Do We Have Enough Time? A Eudaimonic Answer

Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
You fritter and waste the hours in an off-hand way
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way

Tired of lying in the sunshine, staying home to watch the rain
And you are young and life is long, and there is time to kill today
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun

And you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it's sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again
Sun is the same, in a relative way, but you're older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death

Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time
Plans that either come to naught, or half a page of scribbled lines
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way
The time is gone, the song is over, thought I'd something more to say"

These 1973 lyrics of "Time" by Roger Waters of Pink Floyd deal with the author's realization that life was not about preparing yourself for what happens next, but about taking control of your own destiny. It provides a very insightful, if popular, introduction to today's presentation, "Do We Have Enough Time? A Eudaimonic Answer" to the Sea of Faith in Australia (SoFiA). I will thank David Miller for his introduction, and give credit to a person who has been organising these "street philosophy" forums in Melbourne for several decades now, adding enormously to the intellectual culture of this city. To mention the International Society of Philosophers is somewhat challenging. That society was formed in 2002 with the journal "Pathways to Philosophy", and included amateur and professional philosophers around the world. The main driver was Dr. Geoffrey Klempner of the University of Sheffield, who passed away in 2022. It is fair to say that without Dr. Klempner at the helm, the organisation has been somewhat moribund; a warning for any unincorporated and loose association that heavily depends on the activities of one person.

This particular body, the Sea of Faith, has its origins in 1984 coming from Rev. Don Cupitt's book and television series of the same name. Cupitt was an Anglican priest, and former Dean of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. Whilst traditionally and internationally, the Sea of Faith Network is an organisation with the stated aim to explore and promote religious faith as a human creation and is mainly made up mainly of liberal and humanist Christians. This presentation will not have much to do with most conceptions of religious faith that emphasise the transcendent and eternal.

On the contrary, this presentation is very much bound by notions of the immanent and the constraint of the temporal. This presentation derives from previous offerings given over the past several years that are orientated toward positive psychology, the discussion of how we are to achieve the greatest happiness in life; this is not a presentation about organising one's time efficiently - there are plenty good examples already available on that subject - but rather the choice of activities. The previous presentations include "The Existentialism of Hannah Arendt", to the Melbourne Existentialist Society in August 2011, "The Continuum of 'Needs' and 'Wants'", to the Melbourne Agnostics, in November 2020, "We Are We Do: Emotions, Trauma, and Happiness", to the Melbourne Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship, in May 2022, "From Stoicism and Naturalistic Pantheism to Effective Altruism" to the Sea of Faith in Australia in April 2022, "The Pursuit of Happiness" to the Melbourne Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship, in July 2023.

These previous presentations argued that there is a continuum from Hedonism, Epicureanism, to Stoicism as the typical approaches of how one achieves happiness and satisfaction in life. This argument for a continuum differs from most commentary that contrasts these approaches. The argument for Hedonism is an approach that says that one should enjoy the sensual pleasures of life. The "Epic of Gilgamesh summarises this approach well:

As for you, Gilgamesh, let your belly be full,
Make merry day and night.
Of each day make a feast of rejoicing.
Day and night dance and play!
Let your garments be sparkling fresh,
Your head be washed; bathe in water.
Pay heed to a little one that holds on to your hand,
Let a spouse delight in your bosom.
--Tablet X

When we say ... that pleasure is the end and aim, we do not mean the pleasures of the prodigal or the pleasures of sensuality, as we are understood to do by some through ignorance, prejudice or wilful misrepresentation. By pleasure, we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul. It is not by an unbroken succession of drinking bouts and of revelry, not by sexual lust, nor the enjoyment of fish and other delicacies of a luxurious table, which produces a pleasant life; it is sober reasoning, searching out the grounds of every choice and avoidance, and banishing those beliefs through which the greatest tumults take possession of the soul.

The Epicurean approach argued that we should seek a life of simple pleasures, a sort of refined hedonism that witnesses the development of the many versions of utilitarianism and consequentialism, etc. The Epicureans argued that pleasure would be achieved from being in a state of "ataraxia" and "aponia", which we can translate as mental tranquility and the absence of pain. There is a contrast between the quasi-hedonistic Epicureans and their quest for "ataraxia", the freedom from disturbances, and the Stoic quest for "eudaimonia", to be possessed by a good demon, the achievement of happiness was through alignment of one's reason with the logos of the universe, the control of one's mind, an ethical motivation based on inner virtue. The Stoics argued that this control and virtue could be achieved independently of wealth or poverty, sickness and health, and so forth. The Peripatetics argued against the Stoics on this matter, with Aristotle suggesting that some external goods and services were necessary for virtue and control to flourish (the Stoics would call these "preferred indifferents").

As mentioned, whilst these approaches are typically considered as constrasting, there is much to be gained to think of them as a continuum, following the principles of personal growth in contemporary psychology from which Maslow and Alderfer made important (albeit flawed) contributions. Viewed as a developmental model, one can see that's how physiological needs (e.g., food, shelter, clothing, healthcare) are essential for life and how, once these "needs" are satisfied they can transform into pleasurable "wants", the enjoyment of hedonistic pleasures. But, as the Epicureans pointed out, an excess of hedonistic behaviour leaves one feeling a little less than optimal the following day, and pleasure in itself does not generate meaning. The Epicureans, assuming the satisfaction of necessities, have opportunities for personal growth and utilitarian goods that provide comfort and self-expression, with the choice and quantity of items becomes an expression of one's soul and momentoes of experiences. But like hedonism to excess brings displeasure, Epicureanism too runs into limitations. Their wilful avoidance of engagement in social life, and the body politic, ultimately leads to listless stasis.

It is argued that the solution to the limitations of Epicureanism is a modified form of Stoicism; the virtuous engagement with the world, dedicated to understanding the world, immersing one's self into its beauty, and enabling social just outcomes. Certainly. the Stoics (and their predecessors, the Cynics), have been portrayed in popular culture as unemotional ascetics, and sometimes that has been justified. After all, Diogenes of Sinope was famous for living in the Athenian marketplace, begging for a living, and sleeping in a pithos. He did, however, use his austerity as a weapon to criticise the deception that social status should be accorded to normal behaviour and the acquisition of goods. One wonders. however, whether he would have been even more effective as a critic if he had a more regular supply of food, housing, clothing, and healthcare. Further, Diogenes believed in the vita activa, modelling himself on the example of Heracles, expressing virtue in practice was better than virtue in theory. Diogenes lived with the principle that we are what we do, which future Stoics would advocate with a principled unity between one's thoughts and actions, avoiding the problems of cognitive dissonance. Today, empirical studies in psychology support this principle, such as elaborated in the Yale University course "The Science of Well Being", which illustrates the numerous ways that people engage in pursuits that do provide lasting happiness; instead, the brain often tricks us to engage in pursuits that provide temporary happiness. Whereas many seek medication to overcome unhappiness, it can provide but provide temporary solutions to symptomatic feelings. Happiness itself is best achieved through those behaviours which are of the highest importance; the quest for beauty, athleticism, and health, the practice of universally normative morals, the fearless investigation of truth and scientific knowledge.

What is being suggested here is that the continuum from needs to wants, and the development of satisfaction from pleasure to happiness, can be correlated with the philosophical positions of hedonism, Epicureanism, and Stoicism respectively. Further, following Arendt's argument in "The Human Condition", we can distinguish and build a continuum from the undignified status of "animal laborans", to the social system of "labour", and finally to the freedom of "action". Whilst our physiological needs are absolute, once satisfied then can start looking at those more transitional needs for integration and physical or psychological comfort, and finally our "becoming" through virtuous action as the greatest good and greatest service. The opportunity for this, of course, is highly dependent on the social organisation of time and the availability of opportunities to engage in action.

Also following Arendt however, is the necessity and importance of the social context. Even the basic physiological needs from birth is a dependence we have on other people. Arendt was a significant critic of individualism as a path to human freedom, even considering "philosophy" to be too individualistic; with a disdain for the trivial and inauthentic life, she was both mocking and horrified of the concept of freedom being limited to the private home, such as the happiness achieved from owning (or rather being owned by) a cat, or the happiness of tending to a flower-pot; in short - "small things", freedom within the space of four walls. Instead of individual, private, contemplative freedom, Arendt concentrates on the social, the public, and active examples. In this manner and this overlay, the flawed personal development psychological theories can be reinterpreted in the context that physiological requirements, social integration, and authenticity, even as individually experienced, are achieved through social interaction and solidarity.

Given this exploration of choices, one finds the famous statement by Senaca The Younger: "It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough", from "On the Shortness of Life". The argument that he's making, rather like Arendt, is that the "small things" that many people spend their life doing, apart from being time-wasters, do not provide the happiness that they expect. They provide very short-term happiness but not lasting happiness. Being trapped in this constant quest to achieve short-term happiness is a serious trap. This said, in addition to the continuum expressed, there is a role in applying adult developmental psychology with the continuum applied to different stages of adult life.

There is absolutely no support here for the argument that the "youth of today" are wasting their time engaging and enjoying themselves. It is a tragic admonishment from elders with a long tradition borne from a jealousy that young adults are enjoying themselves more than they did, or have wilfully forgotten of how they too danced under the moonlight, and are now hypocritically telling people to "Do as I say, not as I did". In any case, certainly, the physiology of the age lends itself to a more hedonistic lifestyle. But of course over time - and time is the feature of this discussion - that exploratory stage of adult life allows people to discover what it is that they enjoy the most. This can lead to an Epicureanism in maturity, this can lead to a refinement of tastes, that is not an excess of goods that is required, but rather a selection of their favourites, that they do not require an enormous circle of trivial friendships, but rather a circle of quality friendships. As one gets older the Stoic pathway becomes more appropriate; once you actually have physiological needs satisfied and stable, once you actually have a good circle of quality friends, some meaningful momentoes of your life, you no longer need much more, then have greater opportunities to start dedicating your life, your time, energy, and resources to those activities from which one gains the greatest happiness.

The great danger that occurs for a lot of people is that this is not identified. The example of Donald Trump is a very interesting psychological case. Apart from his obsessive quest for power, there is also his transactional rather than principled approach to his social interactions, and the evidence that feels his happiness is achieved from the possession of goods of garish taste; it is an unusual person indeed who has found a source of joy in a gold-plated toilet. By way of comparison, there is the satirical essay by Scott Alexander on using dead children as a unit of currency, which illustrated the importance of opportunity costs, arguing that for every $800 that is spent on things that are trivial, inauthentic, and only provides temporary happiness - such as a gold-plated toilet - that comes at the cost of a child's life. Making use of one's resources in the most beneficial manner, the model of effective altruism matches with the Stoic model of happiness.

In conclusion, there is a constraint of time in a person's life. The management of time in terms of efficiency, such as in project management, has not been the focus here, but rather the specific choices that a person makes with their time. The review has looked at what has typically seen as competing approaches to achieving happiness whether Hedonism, Epicureanism, and Stoicism, and instead has presented them as a continuum, and that these approaches can be correlated with the conditions illustrated by Arendt, in terms of animal laborans, to labour, and action, and their social context. Finally, there is also room for a continuum as an area of emphasis rather than exclusivity (older people can engage in Hedonism, younger people can engage in Stoicism) in adult developmental psychology. The combination of these approaches within the context of times illustrates that we do have the opportunity for a more optimal achievement of happiness ultimately with a eudaimonic approach.

Presentation to the Sea of Faith in Australia in Melbourne, June 20, 2024