On Living Life Philosophically: Getting All Eudaimonic with Paris Hilton

I wouldn’t normally confess to being a celebrity watcher. I think mostly because I have a philosophy degree and philosophers are supposed to be above That. I wouldn’t admit that I do more than glance over the pages of People, Star, or US Weekly. I have to admit, I do. I am one of the millions of willing/unwilling consumers of American popular culture. And yes, I probably know more about the stars han I know about people that I’ve known my entire life. It seems that no matter how hard I try, the lives of the very rich, fabulously famous, beautiful ones are unavoidable. But, instead of wasting valuable mental energy lamenting the fact that I am a devotee of the bling-bling world of celebrityness, I have decided that I would use the rich and famous as a source of life lessons and philosophic enlightenment. what have I learned from watching celebrities? My answer: how to achieve eudaimonia. My teacher: Paris Hilton. Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics addresses the type of character that is most conductive to living The Good Life. A virtuous character is necessary if an individual wants to conduct his life in a manner that is sucessful and satisfying. Virues such as self-control and temperance must be cultivated in individuals and in our social institutions. We must be steered onto the right path if we are to develop a virtuous character and achieve the life of philosophic fufillment or happiness. In short, we can only achieve happiness when we are virtuous. Now, one might say, “I am happy, but I am nowhere virtuous”, in which case, I’d probably agree with you. However, Aristotle does not define “happiness” in the same sense that we or the average celebrity ( is there really such a thing as an “average” celebrity?) means when we say that we are happy. Happiness, according to the popular definition, is often and almost exclusively applied in the material sense. We often say that we are happy if we possess material wealth, expensive car, a big, expensive boob job, or a big, expensive reality TV show. But, according to Aristotle, despite what we may believe ( or what we see on TV) these are not the things that make us Happy . It takes no strain of the eyes to see that, the Happy Life as seen on TV is not only devoid of virtuous people but missing real Happiness as well. So, what has this to do with Paris Hilton? The answer is this: Paris Hilton, despite what the average philosopher may believe ( and there is such a thing as an average philosopher), serves a purpose. If we can learn anything from Ms. Hilton, it is this: a big, expensive life is exactly what the eudaimonic life is not. I was enlightened to this fact while watching Entertainment Tonight. This is how: If you asked me what makes Paris Hilton famous, I would say that Paris Hilton is famous because she is famous. My fellow philosophers may scoff at this point, but fame, according to society’s happiness meter, is the first step on the path to eternal HAPPINESS. Popular belief holds that public adoration not only produces Happiness, but is HAPPINESS. Paris HIlton is not only famous, she’s rich, good-looking, and has a talent that extends to amateur filmmaking and a recording career. Paris Hilton’s life is filled with pleasure, and according to the average Joe (well, me anyway), the pleasured life is what makes us HAPPY. Aristotle writes that most people lead lives the equate happiness with pleasure. Unfortunately, Aristotle says that this kind of life is one of “the most vulgar type”. We might all agree that a person who spends their time pursuing pleasure– excessive drinking, all-night partying, or making DIY porn — is about the most vulgar life as one can live. Aristotle asserts that people who live their lives devoted to pleasure are “slaves to their tastes”, and live the lives of beasts. Now, how many of us has proclaimed that our dog has morse sense than the average famous person? How many of us notice that celebrities seem to follow every silly trend or crackpot religion, newest rehab fad, or get busted for DUI for the fifth time? How many of us have concluded that the life that is supposed to bring the greatest Happiness doesn’t seem to be happy at all? That is exactly my point. Although it may be tremendous fun, a life devoted to mere pleasure cannot steer us onto the right path. And, if Aristotle is correct, if we are not on the right path we cannot achieve a life of philosophic fufillment. Ultimately, we must conclude that despite all appearances, celebrities including Paris Hilton lead unHappy, un-eudaimonic lives. I arrived at that conclusion around the time the Paris experienced her own moment of (sort-of) philosophic enlightenment. I call this type “spending a little time behind bars”. Remember when Paris was released from a 23-day stint in a Los Angeles jail for violating the terms of her probation? I watched the TV coverage of Paris weeping in the back of a police cruiser on her way to the pen. It was obvious that she wasn’t happy — in any sense of the word. I wondered how someone who has everything that should make a person happy (and HAPPY) end up in such a miserable situation? Aristotle’s answer came to me loud and clear: Paris Hilton was not a virtuous person. Despite the fact that she’s happy by popular standards, Paris lacked the proper character that would have kept her from breaking the law. Paris Hilton’s lack of Aristotelian virtuous moral character not only led her to sully her reputation, but also lead to her legal troubles as well. Aristotle might have said that, if Paris had spent more time developing the right moral character, she might have been living the eudaimonic — if not jail free life. Instead of being seen as a empty-headed “celebutante”, her name might have been uttered with the same reverence when we say the names Plato, Kant, and Spinoza. What we learn from Paris is that the material things that we think will make us happy — fame, wealth, adoration — do not, and more importantly, cannot make us happy. But, Paris may have found enlightment after all. Following her release from the bighouse, Paris appeared on the Larry King Show, where she announced that she was giving up her life of partying, and devoting her life to philanthropy. She said that she had read the BIble during her time in the poke, and that she had learned (i.e. gained wisdom) from her time up the river. I don’t think that I’ve seen Paris feeding the poor or building schools in Africa lately, but she’s announced her intention to change, and I know that change takes time (none of us got our philosophy degrees overnight, did we?). I know that recently she sought out a new BFF, and I know that finding new friends is often a sign of change. I’m sure the one she will find will undoubtedly be philosophically inclined. I know that once a person has experienced philosophic enlightment, that it is nearly impossible to turn away from it. One knows that devoting one’s life to philanthropic causes is something that virtuous people do. So I say that Paris is on the right path to The Good Life. So get ready my friends, Paris Hilton may indeed become one of us — a philosopher! All I can say is kudos!

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