Opinions about the Philosophy of Happiness book
Venturer7: I am only in the first part of the book. I would like to know what it is all about, and the temptation to jump ahead and look for the outcome or some bits of solutions is great. But I understand more and more as I read that the book lays out a mental process one has to follow to derive most of its benefits. Unlike so many other books on happiness, it does not stay on the surface or offer gimmicks. At the risk of belaboring a trite phrase, I would say it leads us on a journey through and toward ourselves and harmony with our world. Because of that outlook, I am willing to put in the time and consideration this guided tour requires.
glasowin: Venturer7: I know that what one wants to say about this book can easily sound trite, but that doesn't make it any less valid in this case. The book offers a vital change in a time when most people do not pay enough attention to what really matters and ask for or make do with superficial remedies. It calls us to our senses, it awakens us and teaches us to think for ourselves and live our life with greater understanding. It helps us to review - and if necessary reorganize - us and our circumstances. The book is ambitious, but I think that's exactly what is needed to get humanity out of its lingering primitive attitudes and confusion. I also think the book is eminently approachable. I like that it goes back to basics and builds on them. It lays out facts and conclusions that readers can take in and evaluate for themselves. As I read I feel similarly as you that it walks with me on a journey into myself and then out into the world.
olman356: This is not only a book about happiness. It is a book about everything else and how we relate to it. I don't think there has been anything like it ever written. Looking back at what I have read, it all sounds compellingly self-evident. I get the sense that this should have been written a long time ago and we all should already be aware of what the book states and practice our insights accordingly. That this has not happened until now is disconcerting because humanity might have spared itself a lot of trouble. But the book's existence also fills me with hope that we can build a better future.
Landaris: I just finished reading the essays on your website. I highly recommend them to anybody who wants to get a better idea about the setting of your book or about philosophy in general. I also loved the personal insights about your motivations and the storytelling. Are you planning to add more essays?
Martin Janello: Thank you for your kind words and your interest, Landaris. In time, I will add more essays to the Reflections section of the site and to Philosophic Reflections, the free PDF e-book in which they are combined. I have been working on some essays already and have concepts of others in my mind.
Is there an audiobook planned?
Exolep: Have you thought about issuing an audiobook?
Martin Janello: I have given it some thought. I even have a fairly good computer program that can read the text to me. However, I do not think that this kind of material lends itself very well to being read at a constant pace. The book calls for reflection that is in danger of being interrupted when the next sentence already barges in before the last sentence has been digested. That might change once a reader has read the book and would like to refresh the memory of it. But even in my review and editing process, I found myself preferring to read because it deepened my grasp. Still, I carry an open mind regarding the proposition and might change my disinclination with demand.
How much of philosophy does your thought affect?
GodelJ: You seem to claim that happiness should be the focal point of philosophy. How is that?
Martin Janello: I am not denying that there are other concerns of philosophy. What I am arguing is that they are of an instrumental character. To illustrate how I come to that result, let us ask ourselves why we have an interest in philosophy. Most of us might answer that we want to gain knowledge. This is the literal meaning of the word "philosophy." But what knowledge is it that we seek? Is it technical knowledge or is it knowledge about what to do with technical knowledge? We would probably say it is the latter because technical knowledge has, as is also stated in its name, the character of a tool. This seems to be the domain of the sciences that bring us technological insights and progress. Originally, all science was included in philosophy, but many "tool" disciplines have since split off as matters that required specialization to advance. Arguably, there are some technical sciences left in philosophy, and their sophistication might suggest that they ought to be split off as well. There are also structural and procedural areas that are so fundamental that they might best remain in philosophy as the mother science to the more specialized sciences. However, all these disciplines beg the question what we do with our technical insights.
Looking around, I think it is self-evident that most if not all of us could use some help in answering this question. Is that not ultimately why we are interested in philosophy?
Arguably, if we knew everything there is to know by technical insight, our purpose would become clear to us. Questions related to where it all came from and where it is going may play a big part in our orientation regarding purpose. However, without knowledge about the general dimensions of purpose, we have to look for nearer, more solvable establishments of purpose. And even if we knew of a general plan, we might have to define subordinated purposes - or even assert purposes in an attempt to change or escape the generally ordained course.
So the question stands: To what purpose should we gain and apply technical knowledge?
The choices seem clear in principle. We do not want to apply technical knowledge to hurt ourselves. Rather, we want to use it to assist our well-being. We want to minimize pain and the states that cause it and maximize pleasure and the states that give rise to it. Hence, the purpose we pursue with our technical efforts - and our engagement of philosophy - seems to be happiness.
But happiness - and the philosophical efforts to investigate it - go even further. I have found that not only the activities of humans and humanity but life and nature in general can be described as being motivated by drives pursuant to their dispositions whose objective is the satisfaction of these drives - and thus happiness in a wider sense. The conscious proclivities of humans and other animals seem to be a mere consequence and at times most noticeable aspect of a larger general happiness principle.
One might say that philosophy is an expression as well as a consideration of that general happiness principle not only as it applies to humans, but also in other scientific inquiries, including those that have been split off.
How can happiness define the cosmos?
Nathan13: I have not read your book, just its description and a few chapters on your site. It is plausible to me that the drive toward happiness would shape the human condition internally and externally. But I am curious how you arrive at the claim in your book description that happiness defines matters on a cosmic scale?
Martin Janello: The answer to that question has several aspects. For one, humans would carry their needs and wishes with them as they venture into the cosmos. They would interact with and try to shape the cosmos in accordance with what makes them happy. One might submit that this does not change the cosmos much because humanity has not come very far in it. But the logical extension of human technological development and desire to explore and colonize implies that, over time, humanity would gain substantial powers and proliferation to shape the cosmos.
Further, such interaction and forming influence can be attributed to life in general. All life has requirements that must be met if it is to survive, and it has the proclivity to spread. Thus, wherever life occurs in the cosmos, it would strive to expansively adjust its circumstances while also being formed by these circumstances. That would apply to life originating on earth. However, there are huge probabilities that life has been or will be developing independently beyond earth. One can also observe a general tendency in life to improve its capabilities qualitatively. If we assume that life is advancing in other locations to and beyond human levels, we have to acknowledge a great potential for a comprehensive transformation of the cosmos in adjustment to the requirements of life and its qualitative and quantitative growth.
Even on an elemental level, one can see the beginnings of needs and satisfaction in the proclivities of elements and nonliving structures they construe. Since living structures and processes are built from nonliving elements, one can argue that these basic proclivities conglomerate to form the needs of living things. Hence, nature itself seems to carry happiness as its inherent organizational principle.
Do you define your philosophy as existentialist?
Glasowin: I am having difficulties describing your philosophy to people as a category. Much of your work seems to center around individuals taking charge and making the best of the circumstances they face. Would you define your philosophy as existentialist?
Martin Janello: I would rather not label my philosophy because it is fundamentally different from any other philosophy I know. I also do not want to get caught in having to explain how it differs from one or the other philosophy. That is a game in which academic philosophy has lost itself to a large extent.
References to other philosophies are not necessary to comprehend my philosophy. I have developed it because I found other philosophies, including existentialist philosophies, to be flawed or lacking to a point that did not allow me to build my philosophy as an advanced stage or deviating branch of them. My task is to present the premises of my philosophy and argue its inherent, systematic development.
Although my philosophy disagrees with other philosophies and may show partial similarities with some, I leave it to others to undertake comparisons if they must. Such comparisons might be constructive if they lead to resolutions and advancements of the philosophical discussion. However, in my opinion, nothing much can be gained by affixing labels to my philosophy, except maybe to select candidates for comparison. This seems to be particularly true regarding the use of the label "existentialism" because it is a collective description for rather different philosophies and immediately implies defining characteristics and clichés that my philosophy does not share. Dispelling such notions would require the dedication of much effort to explanatory work that, at least for my involvement, is better used to explain the intrinsic system of my philosophy. My philosophy could be described as existentialist because it is developed from the existential conditions of humans. But it also reveals the derivation of that existence by, and its embeddedness in, a strict, greater order, which most existentialists do not acknowledge. Thus, let us not call it existentialist and allow it to stand by its own name.
Your book demands close attention. How should one best read it?
BElton: I recently began to read your book. Having looked before at some other materials on your website, I expected that comprehending and organizing one's happiness would be a challenging undertaking. I anticipated that considering your suggestions and their explanations would be involved and require the involvement of me as the reader. I am also heeding the methodical approach suggested in your answer to Question 5 of your FAQs. However, I find that your book places even higher demands on my concentration than I thought.
In spite of its length of 1000 pages, there is no filler, fluff, or repetition in your writing. Its discourse is very densely packed, and every sentence seems necessary for developing the reader's understanding. I think your writing is clear and that everybody who wants to grasp what you have to say can. But one definitely has to pay attention. I find myself reading many sentences and longer passages repeatedly. There is a lot there to be taken in. This is definitely not a book for people who read for light entertainment. I suppose that only individuals who are hungry for the information you provide will invest themselves sufficiently. Yet even for readers who are genuinely interested in the subject matter, and who might have read some other books about happiness, your book is surprisingly unusual. It is not like other treatments that one can speed-read because of thinly dispersed morsels of interesting thoughts or because they say the same thing over and over again from different angles and with examples. This is very concentrated mental nutrition. I appreciate that. But it means one can only assimilate so much in one sitting. How do you suggest one should best read your book?
Martin Janello: Thank you for your question and kind comments. I have tried to express my thoughts as simply as possible without losing precision. However, I realize that my book still requires much of its readers because the information it imparts attempts to comprehensively solve a comprehensive problem. I partly did not include examples because this would have made the book much longer. More importantly, I do not want to limit or prejudice the thoughts and emotions my writing generates in its readers. My book seeks to involve them in a carefully paced mental conversation with the purpose of having them develop their own philosophy and bringing it to fruition. I want people to think about what I am writing and to question it and their conceptions or attitudes that are aroused by what they read or by what comes to their mind when they read what I have written. This process - and the growth I hope it fosters - require time and effort.
Cynical or superficial people or individuals who legitimately deem themselves happy enough will quickly dismiss my book as being too involved to read. They might come back to it when circumstances of their happiness become so insufferable that they warrant the personal investment my book demands from its readers. This is a book for those of us who want to know what happiness means to them and how it functions because they carry the motivation to keep, improve, and possibly optimize their happiness. Not everybody might be ready for this information - and some may never be open to it.
However, it is important that those who have the ambition to improve their life take the information I offer in appropriate doses so as not to be overloaded. It took me an average of over two days to write each page of my book. I do not expect that reading will demand a similarly slow tempo. However, I think comparing the consumption and assimilation of what I am offering with the intake of food is in part apposite to understand how one should pace oneself. I hear from people who are reading my book intently that five to ten pages per day are a healthy upper limit of what they can constructively digest.
How do you fit your book into the analytic tradition of philosophy?
Tracer: It seems to me that much of your work is analytical. But I also detect continental resemblances in its systematic ambition. I am trying to understand how I can correlate your philosophy to other philosophies, particularly in the analytic tradition.
Martin Janello: I normally would refer you to Answers 10 and 11 in the FAQ section as well as my response above in the Forum to the question: "Do you define your philosophy as existentialist?" These explain that my philosophy is not developed in continuation of or contrast to any other philosophy, that it stands on its own, and that I leave it to others to correlate my philosophy with other philosophies.
However, I am observing not only in your question but on many other occasions a presumption in English-speaking circles that there is a division of philosophy into "analytic" and "continental" strains. I must speak up because that is utterly incorrect.
I think you are rightfully referring to analytic philosophy as a tradition. Like so many traditions, it lumps together a variety of practices and cradles them in the claimed legitimacy of a common custom. That is not good for a discipline that claims to be scientific. I will say more about that in a moment. But first let me point out that analytic philosophy is not much of a tradition. It is a motley accumulation of specialized theories that claim heritage from a relatively short period of rampant development of logical formalisms, language-related analysis, and positivism that with the exception of logic has largely fizzled out or collapsed. Contemporary so-called analytic philosophies often express wildly different premises and deductive approaches that make attempts to assemble them under this label ineffective. Even where they agree, their premises and approaches frequently do not stand the test of analytic soundness. Where they are truly analytic, they are missing the other side of scientific process: synthesis. I have extensively written about analysis and synthesis as both integrally necessary parts of science in Philosophy of Happiness (see its Index). Hence, analytic philosophy qualifies at best as a half-way, incomplete effort.
Beyond that, a separation of "analytic" as the prevalent philosophy of English-speaking countries from "continental" philosophy arises from a historical falsification. Logic, linguistic analysis, and positivism, the three legs of analytic philosophy, were established and pursued by European philosophers with philosophical roots reaching back to antiquity. "Continental" protagonists like Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Johann Friedrich Herbart, Hermann Lotze, Edmund Husserl, Gottlob Frege, Ernst Mach, Rudolf Carnap, Ludwig Wittgenstein and others from whom "analytic" methods were gleaned, as well as the closely related but strangely disavowed British empiricist branch of Francis Bacon, John Locke, David Hume, John Berkeley, and John Stuart Mill stood on the shoulders of other "continental" and "noncontinental" European precursors. Together, they were part of a European tradition of contention and discourse by different schools of thought that promoted philosophical development. The fact that some "continental" philosophers emigrated into English-speaking countries due to political circumstances did not create a justification for a lasting scientific separation. That separation is therefore a myth.
However, the stalwart construction and pursuit of this myth in English-speaking countries poses a danger to philosophy. "Analytic philosophy" has been pursued in English-speaking countries as advanced thought in contrast to - and frequently the exclusion of - the "old" thinking of continental Europe (including "old" Britain), and even to the exclusion of new developments in such "old" thinking. This discrimination goes beyond a civilized discourse in which the viewpoints of other philosophers are duly considered and a different opinion or scientific approach is argued in cognizance of them. Analytic philosophy claimed that "old" philosophy could be ignored because it was superseded and revealed as nonsense. Such an arrogant stance might have become popular for other than the initially proffered principled reasons. It might have served as an excuse not to study or not having to engage with the distanced European philosophies. It might also have allowed glossing over an inability to establish a firm understanding of such philosophies through their original texts due to inadequate foreign language skills. There also might have been an element of misguided cultural pride that sought to contrive a genuinely English-speaking philosophy. Whatever the causes might have been, the ensuing blind parochialism that dismisses thought of other cultures (as well as the foundation of the parochial culture in such other cultures) has disfigured and damaged philosophy in English-speaking countries almost beyond recognition. Logical, linguistic, and empiric analyses of philosophers who are labeled analytic made important contributions to philosophy. But analytic philosophy predictably only provided analytic tools, largely did not claim constructive substance, and where it claimed such substance it did not amount to much because of its adversity to anything speculative. The analytic tradition forbade philosophy to imagine, to dream, to aspire to something as of yet unattained even in thought. Philosophy in the analytic tradition is burdened with an inherent inability - and largely unwillingness - to build anything of greater import. It goes on quibbling about technical minutiae while the world continues to suffer from a lack of philosophical insight and the practical improvements such insight could provide.
Unfortunately, substantive philosophy has been infected by the sophistery of analytic philosophy. While the introduction of analytic influences might have been beneficial to make idealistic philosophies prove their concepts, the pendulum has swung to the other extreme. These philosophies are now similarly preoccupied with very small interpretive issues of their tradition. Both traditions are stuck in a rut.
The bankruptcy of philosophy in its current state makes it necessary to build new philosophy. However, while this work and its dissemination are in progress, I think it is important to encourage individuals in their power and, as I believe, the requirement to develop their philosophical thinking. This can help them to find their way in the absence of new helpful philosophy, to comprehend and reflect on the correctness of that philosophy, and to protect them from old and new abusers and charlatans.
My philosophy attempts both to build a new substantive philosophy but also to expose it to the considered judgment of individuals with a developed sense of philosophy. In fact, my book shows that the new substantive philosophy that can improve the life of individuals and save humanity arises from the "common sense" considered judgment of individuals when they take possession of the full array of their emotions and related thinking.
Why are you unwilling to reconcile your writings with philosophic traditions?
Rmac: I acknowledge that you have developed a new philosophy about human existence, and my hat is off to you for this enormous and valiant effort. I like what you are writing and how you systematically lay out your thought processes for readers to consider. I find your approach surprisingly fresh and deeply engaging. Looking back at what I have read up to this point, it seems so compelling that I keep asking myself why this has not come forth until now. So you have me convinced of the value of your work, and I am truly grateful for it.
However, I think that you might have it easier introducing your work to others and convincing them of the legitimacy of your arguments if you connected your thoughts to other philosophies dealing with happiness. Building such bridges might allow readers who have made their home in these philosophies or who at least are familiar with them to walk their minds across to yours.
Martin Janello: I appreciate your kind comments and your concern. I have grappled with such ideas for popularizing my work. Connecting it to other attempts at a philosophy of happiness or related thinking would involve quite a bit of work. That alone would not discourage me. In a way, I would welcome it because it would allow me to explain my philosophy further. However, I am afraid such an undertaking would not be appreciated by aficionados and even lesser followers of other philosophies. This has become clear to me by the reaction my philosophy has already received in such circles and has become even clearer after rereading some of the pertinent philosophies on which they dwell. In trying to connect my philosophy to theirs, and keeping them from carrying tainted conceptions over that connection, I would have to point out so many defects and deficiencies that not much would be left to which a bridge could be tied. Moreover, my comments would be so critical and destructive of the mental dwellings they have come to accept as their home that they would instinctively defend them. Thus, demonstrating the inadequacies of constructs and attempting to work with some of the valid pieces seems futile. I think it might be easier bringing people on board by setting forth my philosophy from simple, shared premises and through their development that otherwise indoctrinated readers might find difficult to deny.
Possibly and even likely, professionals who make their living by perpetuating mental constructs that my philosophy exposes as erroneous or lacking - as well as interests that profit from such constructs - will ignore or even venture to block my philosophy. However, readers with less of a stake in preexisting philosophies revealed as inadequate by my work or readers who have preserved some sense of independent consideration might give what I have to say a chance. Time will tell how many humans of an open mind remain or will develop. Many people seek refuge in the purported safety of their own fixed ideas or in adopted ideas and systems of ideas about happiness. Binding themselves into such mindsets as to what can make them happy, how to achieve happiness, and how to explain and bear failures to achieve happiness helps them override their insecurities and soothe their disappointments. Many misguided contraptions about happiness have managed to draw and keep humans in their spell and have built defensive mechanisms to fend off criticism of their inadequacies. I realize that all these forces are stacked against my work. But I have confidence that the light of logical development from evident facts that my philosophy shines onto the dark corners of human existence will prevail.
How do you explain that classical philosophical ideas about happiness are still highly regarded?
HaroldH: When people look for philosophical guidance on how to live their life, classical philosophy seems to enjoy particular popularity, even though it does not seem to have yielded or yield now widespread application or convincing results in improving happiness. How do you explain this tenacity?
Martin Janello: I think classical philosophy has survived, not only in matters of happiness, because it in parts admitted not having definitive answers and advocated a continually inquisitive posture in which different positions argue their points of view. Its exhortations to keep an open mind and proceed with logic are timeless and appeal to individuals who have grown suspicious of doctrines that purport to possess all the answers. But classical philosophy also contains opinionated renderings on the substance of matters that do not abide by professed logical and inquisitive rigors and fail to question or sufficiently dissect and correct premises. Some of these deficiencies seem to be forgiven under the excuse that writings containing these necessities were lost or that they occurred during germinating attempts at philosophy in a rudimentary state of knowledge. Others are ignored based on a reputation that makes works and their famous authors untouchable to serious criticism. Even if some shortcomings are detected in original writings, reliance is given that ensuing teachings sufficiently mended them.
These are phenomena are not reserved to ancient writings, but they are most pronounced with respect to those. Philosophies, and philosophers as their protective brands, seem to become progressively enshrined with the passing of time, particularly if they are not convincingly refuted or called out, or if those actions do little to affect their acclaim. With their persistence, we seem to be increasingly reluctant to dare disturbing them.
However, respect for philosophical traditions is not the only reason for their resilience. Their strength corresponds to a weakness in recipients of their doctrines. I find it remarkable that so many of us seem to trust ourselves so little with independent philosophical thought that we seek refuge in, and become insistent fans of, philosophical schools - frequently with a fervor that carries the air of a religion. I think many of us seek happiness in such an instructive haven. Some of us may subscribe to new philosophies in an uncritical manner. But many of us opt for the purportedly safer alternative of longer-established doctrines. We identify with illustrious, time-honored traditions of thought because we have particular confidence that they can help us to leave insecurities behind.
The old Greeks and to some extent old Romans seem to be particular favorites. They, together with some similarly aged philosophical traditions from other parts of the world, profit in their legitimacy from their age and concomitant mythologization that makes them peers to religions dating back similarly far. Never mind that the philosophers we reference as our heroes may have set forth, or may be known to us by, only a few ideas. Never mind that their ideas are, apart from being uttered for the first time by them on the record, rather unsurprising and commonsensical, even in their subsequent elaboration. Never mind that the people we revere were dabbling in philosophical thought during the earlier childhood of humanity and had impressions and interpretations of reality that a modern child would rightly find laughable due to better current insight.
It may be quaint and to a limited degree useful to look back and see what the old ones had to say. Some of their philosophy may be valid - and citing it may make us look learned. But I think binding ourselves to their ideas, even if we update these, reveals a sorry state of philosophy as a science that has little advanced in over 2000 years - or whose advancement has at least been and is being steadfastly hindered and denied by thought establishments. I think we need to, and can with some dedicated effort, push over some marble busts that encircle us and escape the cobwebbed museum of primordial thought that so many of us venerate as philosophy.
© 2013-2019 BY MARTIN JANELLO