Cover image for Happiness, death, and the remainder of life
Happiness, death, and the remainder of life
Lear, Jonathan.
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Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 2000.
Physical Description:
189 pages ; 21 cm.
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BF175.4.P45 L42 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Separated by millennia, Aristotle and Sigmund Freud gave us disparate but compelling pictures of the human condition. But if, with Jonathan Lear, we scrutinize these thinkers' attempts to explain human behavior in terms of a higher principle--whether happiness or death--the pictures fall apart. Aristotle attempted to ground ethical life in human striving for happiness, yet he didn't understand what happiness is any better than we do. Happiness became an enigmatic, always unattainable, means of seducing humankind into living an ethical life. Freud fared no better when he tried to ground human striving, aggression, and destructiveness in the death drive, like Aristotle attributing purpose where none exists. Neither overarching principle can guide or govern "the remainder of life," in which our inherently disruptive unconscious moves in breaks and swerves to affect who and how we are. Lear exposes this tendency to self-disruption for what it is: an opening, an opportunity for new possibilities. His insights have profound consequences not only for analysis but for our understanding of civilization and its discontent.

Author Notes

Considered one of the most independent and perceptive analysts of contemporary intellectual culture, Jonathan Lear has authored several thought-provoking works including Aristotle and Logical Theory; Aristotle: The Desire to Understand; Love and Its Place In Nature; A Philosophical Interpretation of Freudian Psychoanalysis; and Open Minded, among others. He is a member of the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago and has been recognized as John U. Nef Distinguished Service Professor.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Originally presented at Harvard as a three-part Tanner Lectures on Human Values, Lear's (Open Minded: Working Out the Logic of the Soul) latest book meditates on life's meaning. "What difference does psychoanalysis make," Lear asks at the outset, "to our understanding of human existence?" Drawing on both psychoanalytic theory and the history of philosophyÄby way of Aristotle and FreudÄhe teases out a usable answer to this question. Treating, one by one, the subjects of happiness, death and everything elseÄthe "remainder" of lifeÄLear, a philosopher at the University of Chicago as well as a practicing psychoanalyst, reconsiders along the way Freud's theory of the unconscious, Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics and a host of the classic philosophical notions. Freud's idea of the unconscious, Lear argues, offered a radically new idea of human characterÄone that could finally compete with that described by Aristotle. But because of the teleological weak spots (which he considers at length) in both theories, neither thinker alone provides a sufficient guide to living or to thinking about life. Aristotle, he argues, skirts around the explicit idea of happiness; Freud, he incisively suggests (turning Freudian critiques back on their inventor), repressed his own insights into the death urge. In the end, Lear ties the ideas of these two rather different thinkers together in a cogent, if not necessarily revelatory, way. Complex in theory and filled with dense language ("enigmatic signifiers," "the metaphysics of aggression"), this text is more suited to an academic than a popular audience. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

To an audience that accepts Freudian-inspired speculations, these lectures have the potential for interesting speculative insights about the human mind, ethical and neurotic behavior, and the limits of Aristotle's and Freud's insights. To another audience, which does not accept such speculations as insightful, this book offers less interesting interpretations. Using his own understanding of what he calls "enigmatic signifiers" of "death" and "happiness," Lear (Univ. of Chicago) argues for limits to speculative interpretations produced by both Freud and Aristotle. While Freud tries to explain some aspects of the psyche that go beyond the individual to civilization, he unduly limits psychoanalytic speculation. Similarly Aristotle, in his discussion of happiness as the goal of the good life within the realm of practical wisdom, eventually moves to contemplation as the basis for happiness, seducing both himself and the reader into a realm that remains both enigmatic and underexplained. In a few pages, both audiences will be seduced by effective creative efforts (including Lear's analytic accounts of some of his own patients) to "free us from the cave" so we can "begin to grasp the peculiar possibility for possibilities that human being opens up." Upper-division undergraduates through faculty and researchers. J. Gough Red Deer College

Table of Contents

1 Happiness
2 Death
3 The Remainder of Life