked by Massimo Pigliucci

Yes, so I remember that I'm not immortal...and no one will have to clean up after I die

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Very thoughtful!

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It seems to me that the meaning of "hedonic" and "eudaimonic" used in the psychology article does not match how those words are used with respect to ancient Greek philosophy, and that the criteria here used for "eudaimonic" is unclear. It seems to have more to do with how virtue is conceived of than it has to do with eudaimonia.

As for Pyrrhonism being the "odd one out", that seems strange. Pyrrho explicitly said his philosophy was a path to eudaimonia. Ataraxia is not some alternative to eudaimonia. In Pyrrhonism it is necessary for eudaimonia.

The treatment of Epicureanism also seems to suffer from this definition problem. It seems to me that both ancient and modern Epicureans would say that Epicureanism is eudaimonic. One cannot have eudaimonia without a proper understanding of how pleasure works, and that entails addressing the problems of the hedonic treadmill - an issue of considerable importance in Epicureanism.

On what basis Academic Skepticism somehow gets put in with the eudaimonic schools while Epicureanism and Pyrrhonism are excluded seems mysterious.

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Doug, good critical questions, as usual. Let me try to address them:

Modern psychologists seem to pay close attention to philosophy. Yes, the way they are using hedonic and especially eudaimonic doesn't match perfectly with those of the Greco-Romans, but I think they are close and, more importantly, an improvement over the ancient version.

I think that the modern hedonia corresponds pretty well with ancient hedonism. It is about pleasure and/or lack of pain. Eudaimonia in the modern sense refers to having a meaningful life. That is broader than the ancient meaning, but it encompasses it. The Greco-Romans, with some exceptions, saw virtue -- understood as the prosocial use of reason -- as the only source of what we'd today call meaning. But I don't see the harm in expanding that view, in which case the Socratic schools are still eudaimonic, even in the enlarged sense of the term. But so are, for instance, the major eastern philosophies, even though their emphasis was not on virtue as understood by the Greco-Romans (with the partial exception of Confucianism).

Pyrrhonism is "the odd one out" not because it doesn't have the goal of eudaimonia, but because it claims to arrive there neither by way of pleasure nor by way of virtue, but epistemologically, by suspension of judgment. (An empirically dubious claim, if you ask me, but that's a different discussion.)

Whether Epicureanism was eudaimonic or not is actually a matter for debate. Of course if we simply translate eudaimonia as happiness then all schools are eudaimonic. But that's not very useful. Even some modern scholars do not go that far, classing Epicureanism among the hedonic, not eudaimonic schools. Again, we can argue whether that exactly matches the ancient uses of those terms, but ultimately I'm interested in how to advance practical philosophy, not in staying faithful to the ancient ways.

Finally, Academic Skepticism: it's eudaimonic because it is a sub-form of Platonism, where virtue is the chief or only good, as explicitly stated by Cicero multiple times.

I hope this helps!

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I don't see a reason to conclude that recognizing all of the schools as eudaimonic as not very useful. It's just a recognition that the terms used by modern psychology don't match well with the same words when applied to ancient Greek philosophy. This is hardly surprising given what "stoic," "cynic," and "epicurean" have come to mean. By the modern psychological usage it seems to me that all of the ancient Greek philosophies of life were all eudaimonic. 

As a generalization, all of the schools tend to say, aim for X and get Y and Z as secondary benefits, where X, Y, and Z get rotated. For example, aim for pleasure and get ataraxia and virtue too. Aim for virtue and get ataraxia and rid of delusion, too. etc. Some revivalists even change the original thinking. William Irvine seems to present Stoicism as focused on ataraxia, for example.

By the modern psychological usage of hedonia it would seem that the Epicureans were not hedonists. Instead, Epicureanism is a method for managing hedonistic impulses, particularly ones the Epicureans identified as unnecessary and unnatural, but also the necessary and natural ones. Epicurus said living virtuously was necessary for living pleasantly. The Epicureans were therefore concerned, just like the other schools, with giving life meaning. 

The Pyrrhonists are also a virtue-oriented school. Sextus explicitly says that following the Pyrrhonist way will help one live correctly with respect to virtue. 

As for the Academic Skeptics being a virtue-oriented school, I wonder whether Carnedes would have assented that virtue is the chief or only good and whether that assent was that part of his famous lost speech in which he denounced justice? 

Perhaps a more useful distinction is whether the school is absolutist or relativist. The Socratic schools seem to be absolutists, with the exception of the Cyrenaics, and the Democritean schools are relativists. This distinction even sort of works to separate the two skeptical schools. The Pyrrhonists are explicitly relativists (clear) whereas the Academics hold to an absolute that knowledge is not attainable (a bit forced).

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Doug, as I have said, it is controversial among modern scholars whether all the Greco-Roman schools were eudaimonic. For instance, from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (peer reviewed) entry on the Cyrenaics:

"One of the most striking features of Cyrenaic ethics is their assertion that it is pleasure, and not happiness, which is the highest good." (https://iep.utm.edu/cyrenaics/)

That would clearly make them hedonists, not eudaimonists.

We have agreed that modern usages of the terms hedonic and eudaimonic differ *somewhat* from the ancient ones. But this article from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (also peer reviewed) argues that there is a very clear family resemblance and continuity:

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/happiness/

The differences are of a very distinct type from the ancient vs modern meanings of the names of the various schools (Stoic/stoic, Epicurean/epicurean, and so forth), since in the latter case those are all obvious misunderstandings of the original.

I don't put much stock in Irvine's revivalism of Stoicism. And I still blame him for confusing the hell out of people regarding Epictetus's "dichotomy of control."

Whether Epicureanism was a hedonistic school or not is, again, controversial, though nothing in my essay really hinges on it. Yes, the Epicureans very clearly said that virtue is necessary for a good life, but just as clearly for them virtue was instrumental, which puts them in a very different category from the Socratic schools, where virtue is good in itself.

Sextus says what he says, but it's hard to see what virtue had to do with Pyrrhonism. Surely whether virtue is or is not the chief good is a "non-evident" matter. Regarding ethics just as surely the Pyrrhonists followed local customs, which typically have little to do with virtue as understood by all the other schools.

It's hard to know what Carneades meant since he didn't write anything down. But you probably do know that the famous / infamous speech on justice is often interpreted as an exercise in skeptic epistemology, not as suggesting that Carneades did not believe in justice. At any rate, that's why I mentioned Cicero on the Academics and virtue: what he says about it is clear and uncontroversial.

Oh, and the Cyrenaics were definitely *not* a Socratic school.

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Massimo, perhaps you don't want to give away any spoilers, but would the third conception of happiness you mentioned be that of the 'psychologically rich' or interesting life? I've been reading about this and am intrigued by the idea that certain types of experiences (which prioritize novelty, variety, emotional intensity and growth) might not be pleasurable or meaningful in the usual sense but can still contribute to a good life.

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Seth, pretty close! The third component, as we'll see more in detail in a future essay, is the famous concept of flow as articulated by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in 1970. I'm sure you know the thing.

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May 13, 2023Liked by Massimo Pigliucci

Yes, I’ve read one of his books and even experienced flow now and then, though not always for the right reasons! I look forward to your discussion....

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Flow is something that, I think, I experience often. Usually while writing, sometimes while reading. Rarely on other occasions.

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My current thinking on flow is that it's definitely a good idea to engage in the sorts of activities where flow is possible. By all means we should find challenges to match our skills and pursue them in a way so that the goals are clear, feedback is immediate, etc. But whether we actually become so engrossed in those activities that we lose track of time seems less important. If our life projects are productive and worthwhile (especially to others) we've chosen well, and flow may be a 'marker' of that but isn't essential.

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I agree. I think the important thing is to find worthwhile and challenging activities and engage in them. Whether one technically achieves flow or not is far less important.

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May 12, 2023Liked by Massimo Pigliucci

Either/or has never seemed a good life perspective to me. The Delphic maxim of "Nothing too much" rings true. Thanks for a well thought-out and helpful essay, Masimo!

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Can we have to much excellence though?

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I don't see how. Excellence, in the sense of arete, just means that something or someone is performing its / their function in the best way possible. Why would one want to underperform?

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Oh I agree! I was just being a little cheeky with the maxim even though I agree with it generally and Michael's comment.

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Up, up, and away beats going nowhere. And reading the writing Massimo Pigliucci engages in just to satisfy himself enlightens and satisfies me, and i'm grateful. Thanks, friend.

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Glad as usual!

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May 12, 2023Liked by Massimo Pigliucci

What came to my mind is love. Many people have a hedonic notion of love, as a euphoric feeling that fades over time. Thus they fall into and out of love. But there is a eudemonic love, one based on finding meaning and purpose in a relationship. Ideally a relationship has both. But the eudemonic love can better carry the relationship through anhedonic times, than vice versa. In sickness and in health.

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Very nice point!

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