The Art of Laying Bricks

“A concept is a brick. It can be used to build a courthouse of reason. Or it can be thrown through the window.”

– Gilles Deleuze, A Thousand Plateaus

Deleuze was a French philosopher whose work came to influence literary theory and postmodernism.

A Thousand Plateaus was co-authored with psychoanalyst Félix Guattari.

There are two points to be extrapolated out of the given quote.

The first point is that we have a choice with what to do with a concept: utilize it in building an argument or simply discard it.

The second point touches on the question of style. In choosing to build with a brick or “throw through the window,” our handling of a concept either lends it effectiveness or makes it merely destructive.

Integrity and Knowledge

“Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.”

– Samuel Johnson

Dr. Johnson (1709-1784) was an English poet, playwright, essayist, moralist, literary critic and biographer.

He was a devout Anglican and a member of the Tories, who were later succeeded by the Conservative Party.

In many ways integrity is another form of honesty, or adherence to moral values.

Knowledge is essential to acting with integrity because taking action is a sign that we believe in what we are doing and action materializes integrity.

Without knowledge we can believe and act foolishly; staying current is important to being honest with ourselves and others.

In the second half of the quote there is a political reference to absolute rule: a lack of honesty in our dealings while holding on to what we know awakens a sense of dictatorship.

Integrity and knowledge thereby come together to manifest truth about the individual and his/her choices in what to believe.

What We All Thirst For

“All men by nature desire knowledge.”

– Aristotle, On Man and The Universe

This ancient Greek philosopher was a student of Plato’s and lived between 384 and 322 BC.

Plato and Aristotle are considered to be the founders of Western philosophy, which refers to a system of thought.

If we break the word philosophy down to its origins “phil-” means “loving” and “-osophy” refers to science in the broad sense, as in a system of thought.

Aristotle influenced not only philosophy but also science as well as Christian and Islamic thought for centuries to come.

What would you like to know more about? Make time for inquiry, like the original “lovers of knowledge.”

Lost in Communication

“Words do not express thoughts very well; everything immediately becomes a little different, a little distorted, a little foolish. And yet it also pleases me and seems right that what is of value and wisdom of one man seems nonsense to another.”

– Gautama Buddha

More often referred to as Siddartha Gautama, the Buddha makes a startling linguistic observation: there is no way to express how we feel in the silence of the self.

Once again we return to the nagging nature of language. For if the library is infinite, as Jorge Luis Borges pointed out in “La biblioteca de Babel,” then language is infinite too.

Scientifically speaking, language takes on permutations and combinations ad infinitum in large part due to its evolutionary nature.

No wonder we struggle to express our innermost thoughts and make them relevant.

Beyond Basic Needs Into Happiness

A professor of mine once pointed out that people who are concerned with basic needs don’t have the time to concern themselves with metaphysical questions such as happiness.

Sadly this is true.

Fortunately there are a lot of humanitarians working with at risk populations to ensure that everyone has time to invest in what makes them happy.

Humanitarians and humanists argue that happiness is not a luxury item, even in our fast-paced global economy.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Since both of this week’s quotes focused on attaining happiness, I decided to reach for my copy of Gretchen Rubin’s famous self-help book, The Happiness Project Or Why I Spent A Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun. It was #1 on the New York Times Bestsellers List. It all began when a lightening bolt hit her one day as she suddenly realized that “the days are long but the years are short.”

What I truly love about Rubin’s book is that her research was done philosophically and scientifically; therefore it is free of psychological jargon, unlike most self-help books. (Another example of a psychology free self-help book is the theologically inspired The Wisdom to Know the Difference: When to Make A Change and When to Let Go by Eileen Flanagan. I am planning on rereading both books as summer draws to a close.)

Two large underlying factors in daily happiness turns out to be attitude and organization. Rubin is focus is on revealing “The Happiness Project Manifesto” in a series of “Splendid Truths” in order to ultimately prepare the reader to undertake their own happiness project. Rubin’s happiness project lasted for one year but we are able to create a customized one using the guide she presents at the end of the book.

At the base of Rubin’s research is how small changes in daily life promote a sense of calm and well-being. In the first chapter she writes, “An important aspect of happiness is managing your moods, and studies show that one of the best ways to lift your mood is to engineer an easy success, such as tackling a long-delayed chore.” Rubin’s focus remains on mental energy throughout the book. She explores the added value of novelty and money as tools.

Good luck with your happiness project and don’t forget to check out Gretchen Rubin’s subsequent books!

Responsibility for Ourselves

“There is no value in life except what you choose to place upon it and no happiness in any place except what you bring to it yourself.”

– Henry David Thoreau

Interestingly, Thoreau is utilizing Nietzsche’s theory of nihilism to illustrate that what we get out of life and our very happiness depend on ourselves. This strikes me as interesting because nihilism is what Nietzsche was warning against. The word has a very negative connotation but Thoreau has taken its precept and used it as a foundation for something positive: the call for responsibility of oneself.

Wherein lies happiness?

“Happiness does not lie in happiness, but in the achievement of it.”

– Feodor Dostoevsky

In this quote the famous 19th century Russian writer Dostoevsky claims that happiness is not an entity in and of itself. In identifying happiness as a product of achievement, Dostoevsky is identifying it as something to be earned. This attitude was shared by many of his fellow existentialists. For them, happiness came to be seen as a result of work put toward the completion of a goal. In other words, it is only in crossing the finish line successfully that we have cause for celebration. Existentialists such as Dostoevsky would not have simply celebrated effort, as we often do today. There is something to be said for finding happiness in both success and effort and the postmodern world has taken to setting up “minigoals” while considering the entire journey and not just the destination. Our current attitude toward happiness has come to be influenced by Eastern philosophy and psychology.

While the existentialist attitude toward happiness doesn’t match the current one, the impact of 19th century writers such as Feodor Dostoevsky can’t be ignored.  Like many of his contemporaries, Dostoevsky wrote in different genres and he came to be known as novelist, short story writer, essayist, journalist and philosopher. My two favorite works of his are Crime and Punishment and The Idiot. His corpus belongs to the literary movement of Realism and he wrote endlessly about the human condition.

Danger Defined by One of the Greats

“The greatest danger most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”

– Michelangelo

Michelangelo was one of the great Renaissance men.

He lived in an amazing and exciting time in history and was what we now call a “jack of all trades.”

In the above quote he is pointing the danger of not challenging ourselves. Michelangelo was successful in his highly varied endeavors because he aimed high.