CONTENTMENT AND THE MEANINGFUL LIFE – SILENCE

“Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content.” –Helen Keller , The Story of My Life.

Having completed the subsections on the lessons of the ancient and later thinkers and of psychology in the seeking of contentment, I move now to some special considerations; first silence, then solitude, and finally asceticism. We start today with silence.

It does not take a philosopher or spiritualist to recognize we live in a very noisy world, not just one of random, nearly inescapable background clatter, but also one teeming with technological distractions such as television, computers, and cell phones. Noise and distractions invade our lives 24 hours per day 365 days per year. The result is overstimulation and a mind seldom at rest while awake. Achieving contentment in a feverish world represents a tremendous hurdle but one which philosophers have addressed.

Silence as the path to contentment has three nuances: (1) quiet, (2) attentive listening, and (3) quietude. The first of these is the most accessible, possible by the mere separation from sounds through changing one’s environment or sound-canceling devices. In the quiet of a remote wood or sound-protected, device-free civilized space we discover a kind of calm that is refreshing and invigorating. We encounter an abrupt peace of mind, but learn this alone is not sufficient for enduring contentment.

Greater tranquility is brought about by a further step – attentive listening to non-human reality. Consider Taoist teaching that we must have quiet to hear the silent universe and its ‘Grand Harmony.’ Anyone who has sat alone on a calm evening spellbound by the Milky Way or looking through a telescope at the silent dance of Jupiter’s moons knows what this means. But we also experience it in the Rocky Mountains watching a herd of rams foraging in the distance and a million other places. While this calm lingers afterwards, it too is fleeting even if revisited frequently.

The greatest means to contentment inverts this phenomenon – the elimination of one’s own stirring and sounds through personal containment, that is, quietude as is achieved by speechlessness, the cessation of itinerant thought, and inaction. Hui Neng tells us such quietism is the means to liberation and enlightenment.:

“A conscious being alone understands what is meant by moving;

To those not endowed with consciousness the moving is unintelligible.

If you exercise yourself in the practice of keeping your mind unmoved,

The immovable you gain is that of one who has no consciousness.

If you are desirous of the truly immovable,

The immovable is in the moving itself,

And this immovable is truly the immovable one.

There is no seed of Buddhahood where there is no consciousness.

Mark how varied are the aspects of the immovable one,

And know that the first reality is immovable.

Only when this reality is attained

Is the true working of suchness understood.”1

(continued next post)

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1Huxley, Aldous, The Perennial Philosophy. Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York and London, 1945.     Page 65.

CONTENTMENT AND THE MEANINGFUL LIFE – PSYCHOLOGY – PART VIII

 

 

“Aristotle and Confucius would surely be perplexed by the stresses and various threats to happiness we experience in our globalized, digitized culture.”– Susan A. David, Ilona Boniwell, and Amanda Conley Ayers, The Oxford Handbook of Happiness.

After 12 posts I close now with a synopsis of the psychological and clinical approaches to contentment we have discussed. We started with the humanistic views of Erich Fromm who picks up where Freud’s pessimism leave off – contentment comes down to a state of well-being derived from the meeting of authentic needs; specifically meaningful productivity, gratifying tasks, involvement in the world, self-respect, ethical behavior, avoidance of obsession on the means to happiness, and a capacity for relaxedness.

We further extracted from Frohm and the clinical experience of his contemporaries in psychoanalysis that we must eliminate psychological obstacles to contentment, particularly the subtle causes of anxiety. I suggested we rework their methodologies to undo our more mundane disquietude. The result was a list of steps that break the cycle of anxiety and facilitate contentment while enhancing our capacity to achieve our full humanity. Specific actions include: (1) uncovering the causes of one’s particular anxiety, (2) coming to accept some level of anxiety as universal and thus also a bond with the rest of humanity, (3) relaxation techniques, (4) refusing to dwell on the causes of anxiety, (5) adopting healthy alternatives such as accepting responsibility for one’s actions and evolving a feeling of the common weal, (6) finding new kinds of gratification, a kind of ‘New Beginning,’ and (7) transforming negative will in a positive direction, in effect as a “will-to-health’ and revitalized creativity.

Later psychology moves to more concrete cognitive/behavioral techniques that we can also consider to map a course to contentment. Insight, self-knowledge, and a sound understanding of reality underlie this mode to inner serenity. The recent field of positive psychology takes us a step further with its focus on subjective well-being mixed with a sprinkling of spiritual psychology. Edward Bourne consolidates all of this psychological groundwork into a handbook of self-guided techniques – breath control, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, etc. – that echo and amplify the great Eastern traditions. For those of us most refractory to contentment, modern pharmacology offers the option of therapy with SSRIs or SNRIs as adjuncts to psychological and philosophical avenues to contentment.

I suspect most experts in the field of psychology think success utilizing only a self-directed program to contentment is difficult, if not impossible, for persons living in our turbulent times. For them, the psychologist is the modern equivalent of the ancient master, although thankfully less paternalistic. If one’s meaning of life is incomplete mainly due to discontentment, the reader may wish to consider seeking the modern guide, a decision that is deeply personal and should not be disparaged by the more fortunate among us.

CONTENTMENT AND THE MEANINGFUL LIFE – PSYCHOLOGY – PART VII (continued)

“The best physician is also a philosopher.” – Galen

Last time we culled psychotropic agents seeking possible aids in contentment and settled on SSRIs and SNRIs4 as the most suitable choices. Now we must ascertain whether even they are acceptable adjuncts to philosophical and psychological contentment or for that matter whether any chemical-induced tranquility, even when enduring, is appropriate to our notion of contentment. The positions as I see it comes down to the following:

For: (1) They correct a chemical imbalance not otherwise remediable which others may not face and which is essential for the philosophical pursuit of happiness. (2) They enhance function leading to greater hope of meaningful purpose. (3) Science is utilized in other areas of philosophy such as the understanding of reality. (4) Any non-addictive means to mental equilibrium shy of illusion or apathy is intellectually justified in the pursuit of the meaningful life. (5) They facilitate a greater capacity for focus on philosophical study and contemplation essential to contentment itself.

Against: (1) Chemical contentment is artificial by definition and unsustainable with discontinuation of the medication. (2) Calm from medication is or can be induced without an associated philosophical understanding and thus threatens recognition of ‘true’ contentment. (3) Science is fine to enhance the understanding of reality and for the improvement of life, but not as a means to bypass philosophical discipline. (4) It is impossible for us to know whether any chemical induction of equanimity and happiness is not a mere illusion. (5) It may be the case that they are psychologically addictive. (6) Non-chemical efforts (such as contemplation or meditation) to contentment are vital to extract the full value of contentment on the road to a meaningful life.

The arguments are about equally valid and neither is entirely convincing so at the end of the day, this seems to be a personal decision. In truth I can see no reason why a non-addictive agent facilitating calm is fraudulent per se, yet I suspect most of us want to achieve contentment naturally or ‘on our own.’ That certainly has been my feeling. Should you feel differently, I see no definitive downside to a trial, and you may want to check with your physician. He or she likely knows the struggle you are experiencing.

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4 SSRIs refers to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), and especially escitalopram (Lexapro) and SNRIs refers to serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) such as venlafaxine (Effexor) and duloxetine (Cymbalta).

CONTENTMENT AND THE MEANINGFUL LIFE – PSYCHOLOGY – PART VII


“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” – Hippocrates

In our investigation of scientific and psychological adjuncts to contentment, we come to a final consideration, pharmacological agents. It is unlikely the reader will find any philosopher who addresses this option outside the “brain in the vat” thought experiment1,2, but as a physician I feel compelled to devote two blogs to this alternative. Nonetheless this leaves us on untested ground.

Let’s begin by dispensing with some obviously unsuitable possibilities. I would eliminate all physically addictive substances where contentment from intake may be merely the relief of the craving from the addiction. It is also worth noting that such substances offer only transient calmness or pleasure and thus fail to meet my definition of contentment as enduring in nature. Therefore alcohol, sedatives (such as benzodiazepines and barbiturates), opiates, and even cannabis can be excluded; in fact, one might argue that true contentment implies freedom from an incessant need for any such substances, and I would urge persons habituated to them to seek substitutes or even professional care.2 Similarly we can exclude antipsychotics which are therapeutic for psychiatric diseases, but inappropriate for healthy but restive individuals and stimulants which induce restlessness and excitement, not tranquility.

The best candidate pharmacologic agents in my opinion are the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), and especially escitalopram (Lexapro) and the serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) such as venlafaxine (Effexor) and duloxetine (Cymbalta). These drugs developed for clinical depression are also effective in generalized anxiety disorder. However my experience is that they seem to aid persons with more mundane irritability and unease. In fact, several of my patients refer to them as their “happy pills.” They are not apparently habit forming, nor do they cause any overt change in mentation, rather they seem to reduce outbursts and worry about daily problems. Used long term one might say they induce a level of sustained calm without significant impairment in function.

Next time I will offer arguments for and against their utility in philosophical contentment as a component of the meaningful life.

(continued next post)

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1The “brain in the vat” thought experiment considers whether one would agree to exist with one’s brain submerged permanently in a solution of chemicals which leave one entirely happy and convinced of one’s purposeful existence. Presumably most people would decline this choice, believing contentment, happiness, and meaning require actual not artificial conditions as the cause of this state of mind.

2I note that not even the 1000 page psychology-based The Oxford Handbook of Happiness includes a segment on the use of medications to facilitate happiness.

3To be clear I am not referring to social, moderate, or recreational use in the absence of habituation.

CONTENTMENT AND THE MEANINGFUL LIFE – PSYCHOLOGY – PART VI

“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”– Marcus Aurelius.

We return now to the modern approach to contentment as presented by philosophy’s nearest science, psychology. We have already looked at Erich Fromm’s theory of happiness and pleasure as derived  from authenticity in action and self-assessment, some lessons of the mid 20th century psychoanalysts, variations of contemporary cognitive-behavioral therapy, and the contemporary field of positive psychology. Today we examine some self-guided psychological techniques as pathways to contentment and inner calmness, where Edward J. Bourne1 will be our navigator. His approach, it seems to me, dovetails particularly well with the positive psychologists.

Let’s begin with his explanation of anxiety and un-wellness. He thinks it results from ‘cumulative stress’ originating out of the rapidity of societal change, lack of constant standards and values, and lack of general stability. We often reach a state in which we fear loss of control and failure, suffer inability to cope with circumstances, worry about rejection, abandonment, and even death. The consequent anxiety and low mood are sustained by negative ‘self-talk’ and mistaken beliefs combined with an unhappy or unbalanced life style. The discontented or neurotic individual benefits from establishing a program of relaxation and personal wellness and by learning positive ‘self-talk’ and self-nurturing. Bourne also thinks that “by getting more in touch with a larger sense of purpose, and where appropriate, cultivating spirituality, you gain a sense of meaning…”2

For mild cases he thinks we can succeed in overcoming our anxiety and discontent through some well-established techniques. At the most basic level this includes nutrition, aerobic exercise, and freedom from stimulants. One also needs to modify a high stress lifestyle and seek meaning and purpose. Some efforts must be ongoing including the elimination of negative ‘self-talk’ and self-critical thinking for example phrases that begin with “I should…’ or “I have to…” or “I am not…” and all forms of catastrophic thinking. Such ruminating must be reconstructed into self-supporting and confidence-building language. Beyond this, one may consider the following specific techniques practiced on a daily basis:

  1. Abdominal breathing
  2. Progressive muscle relaxation
  3. Peaceful scene visualization
  4. Guided imagery
  5. Autogenic training
  6. Biofeedback
  7. Meditation
  8. Sensory deprivation
  9. Self-nurturing

I might add self-hypnosis, a technique I have used with some success during difficult times. Regardless, details of these techniques are beyond the scope of this site, but can be found in many books including Bourne’s and on the internet. However the reader may see some spillover from this psychology into Eastern disciplines such as yoga or tai chi. If you find contentment elusive, as I have, you may have to overcome a certain natural bias to these seemingly ‘pop’ culture methodologies, but in fact, many of these methods date back to antiquity. Some of them will reappear in the upcoming section on ultimate reality.

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1Bourne, Edmund, The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook. New Harbinger Publications, Inc., Oakland, CA, 1995. ISBN 1-57224-003-2. (Winner of the Benjamin Franklin BOOK AWARD for Excellence in Psychology). Once again I am repurposing his text for our needs – contentment for those without a clinically diagnosed mental disorder.

2Ibid., page xiii.

CURRENT READING –  Rev. Deacon Dr. Ananias Sorem – PART IV

(to my readers, unfortunately the site has been down for 3 days, so the current post and responses to comments were delayed)

An Orthodox Theory of Knowledge: The Epistemological and Apologetic Methods of the Church Fathers,  by  Rev. Deacon Dr. Ananias Sorem

“If anyone should suggest that scientific knowledge is provable by the help of reason, he must realize that the first principles are not to be proved…By faith alone is it possible to arrive at the principle of the universe.” – Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis

 

I ended my last post on the uses of pragmatism to confirm reason outside of itself, and presented both a scientific example and an approach regarding proofs of God’s existence. To be fair we should attempt a similar process to consider the possibility that the traditional concept of God might be untrue. The agnostic (or atheist) might counter that the traditional concept of God is proven erroneous using coherence (the presence of unnecessary evil in the universe and the illogic of omnipotence and its inconsistency with free will)), coherence (the physicist’s argument for the spontaneous appearance of the primordial singularity or the power of science to explain events previously thought to be supernatural), and pragmatically (the inconsistency of attempts of most persons to achieve mystical union and the failure of prayers to solve worldly problems).  In the end, reason and pragmatism are shown to leave the proof of God unsettled.

Fr. Sorem’s attack on foundationalism and coherentism is immensely old – the default position of the ancient skeptics. But he who lives by the sword may die by it – intellectually honest skepticism imposes doubt on faith and revelation as well. In fact it seems far more dubious to consider revelation (particularly the patchwork of the New and Old Testaments) as absolute truth over reason and science with their largely internal consistencies, accurate predictions (for example eclipses) and immense utility (such as the automobile, cell phone, or computer). I seek not to undermine faith here, only to challenge whether skeptic doubt is the correct format to champion faith.

Nonetheless, for me, the most powerful portion Sorem’s essay is his proof of God’s existence I extracted in Part II of this critique. This is possibly one of the most powerful arguments I have ever seen for the belief in deity. If reason and truth itself are instantiated in the divine, what in the West is called the logos, then Fr. Sorem’s formulation of what is essentially a metaphysical argument for God’s existence seems to be entirely different from the traditional ontological, teleological, and cosmological arguments. Its weakness is I suppose is the validity of the first premise  – “Truth and knowledge cannot be justified in the absence of God (i.e by unverifiable human reason alone).” Still, it is for me worthy of extended contemplation which must follow this critique.

My last comment is that even if we bracket the above comments, this paper seems to argue that reason cannot confirm faith, not that Christianity is true. Nothing within it disproves the truth of other faiths, each of which is held as tightly by others as Christianity is for the Orthodox practitioner. Perhaps that was never his focus of course.

All in all, I appreciate the reader’s recommendation to review Fr. Sorem’s article, and I enjoyed becoming more familiar with Orthodox theology through the links provided. I would also like to thank Fr. Sorem for making his essay available to all of us for study.

Next week we return to contentment and psychology.

CURRENT READING –  Rev. Deacon Dr. Ananias Sorem – PART III

An Orthodox Theory of Knowledge: The Epistemological and Apologetic Methods of the Church Fathers,  by  Rev. Deacon Dr. Ananias Sorem

“God is proven, not as the conclusion of rational or empirical theistic arguments, but as the very ground of argument itself.” – Russell Manion, The Contingency of Knowledge and Revelatory Theism.

 

In the last two posts I introduced this essay by Fr. Sorem and attempted an objective synopsis. Today I offer my impressions as requested by the reader who brought it to my attention. I begin with the following disclaimer: on this site, I have no intention of discouraging, disparaging, or attempting to undermine the sincere religious beliefs of anyone, and thus nothing which follows is intended to challenge such faith. Rather I believe the practical philosopher makes intellectually honest efforts to identify internally consistent truths in matters that inform the meaning of life, including of course the question of the existence and nature of the divine.

So let us start with natural theology. It seems to me that Fr. Sorem is being unduly harsh on Aquinas and other traditional Christian apologists. I suspect they too would assign the origin of human reason to God, but, like me, think it is apposite to demonstrate its internal consistency by inverting the two – the reason, logic, and order created by or emanating from God should comport with God’s existence and nature. I expect a theist would and should be alarmed if sound human reasoning demonstrates that God’s existence or characteristics are illogical or contradictory. In fact, the argument from evil or Stephen Law’s ‘evil God argument’ as well as many ad absurdum arguments (i.e. “Can an omnipotent God create a stone which he himself cannot lift?”) attempt to demonstrate this very inconsistency. Granted, if God is known by ‘faith,’ it is not necessary to prove His existence, but it seems  reassuring and reinforcing that the divine’s gift of human reason is confirmatory, not incongruous with religious beliefs.

Next let us consider Fr. Sorem’s explanation of epistemology which he reduces to foundationalism and coherentism. While these are the two dominant systems of the theory of knowledge described by Western philosophy and his descriptions are very learned, I would counter that this distillation is incomplete. In matters of metaphysics, the divine, and personal meaning, we seek truth, not mere knowledge, and must thus utilize the three classical theories of or avenues to truth – correspondence, coherence (convergence), and pragmatic. 1 Truth, it seems to me, is most certain and action most justified when assertions are confirmed by the application of all three.

Foundationalism relies most on correspondence, mainly through reason not experience and coherentism relies more on experience  and on coherence and convergence (truth  is approached by the converging of data points and learned opinions). However pragmatism often offers an additional and independent layer to validate the first two. Human reason and coherentism (for example science) then are not demonstrated through circular reason alone, but by pragmatic confirmation – empirical results and accurate predictions. So for example, we know that Einstein’s ‘theory’ of relativity is true not only because of correspondence (e.g. the mathematics and concordant astronomical observations), nor coherence (say interoperability with Newtonian physics), but by its accurate predictions (such as gravitational lensing) or its instrumentality (such as GPS satellites and the atomic bomb).

If we now apply this approach to the question of the existence of God, we might say God is proven by Natural Theology using correspondence (for example Anselm’s ontological argument, Aquinas’s ‘five ways,’ and mystical experience), coherence (the universe’s origin in creation suggested by the ‘big bang theory’ or by validated supernatural events or miracles) and pragmatically (for example by the answering of prayers). Whatever one’s individual thoughts on the factuality of these examples, this process averts the criticism of circular reasoning, and yet does not rely on revelation. The practical philosopher concludes that the validity of reason is not contingent on circular reasoning, or the existence of a divine creator, but on the congruous application of the three models of truth upon reality itself.

(completed next post)

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1Also see Certainty – Definitions and Distinctions published on this site 5/20/20 and 5/22/20 where I define  (1) Correspondence – truth is what corresponds to reality or fact (the common idea of truth). (2) Coherence – truth is that which coheres with other truths or beliefs (including the theory of  convergence), and (3) Pragmatism – truth is that which can be used to guide behavior; that is ‘what works.’

CURRENT READING –  Rev. Deacon Dr. Ananias Sorem – PART II

An Orthodox Theory of Knowledge: The Epistemological and Apologetic Methods of the Church Fathers,  by  Rev. Deacon Dr. Ananias Sorem  

“When God was conversing with Moses, He did not say ‘I am the essence’, but ‘I am the One Who is.’ Thus it is not the One Who is who derives from the essence, but essence which derives from Him, for it is He who contains all being in Himself.” – St. Gregory Palamas, Triads in Defense of the Holy Hesychasts.

Continuing now with a synopsis of Fr. Sorem’s essay, he begins with a critique of Natural Theology – defined as inquiry into the existence and attributes of God without appeal to divine revelation as exemplified by St. Thomas Aquinas who pursued reason in justification of faith. Fr. Sorem disputes the rationale of this approach since reason cannot be validated except by reason itself – i.e.  circular arguments that beg the question of reason’s trustworthiness. In short, God’s ontology precedes and transcends any possible epistemology, and thus faith trumps reason.

The next portion of the essay distills down to a critique of the two basic approaches used by philosophers to determine truth, Foundationalism and Coherentism. In Fr. Sorem’s opinion, foundationalism – the basing of truth on a foundation of unquestionable assertions – invariably fails as all assertions are contingent, even presumably self-evident ones. For him, purportedly self-evident truths still depend on the use of reason to demonstrate they are self-evident, and reason can never be validated independent of reason itself. Meanwhile coherentism – the justification of knowledge based on a web of internally consistent data points and beliefs – fails in his opinion because of the unreliability of sensory data, contaminating theories, and its ultimate dependence on unverifiable foundational beliefs. Therefore neither foundationalism nor coherentism can be deployed in the proof of God’s existence or nature.5

Fr. Sorem offers the alternative of a transcendental argument of God’s existence. My oversimplified and restated version of his more complex proof follows6:

  1. Truth and knowledge cannot be justified in the absence of God (i.e by unverifiable human reason alone).
  2. Truth and knowledge (necessarily) exist.
  3. Therefore God (necessarily) exists.

At his juncture he inserts tenets of the Orthodox religion that complement the logical arguments above. Since unaided human reason is incapable of determining its own legitimacy and the divine functions as the originating force of knowledge and truth, a bridge is needed between man and God. A quote from St. Justin Popovich fills this gap:

“[T]he power of Truth, from the other side, responds to the powerlessness of man on this side. Transcendent Truth crosses the gulf, arrives on our side of it and reveals Itself – Himself – in the person of Christ, the God-man. In Him transcendent Truth becomes immanent in man. The God-man reveals the truth in and through Himself. He reveals it not through thought or reason, but by the life that is His. He not only has the truth, He is Himself the Truth. In Him, Being and Truth are one…”7

In Fr. Sorem’s opinion, only the Eastern Orthodox Church (as opposed to Western Catholicism and Protestantism) has preserved the correct doctrine  that “God (the necessary condition) is rational, omniscient, transcendent, non-contingent (necessary), intentional in His creation (as opposed to creation being accidental) a personal and communal being … having divine uncreated energies distinct from the common essence, who becomes incarnate as the God-man (the only one that can bridge the epistemic gap) sends His Holy Spirit to illumine and solve man’s epistemic predicament, and reveals these truths to His Apostles…”8

His essay ends on a discussion of presuppositional apologetics, which rejects the usual apologist stance that one can deploy a neutral, autonomous epistemology or logic to prove the existence of God and justify faith. “God is the ultimate epistemological starting point…”9 He concludes that one needs the entire system of orthodox Christianity to validate knowledge and truth, and that man’s epistemic autonomy is ultimately “pretended.”

In the next post I will offer my critique of Fr. Sorem’s essay. Join me then.

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5 Nor we presume the Five Ways of Aquinas. This is of course an extremely abbreviated explanation of Fr. Sorem’s very erudite composition and logic, but I believe it outlines fairly his attempt to demonstrate that Western philosophical reasoning is not a valid means to justify faith.

6I ask for leniency to those more familiar with advanced logic theory, and from Fr. Sorem for completely changing the format of his argument. It is possible I have misinterpreted his thinking, but I have attempted to remain faithful to the spirit of his logic.

7 Link https://cdn.discordapp.com/attachments/719360951752851519/720552166384730183/SOPHIA_Paper_2.pdf, page 15.

8Ibid., page 16.

9Ibid., page 17.

CURRENT READING –  Rev. Deacon Dr. Ananias Sorem – PART I

An Orthodox Theory of Knowledge: The Epistemological and Apologetic Methods of the Church Fathers,  by  Rev. Deacon Dr. Ananias Sorem

 “Away with all attempts to produce a mottled Christianity of Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic composition! We want no curious disputation after enjoying the gospel! With our faith, we desire no further belief. For this is our palmary faith, that there is nothing which we ought to believe besides.” – Tertullian, On Prescription Against Heretics.

This week a reader asked me to critique this 19 page essay1 with the following prompt: “… at a fundamental level all religions of the world are a form of monism…and only orthodoxy has the essence – energy distinction model which allows epistemic flourishing and avoids the circular reasoning of monism. Please take a look at this paper which I think is a good representation of the way I see things as of now and let me know if you have any critique for the way the author presents his transcendental argument.”2

So before we begin I think it is necessary to understand what is meant by the term, essence-energy distinction model, which was new to me and not in any of my philosophical dictionaries or encyclopedias (even R.C. Zaehner’s  Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions, which does in fact have a section on Orthodox Christianity). Thus I will have to accept Wikipedia’s definition:

“In Palamite theology, there is a distinction between the essence (ousia) and the energies (energeia) of God … In layman’s terms, God’s essence is distinct from God’s energies in the same manner as the Sun’s essence and energies are distinct. The Sun’s essence is a ball of burning gas, while the Eastern Orthodox hold that God’s essence is incomprehensible. As the Sun’s essence is certainly unapproachable and unendurable, so the Eastern Orthodox hold of God’s essence As the sun’s energies on Earth, however, can be experienced and are evidenced by changes that they induce (ex. melting, hardening, growing, bleaching, etc.), the same is said of God’s energies—though perhaps in a more spiritual sense (ex. melting of hearts or strength, hardening of hearts, spiritual growth, bleaching to be “white as snow,” though more physical and psychological manifestations occur as well as in miracles, and inspiration, etc.). The important points being made are that while God is unknowable in His essence, He can be known (i.e. experienced) in His energies… Eastern Orthodox theologians generally regard this distinction as a real distinction, and not just a conceptual distinction. Historically,  Western Christian thought, since the time of the Great Schism, has tended to reject the essence–energies distinction as real in the case of God, characterizing the view as a heretical introduction of an unacceptable division in the Trinity and suggestive of polytheism…”3

In any case, the author of this essay offers as his biography the following: “Fr. Deacon Ananias Sorem, PhD is CEO, Founder, and President of Patristic Faith. Father is an Orthodox apologist and Professor of Philosophy at Fullerton College and Carroll College. He has a B.A. in Liberal Arts from Thomas Aquinas College, together with an MA (Honors) and PhD in Philosophy (Epistemology; Philosophy of Science; Philosophy of Mind) from University College Dublin. His current academic work focuses on philosophical theology, epistemology, and the philosophy of science. Father is the author of several articles and peer-reviewed papers, including: ‘Searle, Materialism, and the Mind-Body Problem,’ ‘Gnostic Scientism and Technocratic Totalitarianism,’ ‘An Orthodox Approach to the Dangers of Modernity and Technology,’ and ‘An Orthodox Theory of Knowledge: The Epistemological and Apologetic Methods of the Church Fathers.’ He is also known for his YouTube channel, the Norwegian Nous.”4

Following this introductory post, I will in the next post summarize Fr. Sorem’s thesis, and in the two following it, offer my critique. Be prepared for some quite difficult reading!

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1 https://cdn.discordapp.com/attachments/719360951752851519/720552166384730183/SOPHIA_Paper_2.pdf

2See comment dated 7/17/22 on this site (italics are mine).

3 Wikipedia, Essence-energies distinction.

4 https://www.patristicfaith.com/our-team/

CONTENTMENT AND THE MEANINGFUL LIFE – PSYCHOLOGY – PART V (continued)

Let’s look now at two perspectives on contentment within positive psychology. First William Pavot and Ed Diener present subjective well-being as incorporating four independent variables – high positive affect, low negative affect, life satisfaction, and domain satisfaction. This last item, domain satisfaction, refers to the discreet realms of life such as marriage, work, health, and so forth. Contentment in this model then is global in scope and integrates the subjective weight of each characteristic and domain for a specific individual. Pavot and Diener point out this global assessment can be (1) bottom-up referring to the aggregation of experiences, the more labile derivation, or (2) top-down referring to personality or individual disposition that views life experiences in a positive light, and thus is the more stable consruct.

Pavot and Diener argue that evidence suggests that an interplay of bottom-up and top-down factors determines overall subjective well-being, and yet that for many people the degree of subjective well-being remains relatively stable over time. They explain this by noting life experiences and changes, whether negative or positive, quickly dissipate tending to bring the individual back to a stable “set point” ultimately related to one’s core personality. They also note a confounding variable; social comparisons, particularly to those in one’s immediate proximity. Whatever the determining factors, Pavot and Diener observe that subjective well-being tends to increase with age (more so than with increasing wealth), and with marriage, good social relationships, and religiosity.

A second perspective of contentment within positive psychology is offered by Jane Henry, who explores   contentment as the quieting of the mind.5 She adapts thinking from the Eastern traditions in encouraging spiritual practices that result in low arousal states as a path to happiness, not the higher arousal states sought by Westerners. Spiritual psychologists advocate living ethically, stress interpersonal relationships, and seek inner equanimity. They encourage us to go within, root out failings and develop the capacity to attend to others kindly. Acceptance, detachment from desires, mindfulness, non-personal identification, desisting from criticizing oneself and others, and flow or contented absorption in the present are highlighted.

One tool Henry emphasizes is meditation. “Meditation teaches people to understand and calm the mind and see more clearly. It does this by training attention, balancing emotions and transforming consciousness. Four common approaches are concentrative meditation where one focuses on an object such as a mantra, the breath or the body, mindfulness where attention is open, and an attitude of attentiveness is encouraged to whatever is experienced, contemplation around a quality such as compassion and intuitive apprehension where the practitioner waits for an answer to emerge to a particular question.”6

Positive psychology’s development of subjective well-being and spiritual psychology appears to offer additional perspective and novel methods beyond psychoanalysis and cognitive therapy in the pursuit of contentment. Before we conclude, I would like to consider some self-directed techniques which I hope will complete a blueprint of contentment from the psychological vantage point.

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4 David, Susan A. et. al., The Oxford Handbook of Happiness. Oxford University Press, Oxford, U.K., 2014. ISBN 978-0-19-871462-0, pages  134-145.

5Ibid., pages  411-421.

6Ibid., pages  417 (my italics).