Thursday, July 9, 2020


The stoics, the academic sceptics and the epicureans all to various degrees basically agreed—or at least largely lived as if they agreed—that happiness was ataraxia, imperturbable calm and tranquility. This is a useful and important corrective to our busy work and busy “leisure”. But at the sme time, it’s really a quite empty and negative picture of life’s fulfillment. It’s more like a picture of how to get done with life without too much misery.

Perhaps they had a part of the truth: perhaps what is truly worth having is imperturbably, calmly and tranquilly doing certain things, such as enjoying the companionship of those we love—God above all. But the ataraxia is just a mode of the worthwhile activity rather than the center of it.

Furthermore, perhaps these ancients were extensionally right: for perhaps the only way to have ataraxia is by being with God, since our hearts are restless apart from him. In that case, ataraxia isn’t happiness, or worth pursuing for its own sake, but is a sign of happiness.


Atno said...

Or perhaps ataraxia is the best that one can hope for for *this* life? Kinda dovetails with Buddhism's negative pursuit - that of avoiding suffering becoming impervious, impassible, in a way.

Perhaps joy in this life is way too fleeting to be a realistic goal. We tend to feel joy only for some moments before returning to another state. Perhaps the idea is that this-wordly joy is too impermanent and fleeting to be a realistic goal for people. Joy, laughter, pleasure, love, all strike us as being better than ataraxia - but they all (at best) tend to come in bursts and then fade away. Ataraxia, by contrast, seems like a viable candidate for a good perpetual state - just calm and tranquility.

Of course, in heaven we may be able to get joy and love in a continuous way. But the ancients were not thinking of heaven, but of what one could hope for in this life.

Alexander R Pruss said...

It still seems a somewhat pessimistic picture of life. For even in this life most people can be with someone they love (indeed, all people can, if God exists).