Friday, February 7, 2014

Happiness, Work, and Amusement

Happiness, then, does not consist in amusement, because it would be absurd if our end were amusement, and we laboured and suffered all of our lives for the sake of amusing ourselves. For we choose virtually everything for the sake of something else, except happiness, since it is the end; but serious work and exertion for the sake of amusement is manifestly foolish and extremely childish. Rather, as Anacharis puts it, what seems correct is amusing ourselves so that we can engage in some serious work, since amusement is like relaxation, and we need relaxation because we cannot continually exert ourselves. Relaxation, then, is not an end, since it occurs for the sake of activity. (Nicomachean Ethics, X.6)

To put what Aristotle appears to be saying into contemporary terms, the weekend exists for the sake of the working week, and not the working week for the sake of the weekend. In other words, our job is not incidental to our lives, a neutral means to earn money so that we can fulfil our true end, which is amusing ourselves. Rather, we relax in order to be refreshed for the attainment our true end, which is virtuous activity. That many people would rightly struggle to think of their Monday-Friday life in this way shows how unintelligible work has become within a system whose end is the possession and expenditure of money.

I don’t know exactly how this squares with Scripture’s concept of Sabbath, both in its cyclical and eschatological sense. Aristotle could also be interpreted as diminishing the relationship between virtue and play. However, what Aristotle says may also tie in quite nicely with one of Jesus’s most underrated and radical aphorisms: Humans were not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for humans.

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