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Happiness, Death, and the Remainder of Life

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Overview

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.
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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
Not many people are equally appreciative of Plato and Freud, and fewer still are able to move back and forth between contemporary discussions among philosophers and the highly technical literature of psychoanalysis as easily as Lear does...Daring and provocative.
— Richard Rorty
Village Voice
Here's an intricate, heavyweight treatment of Aristotle's eudaimonia, Freud's Thanatos, and the role of the unconscious in ethical life that demands a lot of intellectual effort. Yet there's no jargon or obfuscation in it. Lear is doing real philosophical work--engaging both with ideas and with us.
— Norah Vincent
Times Literary Supplement
An extended meditation on Aristotle's conception of happiness and Freud's approach to death, the book argues that both thinkers fell prey to a similar illusion...[the thought] that our desires can ever come to an end...There is great depth to Happiness, Death, and the Remainder of Life.
— Andrew Stark
Slavoj Žižek
Today, the domain of psychology is hopelessly split between the 'high' theory, caught in its expert language, and the popular self-help manuals addressing people's actual crises and dilemmas. The miracle of Lear's book is that he effortlessly unites these two seemingly incompatible dimensions. Through the most stringent conceptual analysis of the basic notions of the Freudian edifice, he asks the simple crucial questions that gnaw us all: What is happiness? How does psychoanalysis enable us to orient ourselves in today's reality? With envy and admiration, I still wonder how Lear was able to do it!
Robert Michels
Jonathan Lear has done it again! Bringing sophisticated psychoanalytic understanding to a close textual analysis of the Nichomachean Ethics, he demonstrates how both Aristotle's contemplative life and Freud's death instinct were designed to defend against a fundamental problem in constructing a unified view of man, and suggests the outline of a new and original approach—one that will allow us to think of self-disrupting minds in creative but non-principled ways. Lear has continued the rich dialogue that he began in Open Minded, and that spans centuries, cultures, and great minds—from Plato's and Aristotle's Athens, to Freud's Vienna, and finally to Lear's America. This book is essential reading for students of philosophy, ethics, psychoanalysis, and Western civilization.
Alan Code
These deeply thoughtful and provocative lectures present, dissect, and critique the attempts of both ancient Greek ethics and modern psychoanalytic theory to come to grips with purposefulness in human life. Lear's elegant interweaving of textual exegesis, philosophical reflection, and psychoanalytic theorizing is at once a welcome contribution to scholarship and a highly accessible exploration of the sense that something is missing in life.
Hanna Segal
In this book Jonathan Lear provides an invaluable and necessary link between psychoanalysis and philosophy. He describes the break that was introduced into earlier world views by Freud's discovery of the unavoidably irrational and chaotic unconscious part of our mind, and the way the mind internally attacks itself (Freud's death instinct). Lear shows how such a 'break' can be a breakdown or a breakthrough, opening new possibilities and enlarging our horizons.
New York Times Book Review - Richard Rorty
Not many people are equally appreciative of Plato and Freud, and fewer still are able to move back and forth between contemporary discussions among philosophers and the highly technical literature of psychoanalysis as easily as Lear does… Daring and provocative.
Village Voice - Norah Vincent
Here's an intricate, heavyweight treatment of Aristotle's eudaimonia, Freud's Thanatos, and the role of the unconscious in ethical life that demands a lot of intellectual effort. Yet there's no jargon or obfuscation in it. Lear is doing real philosophical work—engaging both with ideas and with us.
Times Literary Supplement - Andrew Stark
An extended meditation on Aristotle's conception of happiness and Freud's approach to death, the book argues that both thinkers fell prey to a similar illusion…[the thought] that our desires can ever come to an end… There is great depth to Happiness, Death, and the Remainder of Life.
Richard Rorty
Daring and provocative.
New York Times Book Review
Norah Vincent
Lear is doing real philosophical work—engaging both with ideas and with us.
Village Voice
Andrew Stark
There is great depth to Happiness, Death, and the Remainder of Life.
Times Literary Supplement
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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 philosophy--by way of Aristotle and Freud--he teases out a usable answer to this question. Treating, one by one, the subjects of happiness, death and everything else--the "remainder" of life--Lear, 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 character--one 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.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Richard Rorty
But prospective readers should be put off neither by Lear's baffling title nor by his zigzag route to his final chapter, the site of the encounter between Plato and Freud. His staging of that encounter is admirable, and his book will excite the interest of anyone who has ever been bowled over by either of those two men.
New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674006744
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 2/15/2002
  • Series: Tanner Lectures on Human Values Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 683,087
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.48 (d)

Meet the Author

Jonathan Lear is John U. Nef Distinguished Service Professor in the Committee on Social Thought and the Department of Philosophy at the University of Chicago.
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Table of Contents

1. Happiness

2. Death

3. The Remainder of Life

Notes

Acknowledgments

Index

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