Monday, May 16, 2016

Aristotle on Amusement, Happiness, Everyday Life

In Book X of Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle discusses happiness further.  It is here that he most clearly rejects a life of amusement and praises a life of study and contemplation.  It would seem on first sight that Aristotle would have little positive to say about the aesthetics of everyday life.  Happiness is an activity that is choiceworty, and amusement does not count in that.  Yet, amusement and entertainment make up a large part of what we consider makes life good these days.  For Aristotle, "pleasant amusements...are not chosen for other ends, since they actually cause more harm than benefit, by causing neglect of our bodies and possessions."  We often say that people who resort to amusing pastimes are happy, and Aristotle observes that they have a good reputation among tyrants, i.e. for their wit; but he also notes that "these powerful people have no taste of pure and civilized pleasure," which is why they resort to "bodily pleasures."  Decent people will consider these things base.  It is rather "the activity expressing virtue" that is most choiceworthy.   Moreover, it would be absurd if the goal of life were amusement, and our lifelong efforts and sufferings aimed at amusing ourselves."  Indeed, effort aimed at amusement "appears stupid and excessively childish."  Aristotle does seem however to allow for amusement for relaxation since "we cannot toil continuously" and it is not relaxation that is our goal.  A slave "might enjoy bodily pleasures" but such a person would not be happy.   For more on amusement, happiness and the aesthetics of everyday life see my article in Aesthetics of Everyday Life: East and West Liu Yuedi Curtis L. Carter October 2, 2014 Cambridge Scholars Publishing

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