Stoic News

By Dave Kelly

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

A Conversation with Tony Long

Let's talk about using Epictetus as a guide to a happy life. What is happiness for him?

"He has the notion of happiness not as one's momentary, elated mood, but the kind of happiness we would talk about in saying of somebody: "He had a happy life," or "She lived well." Epictetus believes that happiness, really feeling good about yourself, simply cannot be grounded in a life that does not have real moral worth. He's talking not only about mental health but about moral health--or about both: mental-moral health.

"This, he believes, is the central ingredient in your flourishing, in your happiness. The idea of being happy by having mental-moral health means that you are not going to be pulled one way by, say, self-interest, and another by "duty." Because, if you properly understand your self-interest, you will see that it is not inconsistent with the ethically appropriate thing to do, but quite the opposite. They actually coincide.

"Now, if you think that putting down your brother or cheating your neighbor is in your self-interest, there's an end to morality. But if self-interest actually involves behaving decently to your brother and not cheating your neighbor, then self-interest and morality are preserved. You don't give up self-interest; the self-interest itself absorbs the moral.

"This may seem counter-intuitive at first. But that is his way of trying to get us to see that the mental-moral health he's recommending we strive for is a really wonderful, beautiful thing. If we could only grasp this, we would see that it's actually profitable to us; it's not just a case of doing our duty for duty's sake, but a way of actually making us flourish as human beings."


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