There is a sense in which everything that we have done cannot be undone. If you have loved, then it will always be true that you have loved. No achievement can be taken away once it has been achieved. Good things never really end, we just come to the end of them.
When we are faced with any limit it is tempting to look for something that overcomes it: when there is no cure, even snake oil becomes tempting. Sadly, the supplements to reason are just as useless.
‘A problem shared is a problem halved’ is not a maxim that finds much favour in global politics. Governments earn their mandates, democratic or not, by acting in the interests of their citizens, not those of foreigners. Efforts to counter this parochialism with more universal, benevolent principles have had extremely limited effect…
There is a great deal of truth in the idea that we all tend to gain from co-operation, which perhaps helps explain why this belief has survived the widespread secularisation of society. Nor does the mere fact that goodness tends to pay prove our motivations are always fundamentally selfish: compassion and kindness can still be sincere, even if they are repaid with interest.
We should always try to avoid reducing individual human beings to impersonal units of welfare, a dehumanisation which is utilitarianism at its worst. One way of doing this is simply to ask: if it were our lives or interests that were being sacrificed, should we accept it, however reluctantly?
Even the most blessed life has its share of illness, disappointment and loss. Philosophical traditions such as Buddhism and Stoicism promise an escape from this by cultivating a disinterested detachment. But for me this comes at too high a cost. Love — for other people, for projects, for the world — necessarily entails pain at its loss or failure.
Our omni-connected age endlessly feeds us shallow pleasures that demand little time and effort, when most of what is valuable in life requires a fair bit of both. They are the digital equivalent of chunks of cheap milk chocolate: tasty and harmless enough by themselves but ruinous when eaten endlessly.
Conviction is overrated and the value of “knowing your own mind” misunderstood. Those who harbour more doubts know their own minds well enough. But knowing the world well too, the result is rarely clear, firm opinions.
I have a problem with unconditional love. I don’t mean that I feel its lack or don’t want to give it. Rather, I’m not sure why people seem so keen to value it…
Gloom is easily mistaken for intellectual depth. Have you ever seen a photo of a smiling existentialist?