Getting on

Being useful doesn’t come easy for philosophers. Some reasons for this are perennial – the chief one being that the philosopher is liable to question the value and meaning of utility. Perhaps a little perversely, she might even argue that such questioning can, in fact, be rather useful. After all, we want things to be useful for something; ultimately, that usefulness should contribute to a good life. We don’t want the wrong things to be useful or to grease the wheels as we skid in the wrong direction.

There is a standard reaction to such talk. Things are “useful” if they bring me pleasure; and I am the first and final arbiter of what counts as pleasure. End of Story. But this is wrong, of course. We can be mistaken about what brings us pleasure; and we have to learn how to appreciate the best pleasures, which rarely come easy. Cultivating the high art of pleasure (eudaimonia) takes discipline, and usually brings us into relations with others. Which takes us back to philosophy.

Ah, but now we have fallen into talking about the good life rather than getting on with our project…

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