Monday, May 20, 2013

Good Life



I introduced A C Grayling’s book, The God Argument, in two earlier posts.  This post presents the professor’s views on good life. 

Grayling posits seven characteristics of a good life. 

The first characteristic is that a good life is a meaningful one.  Meaning is “a set of values and their associated goals that give a life its shape and direction.”  Having children to look after or achieving success in one’s profession or any other very ordinary goal can make life meaningful.  But Grayling says quoting Oscar Wilde that everyone’s map of the world should have a Utopia on it.  That is, everyone should dream of a better world and strive to materialise that dream, if life is to be truly meaningful. 

Ability to form relationships with other people is the second characteristic.  Intimacy with at least one other person is an important feature of a meaningful life.  “Good relationships make better people,” says Grayling.  Broken relationships are one’s own making, though others might have contributed to the failure.

Activity is the third characteristic.  It is about doing, making or learning something.  Life would be a big bore without its inevitable demands and obligations.  Activity is about meeting those demands and obligations.  “We are animals who thrive when engaged, and suffer from idleness,” says Grayling.  The normal human occupations can take the place of activity.  But Grayling recommends another important occupation: express one’s ideas and invite others to test them and criticise them.  This is similar to what science does.  Science invites others to test and challenge its inventions and discoveries.  Our ideas mature when we do this.  We become fuller human beings in the process.

A good life is consistently marked by honesty or authenticity.  This is the fourth characteristic.  This is about a “directness, emotional honesty, a refusal to escape into pieties, nonsense or comforting illusions, but above all an ability to ‘see things steadily and see them whole’...”  We live in a world of compromises and pretences and bald untruths which enslave us.  Authenticity gives us freedom.  Autonomy is a better word.  Autonomy means “being one’s own lawmaker at the core of one’s moral being.”  It is the inner freedom one achieves in spite of the constraints imposed on one by one’s upbringing, society, and other external factors or forces. 

The last three characteristics are highly inter-related and Grayling discusses them together.  They are:
Fifth: Manifestation of one’s autonomy: This means that the individual accepts responsibility for the choices that shape the course of his/her life.  Contrast this with what the fundamentalist does.  The fundamentalist puts the blame for all evils on others and goes on to impose his narrow truths on others.  The fundamentalist is one of the least autonomous individuals.

Sixth: A felt quality of life: A person who lives a good life (in Grayling’s sense) feels the richness of his/her life.  Obviously this richness is absolutely different from the riches that most people run after.

Seventh: Integrity:  This is a feeling of inner wholeness or completeness.  The individual good consists in harmony between the different elements of the soul, said Plato.  That harmony is what is meant by integrity. 

Grayling presents this system in the beginning of the second part of his book.  The first part is a criticism of religion and theism.  The second part proposes humanism as a viable alternative to religion.  Humanism is based on the simple assertion that human beings are rational enough to understand themselves and their positions in the world and hence make responsible and meaningful choices which in turn will make life much more beautiful and meaningful than any religion or belief in god(s) can. 

When religions have done so much harm in the world, it is a good idea to think of an alternative.



The two earlier posts inspired by Grayling:

21 comments:

  1. well its human to rely upon rules , be dependent, be guided , follow as herd .. and hence religion has no alternate big enough as of now ! But sometime soon the pot of religious ill would crack breaking the concept of religion once and for all and for good, i feel.

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    1. Grayling says that one reason why religion is popular is sheer laziness of people. People are too lazy to think for themselves and accept the answers given by an authority like religion. What better authority is there than God?

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  2. The concept from where I see is quite well solved from the blogging I induglge in. The ranging from having a goal (become a writer) til opening myself up for criticism. From where I see writing is my way of living life and a blog or perhaps a novel in distant future my tool. In words of grayling if science is to religion then for me religion is to writing. And if technology is to ritual then for me that ritual is to blog, get published and also read others. :) my own creation of understanding :P

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    1. If writing is your goal, much of the problem is already solved, Richa. You are a fortunate person. And best wishes.

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  3. Interesting read Tomichan Sir!
    I feel good relationship is very important characteristic of good life. Many other things fall in place once this is proper.

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    1. In fact, Indrani, all these 7 characteristics are inter-related. Good relationships come naturally to people who possess the other characteristics.

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  4. Yes very nice read, these characteristics are very important.

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  7. The infirmities that are inherent in individuals and the very inequality that exists with them from the beginning is not laziness. I find the whole message a sort of utopian idealism, though there is a slight hope that anything can be straightened if u take U turn.But it goes against the basic premise that until you have the correct proposition you won't be arriving at the truth

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    1. Benny, it appears you took much pain to post the comment. Thanks for the perseverance. Or should I say congrats? :)

      Since you find Grayling's vision utopian idealism, let me quote the author himself: "It is said ... that all good things began as dreams or ideals."

      But I'm curious about the view you expressed on "basic premise". Are you questioning the basic premise of the professor that all human beings are rational?

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    2. I doubt even the notion that all humans are rational.Even if there is a universal rationale with the humans, its variations are so extreme that some fall far beyond the humans.

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    3. It looks like you will soon be following Descartes! :)

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  8. I feel that all the seven characteristics have a significant role to play for one to feel life and feel the completeness and richness (richness in the sense of feeling not materialistic) ! thank you Sir for briefing those points and sharing it as a post ! the points are so well described ...

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    1. Every writer tries to share in what s/he thinks is the best way. I'm intrigued by the number 7 used by many of them. Maslow, brilliant psychologist, presented 7 hierarchies of fulfilment. Deepak Chopra has written an endless number of books with that number. And here is another 7...

      Thank you for telling me that my posts mean something to you.

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  9. "express one’s ideas and invite others to test them and criticise them." - Well, that is meaningful enough for me :)

    RE

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    1. Hindsight tells me why it is meaningful to you, Raghuram. I remember your last email to me.

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  10. This definitely is interesting read with many meaningful characterization.

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    1. Characteristics, Rajesh, yes, the book can mean a lot provided we are ready to get rid of some of our past...

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  11. Maybe I don't have maturity to understand these things but for me, the fourth point - the authenticity or emotional honesty - is the most important thing. I personally believe that unless you have an emotional honesty, you don't even have the capacity to set meaningful goal for your life. But then, to each its own. Good point of view though.

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    1. Actually, Pankti, these characteristics are not watertight compartments. They are all interrelated. A former student of mine, a brilliant one, commented on FB that only the first characteristic really matters, the rest are appendices... These are mere guidelines to make our life richer, not rules.

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