THE ONE WHERE I WRITE ABOUT DEATH

I DON’T THINK I’m that old. I mean, I know I’m not young, but I’m not old either.

I’m young enough to know who BTS is, but old enough to write a blog post about Paul McCartney.

I did, by the way. Write a blog post. About Paul McCartney. Check it out.

I think it’s pretty good.

Anyway…

I’ve got enough years on me that I’ve lived through the deaths of a few of my idols. I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard Kurt Cobain died.

Ok. Wow. That dates me.

I heard the news while listening to the Rush Limbaugh Show. Yeah, I know. I was young. I did a lot of dumb shit when I was a kid.

Anyway…

Although I’ve lived through the deaths of some favorite celebrities and a few people I actually know, I’ve been kinda Stoic on the subject of death: I know it happens. I know it’s eventually going to happen to me. And I know there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it.

So why get upset about it, right?

I’ve been mostly chill about our collective shrugging off of this mortal coil and joining thd choir invisible, but every once in awhile one just kinda gets to me.

Ok, at this point, I’m gonna need to do a bit of exposition. And please excuse any inappropriate levity. Making light of serious stuff is a coping mechanism.

Ok…

So, politically speaking, I tend to lean to the Left (I do philosophy and I’m a Leftie — BIG SHOCK). As a Left-leaning, philosophically-inclined person, I’m (somewhat unsurprizingly) a fan of Majority Report. And, like many fans of the show, I was listening to Sam Seder and company during that show —

You know, I usually can wave off death with a shrug, but Michael Brooks’ death got to me. It’s been almost a year since and it’s still kinda weird watching the show and reminding myself that the reason why there’s no Right-wing Mandela or Nation of Islam Obama is because Michael is… dead.

As a philosopher, I’m bothered that it still bothers me.

Socrates said (in Phaedo) that philosophy is a “training for death”. You see, according to Socrates, the soul is immortal. We must train ourselves to separate the immortal soul from the corporeal body.

Wait. Corporeal body may be redundant. Sorry.

See, our bodies, according to Socrates, are driven by carnal (i.e. lower)desires. The soul’s purpose, on the other hand, is higher. That is, our souls’ purpose is to release the corrupted physical body and join the realm of Truth (Forms and all that jazz). Philosophy, Socrates says, trains us how to free our soul from our bodies. Socrates says:

Ordinary people seem not to realize that those who really apply themselves in the right way to philosophy are directly and of their own accord preparing themselves for dying and death. If this is true, and they have actually been looking forward to death all their lives, it would of course be absurd to be troubled when the thing comes for which they have so long been preparing and looking forward. (Phaedo, 63e)

So… if we’re living our lives Socratically, we should not fear or be bothered by the inevitability of our own demise. The philosophically-oriented should want to get rid of our imperfect material meat suits.

Hey, not endorsing suicide here. Just paraphrasing Socrates… who committed suicide.

Although Socrates is the father of Western Philosophy, he’s not the only (or even definitive) philosophical opinion on death.

LISTEN: Not every philosopher thinks death is a good thing.

Thomas Nagel (b. 1937) states that death, no matter the circumstances, is always an evil. Death, according to Nagel, is an evil because dying permanently deprives us of our ability to participate in activities of life.

You can’t enjoy a yummy plate of nachos supreme if you’re dead.

IF THERE’S A HEAVEN, THERE BETTER BE NACHOS

And that’s a bad thing.

Even if your life sucks, Nagel argues, it’s better to live than to die.

Ok. Nagel goes much deeper into asking what harm is death in his book Mortal Questions. You can read the section “Death” here: http://dbanach.com/death.htm

Death is bad because death is deprivation.

As Socratically as I’ve attempted to live my life, I hate the fact that my cat is going to die. I dread the inevitable deprivation of her companionship.

Epicurus believed that death doesn’t harm the person who dies because death is merely a return to a state on non-existence. You can’t experience anything, harmful or good, if you’d don’t exist.

Just throwing that out there…

Now, as a lover of wisdom, I had accepted the inevitability of death. I’m not gonna say I’m eager to be rid of my flesh prison, but I’m not not comfortable with death — both mine and the people I know. However, I’m still bothered that certain people have died (and will die).

It’s still weird listening to Majority Report. Something is missing. Something I know will never come back.

I realize my thoughts on death may be more Nagelian than Socratic.

I don’t know what I’m going to do about that.

On the Intentional Ending of Life

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “The thought of suicide is a great consolation: by means of it one gets through many a dark night”.
I wouldn’t call the thought a consolation, but I think it’s safe to assume that I’m not the only person out there who has thought about suicide once…

Or twice.

Suicide is defined as the intentional (but sometimes accidental) ending of one’s own life.

Of course, that would exclude self-sacrifice or giving up one’s life to save others.

Those acts are considered heroic.

 

Sometimes encouraged.

 

 INTENTIONALLY TAKING ONE’S OWN LIFE IS ENCOURAGED HERE

INTENTIONALLY TAKING ONE’S OWN LIFE IS ENCOURAGED HERE

 

 

BUT NOT HERE

BUT NOT HERE

 

The reasons people commit suicide (acts of heroism excluded) are as varied as the individuals who (decide to) end their lives. The reasons vary from accidents to the want to end suffering or to depression.

This list of notable people who have committed suicide is long: Ernest Hemmingway, Meriwether Lewis*, Aaron Swartz, Hunter S. Thompson, Marilyn Monroe*, Sylvia Plath, Diane Arbus, Cato the Younger, Kurt Cobain, George Eastman, Peg Entwistle, Sam Gillespie, Abbie Hoffman, William Inge, Vincent van Gogh, David Foster Wallace, Richard Jeni, Elliot Smith, Ian Curtis, Virginia Woolf….

Socrates took his own life.

 

Of course his suicide wasn’t completely voluntary.

 

THE SUICIDE OF THE ANCIENT GREEK PHILOSOPHER WAS IMMORTALIZED IN THIS PAINTING BY JACQUES-LOUIS DAVID

THE SUICIDE OF THE ANCIENT GREEK PHILOSOPHER WAS IMMORTALIZED IN THIS PAINTING BY JACQUES-LOUIS DAVID

Many of my fellow Gen-Xers still vividly remember the news of the suicide of Nirvana front man, Kurt Cobain.

 

 

 

Many people were shocked by the suicide of actor and comedian Robin Williams in August, 2014. The news media was quick to report on Williams’ struggle with substance abuse and depression. In the days that followed Williams’ suicide, cable news and the internet featured stories on suicide prevention and suicide prevention hotline numbers.

 

williams

 

There were a few who openly claimed that Robin Williams was selfish in his actions. Fox News anchor Shepard Smith called Williams a “coward” (Smith later retracted his statements) and actor Todd Bridges got himself into hot water for saying that Williams’ act was “selfish”.

 

Gene Simmons of the rock band KISS said of those who commit suicide:

Drug addicts and alcoholics are always, ‘The world is a harsh place’. My mother was in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. I don’t want to hear fuck about “the world is a harsh place.” She gets up every day, smells the roses and loves life…. And for a putz, 20 year-old kid to say, ‘I’m depressed, I live in Seattle.’ Fuck you, then kill yourself.

 

Simmons continued:

I never understood, because I always call them on their bluff. I’m the guy who says “Jump!” when there’s a guy on top of a building who says, “That’s it, I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to jump”… Are you kidding? Why are you announcing it? Shut the fuck up, have some dignity and jump! You’ve got the crowd.

 

 

GENE SIMMONS: A LEGENDARY ROCK MUSICIAN WITH THE WISDOM OF JIGSAW

GENE SIMMONS: A LEGENDARY ROCK MUSICIAN WITH THE WISDOM OF JIGSAW

 

 

jigsaw

 

 

In the days and weeks that followed Williams’ suicide there was no shortage of professional and non-professional opinions on the issue.

 

Robin Williams’ death reignited the public debate over the ethics of suicide.
Those of us who are old enough to remember the days of the late Jack Kevorkian and his assisted suicide machine know that suicide is one of those issues that is approached with caution, at best.

 

 

JACK KEVORKIAN (1928-2011), EUTHANASIA ACTIVIST, CLAIMED TO HAVE ASSISTED IN THE SUICIDES OF AT LEAST 130 CHRONICALLY AND TERMINALLY ILL PATIENTS

JACK KEVORKIAN (1928-2011), EUTHANASIA ACTIVIST, CLAIMED TO HAVE ASSISTED IN THE SUICIDES OF AT LEAST 130 CHRONICALLY AND TERMINALLY ILL PATIENTS

 

The debate over suicide is often moral.

 

Ethical theories both permit and forbid the intentional taking of one’s life.

 

IF ONLY MAKING MORAL DECISIONS WERE THIS EASY

IF ONLY MAKING MORAL DECISIONS WERE THIS EASY

 

The French philosopher Albert Camus (1913-1960) wrote that suicide is the only truly serious philosophical problem.

 

Albert-Camus

 

Camus writes:

There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest – whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories – comes afterwards.

Camus uses the myth of Sisyphus to demonstrate our struggle against the urge to commit suicide.

 

… Or rather, to demonstrate the struggle against wanting to commit suicide in the face of absurdity.

 

 

IN THE ANCIENT GREEK MYTH SISYPHUS IS CONDEMNED TO ROLL A LARGE ROCK UP A HILL FOR AN ETERNITY. WHEN SISYPHUS REACHES THE TOP OF THE PEAK THE ROCK ROLLS DOWN THE HILL AND SISYPHUS MUST ROLL THE ROCK BACK UP THE HILL AGAIN

IN THE ANCIENT GREEK MYTH SISYPHUS IS CONDEMNED TO ROLL A LARGE ROCK UP A HILL FOR AN ETERNITY. WHEN SISYPHUS REACHES THE TOP OF THE PEAK THE ROCK ROLLS DOWN THE HILL AND SISYPHUS MUST ROLL THE ROCK BACK UP THE HILL AGAIN

 

 

No matter how many times he rolls the boulder up the hill he knows the rock will roll back down and he will have to roll the it back up the hill again. The act of rolling the rock seems futile. There is no point in doing it. Sisyphus is overwhelmed by the futility of his task. In the mind of Sisyphus, his life is absurd.

 

A word about the word absurd:

 

LISTEN UP, FOLKS. A PHILOSOPHER IS ABOUT TO LEARN YOU A NEW WORD

LISTEN UP, FOLKS. A PHILOSOPHER IS ABOUT TO LEARN YOU A NEW WORD

 

 

mindy kaling GIF

 

 

When we usually say something is “absurd” we mean something is silly.

 

Something like this:

 

 

 

 

 

Although that’s silly, that’s not what philosophers mean when they use the word “Absurd’.

 

On the absurd, the great philosophical index (otherwise known as Wikipedia) says this:

In philosophy, “the Absurd” refers to the conflict between (1) the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life and (2) the human inability to find any. … the Absurd arises by the contradictory nature of the two existing simultaneously. … the efforts of humanity to find inherent meaning will ultimately fail (and hence are absurd)…

Sisyphus can find no meaning in a task that he can never complete. And we, like Sisyphus, find that we are often tasked with duties and obligations in our lives that we cannot complete. Our lives often seem to lack meaning and have no purpose. And so we, like Sisyphus, are overwhelmed by the despair of the absurd. Overwhelmed by absurdity, we may conclude that the only way to escape absurdity is by ending our own lives.

 

 

WE MIGHT IMAGINE SISYPHUS PUSHING THE ROCK TO THE SIDE AND JUMPING OFF THE CLIFF

WE MIGHT IMAGINE SISYPHUS PUSHING THE ROCK TO THE SIDE AND JUMPING OFF THE CLIFF

 

However, Sartre (and existentialists in general) say that we must accept that despair and overcome it. We must build meaning into our lives in the face of meaninglessness.

Even Sisyphus, Sartre says, learns to be happy.

 

imagine sisyphus happy

 

 

We must also learn to be happy.

Sartre isn’t the only philosopher that says that suicide is not the solution for life’s problems.

 

Yep. Kant did, too.

 

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) argued that suicide wasn’t just the result of bad decision making. Killing oneself is downright wrong.

Kant declares that suicide is a violation of the Categorical Imperative.

What’s Kant’s Categorical Imperative, you say?

 

Kant’s Categorical Imperative is as follows:

First Formulation: Formulation from Universal Law
* act except in such a way that I can also will that my maxim should become a universal law

Second Formulation: Formulation for Ends In Themselves
*  man, and in general every rational being exists as an end in himself not merely as a means for arbitrary use by this or that will: he must in all his actions, whether they are directed to himself or to other rational beings, always be viewed at the same time as an end

 

 

categorical imperative arguments

 

What this all means is that when we perform any act we must ask ourselves a couple of questions:
1) would we want everyone else to do it, and
2) do we use or exploit anyone to get what we want?

 

Kant’s argument against suicide states:

A man who is reduced to despair by a series of evils feels a weariness with life but is still in possession of his reason sufficiently to ask whether it would not be contrary to his duty to himself to take his own life. Now he asks whether the maxim of his action could become a universal law of nature. His maxim, however is: For love of myself, I make it my principle to shorten my life when by a longer duration it threatens more evil than satisfaction. But it is questionable whether this principle of self-love could become a universal law of nature. One immediately sees a contradiction in a system of nature whose law would be to destroy life by the feeling whose special office is to impel the improvement of life. In this case it would not exist as nature hence that maxim cannot obtain as a law of nature, and thus it wholly contradicts the supreme principle of all duty.

 

Kant argues we can’t universalize suicide because the act of killing oneself is contradictory to our own self-love. Ok, wait a minute. What does Kant mean by “self love”?

Not that, you dirty bird.

You see, according to Kant, we all possess a sense of self-love.

I guess you can call it a sense of self-preservation.

Kant says we (should) love ourselves too much to intentionally take our own lives.

 

THE UPSHOT OF NARCISSISM IS THAT YOU PROBABLY WON’T VIOLATE THE CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE

THE UPSHOT OF NARCISSISM IS THAT YOU PROBABLY WON’T VIOLATE THE CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE

 

 

Kant also argues that it is wrong to use another as a mere means to our ends.

Ok, bear with me, here.

To use a person as a mere means to our ends is to deny a person the respect of their personhood that every human being is entitled to; to treat a person as a thing. Treating a person as a thing devalues the respect that every (rational) human being is entitled to. And so, by killing ourselves we treat ourselves as a thing, we are denying the respect that we are entitled to as rational beings. We become a mere means to an end.

 

means to an end

 

Although Kant’s philosophical mission is to get away from a religion-based ethics, we can’t help from observing that Kant’s argument parallels religious edicts in the form of divine universal law (in Kant’s case his is the inviolable universal law of nature). Like Kant’s ethics, God-based arguments against suicide are rooted in the belief that every life is sacred and that we have no (moral) authority to end any human being’s life. To do so, according to the religious view, is, in essence, playing God.

We are forbidden to usurp God’s plan for us.

We are forbidden to destroy what God has created.

In doing so we risk condemnation.
In an article that appeared on Catholic Online, Chaplain Adele M. Gill says to end one‘s life prematurely is not a courageous act. Gill says:

Because it is not. Rather it is anything but. In fact, in my mind, it is a self-destructive act of selfish cowardice to end your own life before God’s perfect timing.

 

GOD DEFINITELY IS NOT DOWN WITH FRANCINE FISHPAW’S END-OF-SUFFERING PLAN

GOD DEFINITELY IS NOT DOWN WITH FRANCINE FISHPAW’S END-OF-SUFFERING PLAN

 

Although religious-based arguments are probably the most convincing anti suicide arguments (if not just for the fact that we must weigh the utility of the cessation of pain and suffering against eternal damnation), God arguments cut both ways.

 

Especially when philosophers make them.
This is probably due, in part to the fact that an estimated 62% of philosophers are atheist.

 

TYPICAL PHILOSOPHER LISTENING TO ARGUMENTS FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD

TYPICAL PHILOSOPHER LISTENING TO ARGUMENTS FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD

 

In “On Suicide” the Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) considers the existence of God. If there is a God, Hume asks, and everything happens according to his will, how can suicide go against the will of God?

Hume argues: if a person fights the urge to commit suicide he is fighting against the will of God.

 

… And defying the will of God gets you a one-way ticket to hellfire and eternal torment.

 

IT’S NOT ENTIRELY INCORRECT TO ASSUME THAT, DESPITE HIS PHILOSOPHICALLY PERSUASIVE ARGUMENTS, IT IS HIGHLY LIKELY THAT AT THIS MOMENT DAVID HUME IS ROASTING IN HELL

IT’S NOT ENTIRELY INCORRECT TO ASSUME THAT, DESPITE HIS PHILOSOPHICALLY PERSUASIVE ARGUMENTS, IT IS HIGHLY LIKELY THAT AT THIS MOMENT DAVID HUME IS ROASTING IN HELL

 

Now, some people may ask why would a philosopher find it necessary to weigh in on a subject like suicide? After all, dealing with life, death, and the hereafter is best handled by one’s personal spiritual adviser, priests, imams, and rabbis.

That might be true.

 

However, Not every suicide is the result of depression or a feeling of hopelessness.

Some people commit suicide for what they believe are completely legitimate reasons.

When we ponder the outcomes our actions have in this world and (possibly) in the next, we realize that to have an outcome we have to do something. We have to make a choice; a decision.

Decisions inevitably have ethical implications.

 

Philosophers deal in ethics.

 

I WEAR THIS SHIRT EVERYWHERE I GO. ... BECAUSE IT'S TRUE

I WEAR THIS SHIRT EVERYWHERE I GO.
… BECAUSE IT’S TRUE

 

Philosophical arguments on suicide (especially arguments in support of physician-assisted suicide) often focus on a person’s mental state (i.e. level of cognition) when we act.

Kant tells us that the use of reason separates humans from mere beasts.

 

 

kant reason

 

 

Our capacity for reason allows us to make deliberate and rational choices.

… You see, philosophers have this idea that in order to be a fully functional, autonomous human being, one must possess the capacity to make rational choices.

The recent news story of Brittany Maynard, the 29 year-old newlywed diagnosed with terminal brain cancer who opted to commit suicide rather than to go through suffering of her disease, Maynard articulated the rational argument in favor of what Dr. Jack Kevorkian called “patholysis” (literally translated, “destruction of suffering”).

 

 

brittany maynard

 

 

 

 

 

Most arguments about suicide, pro and against, tend to center on physician-assisted suicide.

Or as some supporters call it, death with dignity.

 

Although even the most ardent assisted-suicide proponent would have a difficult time defending suicide of those who are not chronically or terminally ill, there are many people who support physically healthy people who opt to commit suicide for psychological and/or philosophical reasons. Some argue that it is perfectly rational to make choose to commit suicide to prevent suffering and to have control ones life. Death, they argue, is inevitable. The terminal diagnosis has been made. The point isn’t to die, it’s to avoid unnecessary pain and suffering.

Several U.S. states and a handful of nations in Europe allow euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide. The Swiss group Dignitas (based in Zurich, Switzerland) is a notable example of an organization providing terminally ill with death with dignity services.

 

 

THIS IS THE DIGNITAS FACILITY IN ZURICH, SWITZERLAND

THIS IS THE DIGNITAS FACILITY IN ZURICH, SWITZERLAND

 

Dignitas’ assisted-suicide services has been accused of promoting “suicide tourism”.

 

 

 

 

The philosophical arguments for physician-assisted suicide are compelling. Certainly a philosopher would agree that we should respect the decisions made by someone who is mentally competent and able to make full use of their capacity to think rationally. But there’s the problem we have as philosophers – we must weigh an ethic that tells us to preserve life against an ethic that tells us to respect autonomy.

Philosophers like Immanuel Kant tell us that we have a duty to help others but we also have a duty not to interfere with the actions of morally autonomous beings.

 

autonomy
However, we can still argue that suicide, despite our moral autonomy and our justifications, can’t be a rational choice.

Namely:

  • A rational choice, by necessity, has to be made when one is fully aware and knowledgeable of what they’re doing. Since no person possesses the ability to know how their death will affect others, we can‘t reasonably argue that we can calculate (all of) the consequences of a suicide.
  • If a person commits suicide they are hurting more than themselves. A person who commits suicide deprives people not only of their presence, but also of what they could have done. Especially if we end our lives before we reach our full potential.
  • Death, no matter the circumstance, is bad. Death causes us harm. Why would someone willingly do something that is harmful?
  • Someone who is mentally depressed, mentally ill or mentally impaired (by illness or medication) can not, by definition, be entirely rational and therefore is incapable of making rational choices.
  • Young people lack the mental/psychological/philosophical maturity required to make rational choices and should be strongly discouraged from committing suicide, even if the reason for doing so seems rational.
  • Given the possibility that one would burn in hell, why would someone risk an eternal punishment, even to avoid pain or to end suffering?

 

WE WOULDN’T WANT TO DISCOVER THAT THE CONSEQUENCE OF A SEEMINGLY RATIONAL ACT IS ETERNAL

WE WOULDN’T WANT TO DISCOVER THAT THE CONSEQUENCE OF A SEEMINGLY RATIONAL ACT IS ETERNAL

 

Suicide is always a tragic event. We can be certain that there will be arguments on both sides of the issue. No matter what or justification for ending our own lives may be, there will be questions that will remain unanswered: Is it always wrong to commit suicide? Are mental or chronic or terminal physical illness enough reason to commit suicide? Should doctors assist the terminally ill to end their own lives? Should we continue to struggle to against the absurdity of life and how should we escape it?

 

 

Unfortunately, neither philosophers nor the clergy have given us answers we all can agree on.

 

 

 

 

 
* if you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (in the U.S.) 1-800-273-8255
Or go to the website: suicidepreventionlifeline.org

 

 

NOTE:
* It is still debated whether Meriwether Lewis and Marilyn Monroe actually committed suicide.
* For more reading on reasons why people commit suicide:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/happiness-in-world/201004/the-six-reasons-people-attempt-suicide
SOURCES:
Immanuel Kant. Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals. 1997 [1785]. Trans. Lewis White Beck. 2nd Edition (Revised). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc. 38-39.

Albert Camus. The Myth of Sisyphus. 1975 [1942]. Trans. Justin O’ Brien. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. 11.

Fred Feldman. Confrontations With the Reaper: A Philosophical Study of the Nature and Value of Death. 1992. NY: Oxford University Press.

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/camus/

http://philosophynow.org/issues/61/Kant_On_Suicide

http://www.etonline.com/news/149905_gene_simmons_tells_depressed_people_to_kill_themselves/index.html

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/curious/201405/why-do-people-kill-themselves-new-warning-signs

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Absurdism

http://www.salon.com/2014/10/19/brittany_maynards_brave_choice_why_religious_arguments_against_physician_assisted_suicide_fall_flat/

Living the Good Life: On the Pursuit of Happiness, Fame, Fortune, and the Philosophical Necessity of Twerking

Miley Cyrus.

There. I said it.

Nowadays, if someone even whispers the word “twerking”, she’s the first (and often only) name that comes to mind.

miley

I guess it’s up to you whether you want to tack a “fortunately” or “unfortunately” on that fact. For the record, when I think about twerking I think about this:

I’m not going to say anything about whether it is a good career move to officially shed one’s child star image by shaking one’s rear end in public places, but what I will say is that I can’t watch more than five minutes of TMZ Live without hearing the words “Miley”, and “Cyrus”, and “twerking”.

I’ve heard the word Syria on TV fewer times than I’ve heard the word “twerking” all month.

I gotta say that as much as I enjoy watching people twerk, I’m not a Miley Cyrus fan.

Luckily, for everything one can grow to dislike as much as one hates paper cuts or tequila-induced hangovers, there’s a philosophical something hidden in it somewhere.

They say that all of Miley Cyrus’ twerking antics isn’t about being inappropriate, but is about her want to reclaim the childhood that she lost while she was the star of the Disney series Hannah Montana®. It seems that Miley Cyrus has decided, now that she has the opportunity, to act the manner she wasn’t permitted to act when she was at the age when young people typically behave in a manner that we would call “acting out”.

In Miley Cyrus’ case, her “acting out” includes smoking weed and hanging out with “Molly”.

 

GOTTA THANK EBAUM'S WORLD FOR THIS.

GOTTA THANK EBAUM’S WORLD FOR THIS.

 

It seems that what’s really at the heart of Miley Cyrus’ behavior is that Miley, like so many of us, is trying to live the good life – the kind of life that makes one happy.

And when you talk about stuff like the good life and happiness, you’re talking philosophy.

Philosophers, from Socrates to Mill, have written about what kind of life constitutes the good life. Socrates wrote (actually, Plato wrote) that the good life is a life of philosophical contemplation. For Aristotle, the good life meant that one lives virtuously. John Stuart Mill says that once we’ve acquired a preference for higher pleasures (instead of lower pleasures) we are well on our way to living not only a good life, but a happy life. Mill writes that lower pleasures (e.g. sexual promiscuity, intemperance, gluttonous consumption of food and twerking) are merely physically satisfying and can’t make us happy. Indulging in mere physical pleasures, Mill writes:

“a beast’s pleasures do not satisfy a human being’s conceptions of happiness. Human beings have faculties more elevated than the animal appetites, and when once made conscious of them, do no regard anything as happiness which does not include their contemplation.”

Mill says that we should want to be a dissatisfied Socrates than a satisfied pig.
Unfortunately, though Socrates tells us that the best life is a life spent in philosophical contemplation, that’s not what society tells us is the good life. Two thousand years ago you could hire a philosopher (or a sophist, if you went that way) to teach you how to think. These days, the media not only tells us what the cultural zeitgeist is, the media tells us what to think about it.

The media tells us not only what’s important, what we should care about, but more importantly, what makes a good life. If you pay attention to the media long enough, you’ll soon be convinced that nothing matters more than being young, rich, famous, and beautiful.

And if you watch TMZ you’ll spend your day wondering what Lindsay Lohan is doing right now.

lindsay lohan tmz

What the media tells us is no matter how good we think our lives are, there are people out there (i.e. famous people) whose lives are marvelously better than ours. Not only are their lives better than ours, we should want to live the lives they lead. Their lives are the good life. After all, what could be more essential to living the good life than smoking salvia or twerking?

What can be more essential to living the good life than being famous?

So, when we watch the real-life downward-spiraling life of a Hollywood starlet or watch a fictional character whose life is nothing but a meaningless, black void, as long as they are either rich, famous, of good-looking, we can believe that their lives, despite all appearances, is good. Sure, a guy like Don Draper is a morally bankrupt, miserable, S.O.B., who lies not only to himself but to everyone else, but the fact that Don is moderately well-off and looks swell in a Brooks Brothers suit tells us that we need not worry about his philosophical well-being.

A guy like Don Draper is certain to live a good life and be happy.

I guess it has to do with pulling off a debonair look while smoking a cigarette.

don draper smoking

PRETTY SEXY, EH?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not necessarily condemning Miley Cyrus, TMZ  or any other celebrity.

Well, maybe I am condemning TMZ.

Any philosopher, well, most, will tell you that the right amount of physical pleasure is a good thing. A proper philosophical soul knows how to satisfy our higher and lower pleasures. And really, when’s the last time you heard of a philosopher drowning in his own vomit?

Our problem is that when we look at the media, they tell us that a good – THE good life is a life devoted to lower pleasures. According to our culture, the life of celebrity is the quickest way to living a lower pleasure-filled life. He might not have known it when he said it, but Andy Warhol hit the nail when he said that everybody will be famous for fifteen minutes.

As long as there’s reality television, everybody’s got a chance of getting famous on TV.

No doubt that being rich and famous is a good gig, but there are far too many examples of how fame and fortune has good reversing effect on people’s lives.

I mean, have you ever heard of the 27 club?

It’s not entirely wrong to appreciate the fact that the contemplative lifestyle requires longevity. Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Gram Parsons, and Amy Winehouse all lived the culturally-approved good life, but they all died before their 28th birthday.
Aristotle lived to be 62.
Leibniz lived to 70.
Sartre died at 76.
Ayn Rand unfortunately lived to the ripe old age of 77.
Immanuel Kant lived to 80.
Heidegger died at 87.
Bertrand Russell nearly made it to the century mark. He died at age 97.

Noam Chomsky is 85 years old and counting…

Listen: A philosopher may be a dissatisfied Socrates, but living past the age of twenty seven might give us enough time to realize that satisfied piggery isn’t the best life to lead. Having fun is alright. We have an inalienable right to be happy (The Declaration of Independence says so), but we also should want to do more than have a good time or feel that knowing intimate details about the Kimye baby is more important than knowing details about the Chelsea Manning case. We should know that twerking or even reclaiming one’s lost childhood isn’t a bad thing, so long as we realize that some of the things we believe will make us happy or make our lives “good” are merely distractions; things that keep us from pursuing the kind of life that will make us truly happy – the philosophical life.

… But then again, it’s hard to argue that partying with Molly won’t make your life good, too.

Sources:

John Stuart Mill. Utilitarianism. 2005 [1861]. NY: Barnes and Noble Books. pp. 12.