Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Leonard Peikoff: Philosophy is a Continual Misery

I had been under the impression that Leonard Peikoff is a happy man. I believed that since Objectivism is the philosophy for living on earth, someone whose life has been spent in talking and writing about Objectivism must be happy.

But Objectivism has not brought happiness to Peikoff. It has been the cause of his misery.

In his podcast for October 25, 2015 (which I found yesterday), he answers the question: “Are you yourself happy?” This is a strange podcast. In his 8 minute long rambling response Peikoff seems confused and dejected.

He does not sound like an Objectivist philosopher. He speaks like an ordinary man. He sounds pathetic.

The worse thing is that Peikoff blames philosophy for his failure to achieve happiness. He says, “In the morning, when I am writing philosophy, I dread getting to the desk and having to put more hours on it.” He also says that “philosophy is a continual misery.”

However, he points out that he did find some kind of happiness “for the first time” in his life at the age of 81, but that is because he gave up philosophy and started writing fiction. But before he began his tryst with fiction writing, there are two other activities that he tried. Here’s an excerpt from my transcription of his podcast:
“I knew when I retired that there were three arts that I always loved… that I wanted to try. I started with sculpture—the instructor very nicely said that I don’t think you are going to get it. Then I went to piano. After I had practiced a piece for many months I asked the instructor to tell me whether I can play it. Just say: ‘yes’ or ‘no’. He paused and said, “You are close”… But I realized that I didn’t have it and I got disillusioned with piano. My last hope was fiction, which I had stayed away from because it is language and words… And I thought it was writing and I don’t want to get into language and words. But I tried. I started with short stories because even I can’t imagine going with something as big as a novel. I made up three short stories, and when I read them after sometime, I disliked each one.” 
Towards the end of his podcast, Peikoff says:
“I am really enthusiastic about this part of my life. And I wonder how happier life would be if I just started out writing fiction and that’s it, but I probably won’t because… what I wanna know is what is true about the world first. So maybe it is in right order. In any event, I am happy to say that this time the answer to the question is yes.”
This really is a strange podcast from Leonard Peikoff. I am still trying to make sense of it. 


Bill31 said...

"A tree is known by its fruit” is often a good starting point, but it implies that you know what the tree is. It reminds me of Socrates' comment that if you have a good wife, you will be happy, if you have a bad one, it might make you a philosopher. These two sentences argue rather in opposite directions about the cause and effect of happiness. And I do not mean to comment on LP's family life by it, just asking about the causes of a happy life.

There are enough public examples of persons living happy and productive lives who are consciously aligned to objectivist thought to assure me that it is quite possible.

I for one do not see philosophy as a primary focus in a life. A necessary basis, a foundation, a constant guide – very much so. Perhaps I lack perspective to see otherwise. I am glad to know both simple skills, such as metal- and woodworking, as well as more complex ones such as mathematics, chemistry, and engineering. They are all deeply grounded in reality.

I don’t know if Dr. P has such advantages. From what (little) I know of him, he has chosen the life more of abstract ideas than their application. What has he made? How have his ideas come to fruition in practice? This is a thing that would bring me happiness. And to wait until his 80s to seek productive expressions? WWRS? What Would Rand Say? More specifically, What would Howard Roark say?
For example, has LP ever assembled an IKEA kit? It's not as trivial as it might seem. The examples I have been using are quite physical, but we live in a world of the physical as well as of ideas, and I cannot see myself as happy without them both, so from my view, I wonder if LP has undertaken such an integration in his life.

Jur said...

He said it himself. He wanted to know what is true about the world first. This is the process that every human being has to go through if they want to live in the world. Grasp the fundamentals. For him, it extended throughout his life, but he clarified his position.

He said why he chose to pursue philosophy. He felt indebted to Rand. He would have certainly felt miserable if he hadn't acted in order to spread the word of her philosophy further.

So, a) it was his choice, b) he felt he had a debt to Rand and c) while his productive career hasn't provided him with many happy moments, it gave him a fundamental (his words) sense of happiness and d) he's certainly at a very happy time in his life now.

The end.