Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Thinking the unthinkable


Last Friday was the first day of class. As usual, I didn't spend day one reading over the syllabus. In rhetoric, the first thing you say and the last thing you say are remembered. The middle is usually napped through. So I always try to spend the first day actually doing philosophy. My usual tactic is to write on the board "why are you here?" and wait until someone speaks up.

We usually go through the typical "because it's on the schedule, because I have to graduate, so I can get a good job, make money, and be happy" progression. This time I got a student to say that happiness means to have all that one wants. I posed a revolutionary, daring, unthinkable thought: Perhaps one could then be happy by limiting one's wants.

You could have heard a pin drop. Deny oneself? No, far better to work hard at boring job so that one can buy lots of stuff! I asked the students if they had ever decided not to act on a desire that they had, and many answered "no."

This is of course just a philosophy class. I'm not asking them to deny themselves and follow Christ, I'm just suggesting that they might want to deny themselves to save trouble and bother. I wonder how they will respond to Epicurus (who thought pleasure was the greatest good) when he says "Sex never did anyone any good."

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