Is a Life Without Struggle Worth Living?

Suppose that all your objects in life were realized; that all the changes in institutions and opinions which you are looking forward to, could be completely effected at this very instant: would this be a great joy and happiness to you?’ And an irrepressible self-consciousness distinctly answered, ‘No!’ At this my heart sank within me: the whole foundation on which my life was constructed fell down. All my happiness was to have been found in the continual pursuit of this end. The end had ceased to charm, and how could there ever again be any interest in the means? I seemed to have nothing left to live for.

.. There is something comical about Mill’s self-implosion; it’s as if he had spent years looking forward to a sailing trip only to suddenly realize, upon embarkation, that he hated boats.

.. It wasn’t because he thought he had the wrong goals. Mill never did abandon utilitarianism, though he later modified Bentham’s doctrine in subtle ways. Instead, Mill tells us that his crisis was born in a concern about whether happiness is really possible in the perfect world he sought to achieve — a world without struggle:

[T]he question was, whether, if the reformers of society and government could succeed in their objects, and every person in the community were free and in a state of physical comfort, the pleasures of life, being no longer kept up by struggle and privation, would cease to be pleasures.

..  possibility is that he is worried that, if we ever were to achieve an ideal social world, we would quickly take it for granted, or become “spoiled.” It’s a familiar tale: the child that always gets what he or she wants ends up forever unsatisfied and always wanting more (psychologists call this the hedonic treadmill)

.. the 19th century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once upliftingly put it, “life swings back and forth like a pendulum between pain and boredom.” When we are not consumed by the desire to achieve something (food, shelter, companionship, wealth, career, status, social reform, etc.), we are tortured by boredom.

.. “The octave consists only of five tones and two semitones,” he explains. By the laws of mathematics, there is only a finite number of possible tonal combinations. What will happen to music (and, indeed, composers) when there are no more combinations to be discovered? And what will life be like when the work of social reform is done?

.. Some part of us prefers to struggle or quest after an ideal, rather than attain it.

.. In movies and literature, for instance, our favorite protagonists tend to be flawed or troubled in some way.

.. It was only after he began reading, not philosophy, but the poetry of William Wordsworth, that he was fully convinced he had emerged.

.. Mill was searching for a reliable source of joy, one that could survive the unbearable goodness of the world he sought to achieve.

.. The answer, he discovered through reading Wordsworth, is to take refuge in a capacity to be moved by beauty — a capacity to take joy in the quiet contemplation of delicate thoughts, sights, sounds, and feelings, not just titanic struggles.


The Teacher Who Never Spoke

How my brother who could never walk or talk coached dozens of his peers into manhood.

Most famously advanced by John Stuart Mill, utilitarianism argues that an action is good only because it maximizes a given benefit. This school of thought’s most prominent champion today is the Australian philosopher Peter Singer, a professor of bioethics at Princeton University. In Singer’s version of utilitarianism – which is in many ways just an especially forthright articulation of our culture’s worldview – to act ethically means to seek to maximize the satisfaction of people’s desires. This, in Singer’s view, also means that we must seek to minimize the suffering of people unable to have or express preferences – if necessary, through terminating their lives before or after birth. People such as Duane.

.. For many in this camp, not all members of the human species are considered persons. Personhood, they argue, requires self-awareness and the ability to conceive of future goals and plans: to experience oneself as having interests.

.. In Christian terms, an action is good not only because it has beneficial consequences, but because it is good in itself. What’s more, good actions have the power to change for the better those who do them.

.. Whatever his level of intellectual development, he was someone. Someone who, even in Singer’s terms, had interests, someone who had a good purpose for which he was made.

.. As kids we prayed confidently for miraculous healing, sure that the next morning he’d run out of his room to meet us. But sooner or later, the realization caught up with each of us: D is D, and he’s here, as he is, for a reason.

.. It is not that Christianity glorifies suffering for its own sake. Even Jesus suffered on the cross “for the sake of the joy that was set before him.” It is not that Christian teaching denies that sickness should, and will, be healed. Rather, we are convinced that God is in the business of exalting the lowly, that he takes his place in the frailest of bodies, that his “power is made perfect in weakness.”

.. To crack a cold heart, to train it in love, is the most liberating service any person can do for another. These gifts do not show up on an ultrasound. They aren’t mentioned in the first diagnosis of disability.

.. Could the quest to eliminate others’ suffering be a disguised attempt to distance ourselves from pain, because we fear there is no way through it?

.. Is it possible to protect ourselves from grief? What if we end up protecting ourselves from love?

.. he was able to contribute because his community knew that he was valuable anyway, as a brother. His presence with us brought the image of God to light – within him and within those who cared for him.

In ‘Misbehaving,’ an Economics Professor Isn’t Afraid to Attack His Own

The economics profession that Mr. Thaler entered in the early 1970s was deeply invested in proving that it was more than a mere social science. But economic outcomes are the result of human decision-making. To achieve the same mathematical precision of hard sciences, economists made a radically simplifying assumption that people are “optimizers” whose behavior is as predictable as the speed of physical body falling through space.

.. Professor Thaler’s narrative ultimately demonstrates that by trying to set itself as somehow above other social sciences, the “rationalist” school of economics actually ended up contributing far less than it could have. The group’s intellectual denial led to not just sloppy social science, but sloppy philosophy.

.. When businesses use cost-benefit analysis, for instance, they are applying a moral philosophy known as utilitarianism, popularized by John Stuart Mill in the 19th century.

.. Compared against alternative moral philosophies, like those of Kant or Aristotle, Mill has relatively few contemporary adherents in professional philosophical circles. But utilitarianism does have the virtue of lending itself to mathematical calculation. By giving the contentious philosophy a benign bureaucratic name like “cost