Friday, March 2, 2018

The Final Solution: Eudaemonia

In an essay entitled “Lord of Happy,” (TLS 2/9/1), David Pilling makes the following remark: “Charles Dickens’s Thomas Gradgrind was a utilitarian, ‘a man of facts and calculations. A man who proceeds upon the principle that two plus two are four, and nothing over…With a rule and a pair of scales, and the multiplication table always in his pocket, sir, ready to weigh and measure any parcel of human nature, and tell you exactly what it comes to’. This may be a caricature of Bentham’s thinking, but the notion that utility can be measured—usually in terms of price—has come to dominate modern economics.” Pilling’s point (and he cites Bhutan with its "gross national happiness" over "gross domestic product" as a countervailing example) is the utilitarian notions of “pleasure and pain” are held at the expense of the broader notion of “eudaemonia,” the Aristotelian concept “which centres on virtue, friendship and the formation of character.” Isn’t that in a nutshell what is wrong with using a business model to evaluate a government? What if the booming stock market that Americans have experienced in the first year of the Trump regime is truly indicative of a thriving economy? What if companies are coming back to the U.S. in droves as the president avers? What if deregulation and flaunting of the constitution “make America great?” Is this happiness?

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