These days we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Paris Commune which lasted exactly 2 months and 10 days (from March 18 till May 28 1871). After the infamous defeat of France in the war with Germany, with Germany army at the doors of Paris, the people of Paris took over and quickly organized outside the coordinates of existing state power. Once the French government forces crashed the Paris Commune (and killed many Communards in the so-called “Bloody Week”), the government organized an inquest into the causes of the uprising: “The inquest concluded that the main cause of the insurrection was a lack of belief in God, and that this problem had to be corrected immediately. It was decided that a moral revival was needed, and a key part of this was deporting 4,500 Communards to New Caledonia. There was a two-part goal in this: the government also hoped that the Communards would civilize the native Kanak people on the island, and that being exposed to the order of nature would return the Communards to the side of ‘good’.”
In this paper, I introduce a way of thinking about well-being that lends support to the view that reducing suffering takes moral priority over promoting happiness. Our article on suffering-focused ethics lists several other positions that could inspire this conclusion, so agreeing with tranquilism – as the view I introduce is called – is not needed to agree with suffering-focused ethics. Tranquilism is not meant as a standalone moral theory, but as a way to think about well-being and the value of different experiences. Tranquilism can then serve as a building block for more complex moral views where things other than experiences also matter morally.
Disclaimer: This is a draft based on which I plan to submit a paper to a peer-reviewed philosophy journal. Based on feedback from Simon Knutsson, I concluded that the current version can still be improved for this purpose (but I wanted to already upload this version so it can be read and discussed).
Some of the most heated critiques of etiquette emphasize a tension between progressive political values and conformity to polite norms. Insistence on polite rules of interaction may, so the worry goes, stifle righteous dissent, suppress critique of the powerful, and mire us all in hidebound tradition. Better to forcefully call out injustice when we see it than abide by polite rules that sacrifice moral progress to surface social accord. In these critiques, etiquette can seem an enemy of salutary change and a barrier to justice. This reasoning, the early Confucians would argue, misses much about how etiquette works and what it contributes to moral life.
Looking back on our arrogantly skeptical age, future historians are likely to regard the rebirth of hagiography in the 1980s and 1990s with bemused curiosity. For one thing, these decades witnessed a notable dearth of likely hagioi or saints available for the honor of such commemoration. Then, too, the debunking temper of our times is ill-suited —or so one would have thought—to the task of adulation. Yet James Miller’s ambitious new biography of the French historian-philosopher Michel Foucault (né Paul-Michel, after his father) demonstrates that the will to idolize can triumph over many obstacles.
There’s a glass coffee mug on the table to my right. I bought it from the Dollar General. I think. As in, my brain currently possesses the necessary connections that allow me to ‘remember’ that I bought this mug at the Dollar General, but honestly, I’m only about 95% certain that’s true and I can’t tell you with confidence that the store in question is actually called the Dollar General, which highlights the infallibility of human experience.
So did I buy it from the Dollar General? I don’t have a receipt. There might be security video from the encounter, but it’s a dollar store and this was months ago, so that seems unlikely. Anyone who was at the store at the time of my purchase will have no memory of my presence.
You might think that loneliness is a contingent state: people feel lonely for a time or lonely in a place, and some people are constitutionally lonely, but most people are not lonely all the time and human life is not necessarily lonely. Not according to Ben Lazare Mijuskovic. He maintains that all such conditions are symptomatic of a loneliness that is “universal and necessary” (1). We need not be aware of it all the time, but it is always there, lurking in the background. Human life inevitably takes the form of a struggle against loneliness. We reach out to others in order to avoid sinking into complete isolation. However, although they might provide us with some degree of consolation and felt connection, our loneliness is something that can never be overcome.
“Hell is other people” is a famous line from No Exit (1944), a philosophical play by the French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980). No Exit is popularly understood as arguing that human relationships are essentially fraught with conflict. This interpretation seems to be supported by Sartre’s pessimistic discussion of relationships in Being and Nothingness (1943), his most famous philosophical work.
This essay explains why this pessimistic interpretation of Sartre is mistaken. A careful examination of Sartre’s work shows that he was far more optimistic about relationships than his classic one-liner has led many people to believe.