Flourishing (or not)

Since I need a place to record my thoughts (and no one reads this anyway) here is a response to a blog post someone wrote. Rather, it is the follow-up explanation after the writer confessed failing to see the relevance of my first comment. I said this:

Dan, I took your argument to be this: “given that the success and failure it imagines occur in the world and among other people and thus, depend on things other than oneself and one’s efforts, the Eudaimonic life cannot be self-sufficient.” The way you illustrate it the point “at the end of the day is to accomplish something”, that “one engages in archery to hit targets, not to try and hit them; one diets in order to lose weight, not to try and lose it; one plays baseball games in order to win them, not try to win them; and one auditions for roles in plays to get those roles, not to try and get them. Consequently, success in these endeavors cannot consist of trying to accomplish them, but only in the actual accomplishment of them.”

I agree that it seems wrong to paint flourishing as purely internal and self-sufficient. I agree also that we need to make sense of flourishing as something that happens in the world. My question is in what sense flourishing *depends* on externals. Are things like winning sufficient conditions? If as you say the point at the end of the day is accomplishing something then it almost seems you might be making that case. The example I proposed of hating tennis despite being good at it was meant to show that ‘success’ is not sufficient for flourishing. It is an odd flourishing where we absolutely hate what we are successful at.

I can’t really see that you set out precisely what the connection between externals and flourishing is, but my other example was meant to show that the externals are not always necessary. That is, while you paint ‘success’ as important if not essential to flourishing (or at minimum to “accomplish something”), sometimes success is not the measure of flourishing but rather *that* we are doing what we feel we are meant to be doing, regardless of how things turn out. The facts about success and failure are not nearly as important as what they mean in our lives. The point here is that value is not simply extrinsic or something necessarily measured but that the value of a flourishing life sometimes depends on *the measure itself*. THAT I get to be an artist rather than how successful I am at it. This still makes flourishing IN the world, involved with externals, but the point I am making is that flourishing is not dependent on them specifically. Flourishing is not necessarily tested by our success and failure.

There is a third choice between the purely subjective and the independent and measurable external. The third choice is what Wittgenstein was chasing down in much of his work. What are the hinges about which other things turn? What is the logic upon which activities depend? Not everything of value is at all times measurable. If flourishing sometimes is, sometimes depends on our successes, there is also a sense in which flourishing sometimes also depends on the framework itself, that my flourishing depends on me doing this thing that matters to me rather than something else and no matter how good at it I might be. The point may not be winning at chess but that we get to play the game.

Does being IN the world necessarily mean being best known AS something measurable? That seems to be our cultural bias. We confuse the values inside a game (success, failure, etc.) with the value of the game. Everything is measurable. But there is a difference between things being measured and the things we measure with. The measures are as much in the world as what gets measured. If those can sometimes be subject to measurement themselves, are they best known in this way? Or are they known better AS the measurements themselves?

If we don’t understand the difference then it is easy to see everything in the world as measurable. The whole ball of wax. “Come out little fly, come out. I can hear you buzzing.”

Anyway, this was my initial response that apparently strained at being relevant:

I agree that there is a sense in which flourishing IS measured by ‘success’, whatever that may be, and that it seems strange to overlook it. In that sense it depends on this measurability, is not self-sufficient, just as you say.

You bring up specific activities where flourishing depends on the outcomes, and I agree that this at least occasionally seems important. The tennis player plays to win and requires adequate competition to become the best possible. But if success in tennis is an example of flourishing, the success itself does not seem to be the only source worth considering.

What if you actually HATE playing tennis? What if you could win every match but it would bore you? What if you are playing, not to win but for some other agenda? Having a fun time with friends, for instance? What if tennis is simply the wrong game for you and no matter how good you were at it you would never point to your ‘success’ and describe it as ‘flourishing’?

The point I am aiming at is that flourishing can only get measured at all if one is doing something that ALREADY has value. If tennis matters to me then I can flourish playing tennis. If being an artist matters to me then I can flourish as an artist. If Philosophy matters to you then and only then can you flourish as a philosopher.

And sometimes it doesn’t matter how well we do those things in any measurable sense but simply that we get to do them. Sometimes it is more important to do these things than that we are any ‘good’ at them. If I am fulfilled by being an artist I may still hate most of what I make, others may not get what I am doing, and I might never make a decent living from it, but it is what I am called to do, and any measure of flourishing that did not start with being an artist would be beside the point.

The question for me always seems to be “What is the measure, and what is being measured?”

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