We met with Professor J. Budziszewski to discuss his new book, his future writing plans, and ways to achieve happiness and a fulfilling life. Enjoy!
Professor Budziszewski discusses his new book How and How Not to Be Happy which walks readers through the way to find true happiness. The book culls the wisdom of Solomon, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and other time-tested writers. By holding a “conversation” with these scholars, Budziszewski explores the commonly pursued pathways people take to find happiness, separating the dead-ends from the overlooked trails that ultimately lead to a fulfilling life. Professor Budziszewski also gives an introduction and summary of How and How Not to Be Happy that cuts through the “hand waving” answers to the universal longings for happiness. He elaborates on his past work and his future writing plans. Follow along as author, philosopher, and professor of government and philosophy at the University of Texas, Austin, J. Budziszewski talks with Dr. Jed Macosko, academic director of AcademicInfluence.com and professor of physics at Wake Forest University.
What would be the adaptive value of a longing that had no possible fulfillment?” – Professor. J. Budziszewski
(Editor’s Note: The following transcript has been lightly edited to improve clarity.)
Jed Macosko: Hi, this is Dr. Jed Macosko at Wake Forest University and Academic Influence. And today, I have the pleasure of interviewing an old friend, Professor J. Budziszewski. And he has written another book, another wonderful book that I have really been enjoying reading. And it is fantastic, so I’m super excited to talk to you about this today, J. First off, you’ve written a book about Thomas Aquinas , and now in the book you say that this is kind of a spin-off of that, it’s your own take on how and how not to be happy.
J. Budziszewski: That’s right.
Jed: So, if somebody were to ask, to put you and Aquinas in the same room and ask, what does it take to be happy, would there be any significant differences between you and Aquinas?
J. Budziszewski: No, no. I really am a Thomas. I don’t think that there’s anything that I’ve said in this book that he wouldn’t agree with, but on the other hand, I’ve asked some questions that he didn’t ask. He asks a ton of questions that I don’t ask in this book, he covers much more ground. But I ask some questions, for instance, is happiness to be found in meaning? Is happiness to be in this? And I unpack some of these arguments in more fully. The book isn’t, here is my explanation of Thomas Aquinas, rather it’s an explanation of the same thing written by somebody whose mind has been largely shaped by Aquinas. Does that make sense?
Jed: Okay, so it’s your take.
J. Budziszewski: My take.
Jed: But he would agree with everything.
J. Budziszewski: I think so. I hope so.
Jed: Okay. That’s good, that’s good. So we know what we’re getting into. Now, I enjoyed how you structured it, the beginning is sort of how would we study this thing called Happiness, and then the middle is, I counted about 13 different ways you can’t be happy, but people think they can be happy, at least 13 different chapters. Some things get lumped together. And then you come up at the end of those. The 13th one is sort of, is virtue plus luck, which as you said it’s kind of like the worldly wise man, this is what you get.
J. Budziszewski: Yeah, yeah.
Jed: But then the last part is, "Well, should we settle for that or should we shoot for the moon?" Literally kind of like that feeling you get when you’re at night and staring up at the moon, there’s gotta be something more, so it’s a fascinating way, so cool, the way you organize this.
Did you ever feel a little bit like you were following in the footsteps of King Solomon writing the book of Ecclesiastes, where he sort goes through all these things that didn’t satisfy people or didn’t satisfy him personally when he tried them?
J. Budziszewski: Yeah. I think a lot of people who read the book of Ecclesiastes, vanity, vanity, all is vanity. They take it as the musings of a disillusioned man at the end of his life, who’s realized that nothing makes any sense. I don’t read it that way. I think he’s saying that all the things that people ordinarily chase in this life are dead ends, he clearly expresses confidence in the God whose ways he admits at this point, he doesn’t really understand, but he says, "I’m gonna put my trust in there, but a lot of this stuff is beyond my own fathoming."
Jed: Well, I’m glad you... Go ahead.
So, I think we have to have that kind of humility, we have to understand that there's a lot of stuff that we don't understand, we have to learn as much as we can from other people.” – Professor. J. Budziszewski
J. Budziszewski: So, I think we have to have that kind of humility, we have to understand that there’s a lot of stuff that we don’t understand, we have to learn as much as we can from other people. There have been centuries and centuries of reflection on this. And do the best we can.
Jed: Well, first of all, I’m glad you reformed people’s view of Ecclesiastics, ’cause, yeah, it gets a bad rep. A lot of people think it’s just a disillusioned old man talking about all the ways he’s failed. Never coming up with the right answer. And yeah, I don’t see it that way either. But he does sort of take each thing to task and weaves things to get effect. I enjoy reading Ecclesiastes in a different compilation that puts everything in our order, in the way you organize your book, topic by topic, by a guy named F. LaGard Smith, who did the Daily Bible, which is kind of a popular way of compiling the Bible. Yeah, I just saw a lot of similarities there. And you come to a happy conclusion, which is that there is something at the end, and I think Salomon does two, although some people, as you say, miss it.
Did you or did you not have him partly in mind as you went through all the different things, or he was not really... That book was not on the forefront of your mind?
J. Budziszewski: Salomon crossed my mind, the book of Ecclesiastes crossed my mind at several points when I was writing. But I can’t say that I was really thinking about it a lot. The books that I think I was thinking about a lot as I was writing, there were other scriptural works that I was thinking about. Some of the other wisdom books, I was thinking about Thomas Aquinas, I was thinking about Aristotle , a pagan philosopher, who was no fool and who was on to a lot of things, although I think he had some shortcomings.
Jed: You certainly give a lot of playing time to people who are not religious.
J. Budziszewski: Yes.
Jed: But who were no fools. And I definitely wanted to ask you about this because this could be potentially a criticism of your book, you really draw upon the ancient literature, which sounds good, ’cause like you said, it’s thousands of years of wisdom. And yet more people are alive today than have ever lived before, is what we always hear people say, it’s not maybe totally true as the birth rates decline, but roughly speaking.
J. Budziszewski: Yeah.
Jed: So, why wouldn’t we at least spend half the time on people who are still alive? In your book, it’s like 90% people who are dead at least, and then 10% of people who are alive and still writing. What would you say to somebody who wanted to criticize you along those lines?
J. Budziszewski: Well, I could say a couple of things about that. I would say, first of all, rather than criticizing the idea from the outset, take a look at what these things are that I use from these ancient writings and see what you think of them. And I think people are gonna say, "Yeah, that resonates with me. That old guy whom I never would have heard of maybe, or read, has helped me to realize that there is something that I sort of knew all along and I didn’t even know that I knew it." I aim at that. A second thing is, it’s true that more people are alive now than in the totality of the past, but all of us are shaped by each other in such a way that we don’t necessarily have a lot of new thoughts. We’re thinking what each other are thinking, and many of us are ignorant of the great wisdom from the past. So, instead of us being the heirs of all of that wisdom, we cut ourselves off from it. It’s as though we were marooned on an island.
CS Lewis once remarks that if you read only the books of your own time, you’re really gonna be in trouble. He thinks that you ought to read several old books from outside of your time and your culture for every one that you read in your own. You know, it’s funny that people don’t realize that more because we talk about multiculturalism all the time. So, people say, "Well, why don’t you read a Japanese novel and not just a novel by somebody in America or England?" Well, that’s great, but isn’t another part of that appreciation of another culture, one that was an ancestor of our culture from a long time ago. So, I think that a third reason for reading this stuff is a popular writer of our own time who writes about one of these subjects. Okay, he has his 15 minutes of fame, but somebody like Aristotle or Thomas Aquinas, the works of these guys have been around for centuries. That means that over many generations, people of different points of view and different experiences have all said, "This is really good stuff." And I think that ought to be respected. When we look into it, that I think that expectation is vindicated, there is gold here.
Jed: I 100% agree with you. In fact, that third one was the one I was thinking would be your rebuttal to somebody who said, "Why so many old people? Why so many dead people?" But yeah.
J. Budziszewski: I’m all for dead people.
Jed: So, you really have captured like page after page of things that the ancients have found to be true. Many of whom are not religious or not Christian, and you’re drawing from them. And in the end, it does boil down to a Judeo-Christian answer, that’s kind of the kicker at the end. So, I obviously don’t wanna scare people off from the book, the book could be very useful even if you are reviled by the final few chapters because you take it very methodically and reasonably with using rationality. So, it’s fantastic. Go ahead.
J. Budziszewski: I’ve done that on a couple of my books. I realized that there is a sort of a fear of falling off the cliff, of being dragged into the regions of unreason. Among many people, there’s a sort of a fear of religion. One philosopher, Thomas Nagel, who is not himself a theist, not himself a believer in God, says that it disturbs him that many of the most intelligent people that he knows are believers in God. And it isn’t that he doesn’t think that there is a God, it’s that he doesn’t want there to be one. And he accuses himself a fear of religion. And so I make it easy for my readers, I say, "Look, I’m not gonna talk about the God stuff until later in the book, if you want to avoid it and stop after part one and part two and not read part three, you can do that, and I think that there’s still some stuff that you can gain from the book." But the complete answer is going to be found only by taking the risk, do you have enough courage to go just a little bit further?
Jed: Well, I think it’s kind of like a person who hates Fox News, knowing that they’re gonna have to watch Fox News for the next half an hour or MSNBC, they have to watch it. If they’re prepared, it’s not so bad because they can see what they don’t like about it, and maybe they can learn something. And I think it was nice of you to put it all in one spot so they’re not surprised. It was also nice that you said for people, they can skip the first part, jump right into things that you think might make you happy.
A person like that, what would you want them to at least know if they’re watching this video and they’re gonna skip the first third of the book, what are they gonna miss that you can maybe fill in here for a little bit?
J. Budziszewski: Well, one of the things that they’re gonna miss is if they skip the first third is why I talk about it the way that I do. Why don’t I do it... There’s been an explosion of happiness studies, a lot of psychologist, social psychologists, sociologists, people like this, do survey research and they ask people, "What do you think happiness is? What makes you happy?" And the assumption seems to be that the answer to the question is whatever the majority of the people say. They say, "Well, 60% of our respondents said that family makes them happy, so that must be the meaning of happiness." One online, I didn’t dig into this, but online I came across an article in one occasion that said, "Well, we’ve surveyed wealthy people, and we’ve discovered that the notion that money can’t make you happy is false. It does make you happy. This is what they say."
If people didn't already know something, we'd have no place to start. But people don't always know what they know, they know all kinds of things that they're not aware of knowing, and you have to help them connect the dots.” – Professor. J. Budziszewski
This is a foolish way to proceed, not because people don’t know anything about happiness, they do. If people didn’t already know something, we’d have no place to start. But people don’t always know what they know, they know all kinds of things that they’re not aware of knowing, and you have to help them connect the dots. You find this not in a survey, in a tallying of the answers, but in a conversation, a dialogue, where all of that stuff that isn’t connected has to be exhumed, it has to be dug up and put in a coherent order.
So, they’re gonna miss that. They might think, "Well, why aren’t you just giving me a lot of survey analysis?" And I do mention some of the surveys, rates of suicide and things of that sort. The differences between suicide rates in wealthy neighborhoods and poor neighborhoods, that sort of thing, but I don’t rely on them. And so one of the things that they’re gonna miss is that. And another thing that they’re gonna miss is some of the nuances of... There are some differences that we have to make. It’s one thing to know what we mean by the word happiness, and it’s another thing to know in what that thing lies. Those aren’t the same question. And so a lot of times we get confused because we don’t clearly formulate it in our mind. Well, what is the question that I’m really asking you? I mean it’s one thing to say, "Well, happiness is fulfillment." I think that’s true. Happiness is living well and doing well. Sure, that’s fine, but how do I have to live then? What do I have to be doing? That’s a different kind of question. Why is it that it’s so hard to talk about it? Why do we talk past each other? And so I talk about that, too. And so people who skip the first part are gonna miss that, but if that doesn’t interest them, that’s fine. You could call it, to sound very social science-y, you could call it the methodology section of the book, although I try to be more conversational about it.
Jed: Well, it does seem like they’ll miss out on stuff, but if they did wanna temporarily skip over that and they’re listening to this video, it sounds like the summary is you’re not gonna really understand why I take the approach that I take, which, just to be clear, your approach is to find out what dead people, people in the past, said was important that has persisted because people thought they were on to something.
J. Budziszewski: I wouldn’t quite...
Jed: And it’s... Go ahead.
J. Budziszewski: Yeah, I wouldn’t quite put it that way. I do interrogate these dead people, but you know I disagree with them sometimes too. What I try to do, with the dead people, is not say, "Let’s not listen to the live people, let’s listen to the dead ones." But rather, let’s have a conversation and bring those dead people into it.
Jed: You take people who are alive all the time, I agree, I agree.
J. Budziszewski: Right. And so I try to discuss it in a way to connect the dots of things that we already dimly know, but don’t really realize that we know, haven’t really grasped. I’m assembling reminders.
Jed: Yeah, the book is kind of like watching a chess match between a grand master and his unwitting opponent, you move pieces one by one, setting up a trap that comes in the third part of the book. It’s fascinating, honestly, not to scare people from the third part, but you really take away all the material, there goes the rook, there goes the knight, all these things are just dropping like flies, chapter after chapter, because you poke holes in what some of the dead people say, what some of the living people are saying, that that is not as the way to find happiness.
J. Budziszewski: No, that’s true. I don’t just try to poke holes though. I think that even if an answer is a mistaken answer, people will think happiness lies in power, people lies in having meaning, whatever it is, even if it’s a false meaning, happiness lies in love, happiness lies in wealth, happiness lies in beauty, happiness lies in health. Even if that’s a wrong answer, nobody can fall for a wrong answer unless there’s something right about it. There are grains of truth even in errors, otherwise we would never find the errors plausible. And so I do also not just say, "Okay, the answer is wrong," but I also say, "Here’s the truth buried in it, that makes it plausible, even though it’s wrong, this we can affirm." And I try to pull those things out to.
Jed: No, you definitely do a great job of putting it. Otherwise, the third part of the book wouldn’t make sense, ’cause in the third part of the book, you say that all of these 13 things and the sub-things that come under them are all reflections of something that lies outside of created order, and can really only lie outside, because it’s not here, and yet we long for it. So, if each of those 13 things didn’t have some grain of truth in them or quite a bit of truth in them, then they wouldn’t really be pointing to anything true, is what I kinda gathered from what you were saying. So, that was encouraging. Tell us a little bit more about that. Here I am talking about your book, you should be talking about your book.
J. Budziszewski: Well, the way that you’ve just put it, there’s a point in part three where I quote from Augustine of Hippo, and he puts it much of the way that you did, and he says, "Look, people lust, but that’s about love and perfect love is found only in God. They want wealth, while wealth is sufficient, sufficiency and perfect sufficiency is only to be found in God. They are attracted to beauty, but the source of all beauty is only to be found in God." So, he thinks that these things in the created order that always do leave us satisfied. I look at something beautiful for a while and I think, "Oh, okay, I go back in my... " I look at the sky, "Oh, how wonderful." And I’m moved and my heart is longing and I go back in my house and I forget about it. And I think that was nice, but I can’t possess all of that beauty. Well, it can be possessed in union with the one who is beauty itself. So, I’m getting to that point. I don’t really expect it to be plausible before I haven’t gone through the argument in the rest of the book, but I think the rest of the book sort of sets you up for that to see, "Oh, here’s why somebody would say something like that." And here is why we would say that all of this stuff in this world, these goods are real goods, but there is something that leaves us wanting, so that’s what’s going on there.
Jed: And you’re right to say that you don’t expect somebody to believe you in this third part until you’ve made your case in parts one and two. Okay, I agree, but somebody might be watching this and never get a chance to read the book, but yet they’re ready because their whole life has been essentially walking them through the pages of your book, their experiences have been that.
J. Budziszewski: Yes, that’s right.
Jed: And what you say right here in this short little interview might be the final little straw that breaks the camel’s back.
So, how would you put it succinctly about the whole point of your book? How would you put that succinctly?
…happiness is perfect fulfillment. It is that which leaves nothing further to be desired…” – Professor. J. Budziszewski
J. Budziszewski: Okay, I would say, first of all, that happiness is perfect fulfillment. It is that which leaves nothing further to be desired, nothing in this life can do that. The most perfect friend, there’s something perilous in friendship. You and friends do sometimes betray each other, they forget about each other, they stop caring for each other, there’s something perilous, even more perilous about the sufficiency of wealth or about many other things in which we try to base everything.
Ultimately, all this stuff leaves us wanting. And we even experience, it’s not just that this leaves us wanting, it leaves us wanting something. When I was a kid, I used to... Well, not when I was a kid, when I was a teenager. I think that this first came over me powerfully when I was a teenager. I would go inside the house and I would look at the moon, and I experienced some sort of longing. Now, it wasn’t a longing for the moon. I think I thought at that age that it was, I thought, "Oh, if I was an astronaut, this longing would be satisfied if I could set my feet on the moon." No, it wouldn’t be. Then I’d just be standing on the Moon looking back at the Earth and feeling the longing there. We all experience this strange transcendental longing, you look at the peak of a hill or a mountain far away, and you climb it. Well, you don’t feel that that longing has been satisfied and then you may look back toward the beautiful plain and you feel it again, there’s something that’s out of my reach. What is it? What is it? Why on earth would we long for something if... All these goods are real goods, why on earth would we long for something that nothing in this world can give? Unless something, let’s put it this way, out of this world could give it.
Because there is no such thing as a desire that has no possible fulfillment. Even from a purely materialistic evolutionary point of view, we would have to say that, from a Darwinist point of view, everything is supposed to be adaptive, right? What would be the adaptive value of a longing that had no possible fulfillment? It would just drive us crazy. One materialistic sociobiologist, E. O. Wilson, once wrote a book in which he argued that the reason that most people believe in God or at least wonder about God is that we have a God gene. [laughter] Well, what would be the adaptive value of a God gene? He said, "Well, the adaptive value of the God gene is that it makes the group more united." Well, why not just have a gene for being united? Why go this roundabout way? And besides, belief in God doesn’t necessarily unite people, people can be torn apart by those kinds of things. So those kinds of things just don’t really make sense.
Some people even try to say that all of these longings that we have for something more are mythical. Jed, they say, "Oh, beauty. You think you see beauty in something, that’s merely a response to a gene that you developed because our ancestors lived in the savanna, and so we’re attracted to distant vistas." Or, we like symmetry because if somebody’s face is very asymmetrical the person may not be a good mate. I don’t think that this explains why I feel a strange longing when I listen to Johann Sebastian Bach air on the string of G. There’s something else going on here, and we have all these hand-waving explanations, but they seem to be ways of looking... They don’t seem to me to be ways of looking at the data and explaining it, they seem to be ways of avoiding the data. I think the data points beyond the created order and the only other thing beyond the created order is the Creator. That was a long answer.
Jed: No, no. It was shorter than having to read your book, right? Or getting to read your book.
J. Budziszewski: Yeah, that’s right.
Jed: No, it’s good. And it comes right from the chapters between part two and part three, and just that whole thinking about longing for something when you look at the moon, but if you were standing on the Moon, you’d be longing for something else. Standing on the top of a mountain, longing for the field. Everyone feels those longings, not everybody is willing to admit that they feel those, but I think everybody feels there’s something more.
J. Budziszewski: You’re right, that not everybody is willing to admit it, but also not everybody is aware that they feel these things. See, this is one of the things that I’m trying to do in this book, is to put people in touch with things that they already knew or already felt, but hadn’t noticed that they felt or didn’t know that they knew.
Jed: So, some people have these feelings but are not aware of them.
J. Budziszewski: I think so.
Jed: And by reading your book, it might open their eyes to what they’re feeling.
J. Budziszewski: Yeah.
Jed: Fascinating. Well, I hope a lot of people get to read this book, there’s so many cool things. You do feel like you’re getting to know a whole cast of characters that most schools don’t teach students about anymore, maybe 100 years, people learned about these old dead guys, but now people don’t. So, I think you’re doing people a service introducing your friends and hearing what they have to say.
Now, what does your last name mean? It’s a long last name. Where does it come from? And tell us a little bit about that.
J. Budziszewski: Well, the name is Budziszewski. My parents spoke Polish, they never taught it to me because it was too convenient for the parents to have a secret language that the kids didn’t understand. But they told me when I was growing up that it meant something like, "Wake up shoemaker." Now, I talked to an expert in Slavic languages once, and he said, "That’s an unusual name, even in Poland." And I said, "My parents told me it meant, wake up shoemaker." He said, "It couldn’t possibly mean that." I said, "Well, I assumed that my parents just thought it sounded like that." He said, "It doesn’t even sound like it." But then I talked to another Polish fellow and he said, "Yeah, yeah, sounds just like it." So, who knows what it really means? [laughter] But one thing it seems to mean is that it’s a mouthful. I’ve been called bottle of whiskey, I’ve been called Budweiser, seriously, by people who just looked at the first three letters and just made up flying guest at the rest.
Jed: Well, it is good to have an unusual last name, I attest to the fact that it is fun to be one of the only ones of that last name.
Are all Budziszewski related in the United States?
J. Budziszewski: Well, there are, I think from Googling, a couple of thousand of them. They may, for all I know, we all did originate in some small town in Poland, but I don’t know. There could have been independent origins of the name, depending on what it means, right?
Jed: [laughter] Who knows? No one will ever know.
J. Budziszewski: I don’t know the answer to that. Sometimes somebody will come up to me and say, "You know, my husband has a difficult last name too, it’s Green." [laughter]
J. Budziszewski: Is that Italian?
Jed: Hilarious. Well, it has been absolutely fun to talk about this book.
Now, how do you see this book relative to the many other books you’ve written? Is this your Opus Magnus or is it something that you’ve been wanting to write? Or tell us a little bit about how this is...
J. Budziszewski: No, it’s not my Opus Magnus. There are sort of two lobes to my work, maybe three. I’m a scholar, and I want all of my work to have something to offer scholars. But on the other hand, I’m a teacher, and I want all of my work to be as accessible as possible to a broad audience, so that if you’re not a specialist, you’re not an academic, you can still read it. Now, even having said that, even though that’s my goal, I have to admit that some of my work is probably not gonna appeal to most non-specialists, even though I try to make that accessible too, like I’ve written several commentaries, line by line commentaries on portions of Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae, which is very, very difficult.
Well, I try to make it readable and people say it is readable, but most people are not gonna pick that up off the shelf. At the other extreme, I’ve written things that I hope will be attractive to scholars, but they are aimed squarely at general readers. And this book falls in that camp. My book, What We Can’t Not Know, a guide, is a book of that kind, it’s about the natural moral law. It’s trying to make the common moral sense of the plain person, it’s trying to show what its rational foundation is.
I wrote a book on the meaning of sex and it falls into that group. So, this is one of those. And then there are books that I wrote that are directed to young people like, How To Stay Christian In College, which is... I mean, that’s still a third audience, that’s general readers, but it’s a more specialized set of general readers.
Jed: Well, you’ve created some amazing works, things have changed quite a bit since you wrote How To Stay Christian In College. The kinds of challenges that students will face going off to college this year, compared to when you wrote it, are completely different, I would say, in my opinion.
Will you write an updated version of that or does this new book have enough in it to help people or? What would you say about that?
J. Budziszewski: Well, I don’t think, I might. I don’t rule out the possibility of doing an update to How To Stay Christian In College. If I did do an update, I would add some sections and maybe do a little bit of revision rather than totally writing the thing over from the beginning. I think that most of it still is relevant. A lot of the trends and the tendencies that I talked about there have merely become more extreme still, but the chapter on sex, I think the observations that I tried to make there are gonna be true in any age. The advice that I gave about how to find a sound Christian community on campus I think are gonna work, how to avoid craziness. Some of the main forms of craziness. I think that’s gonna pretty much work. So, I could maybe, but it’s not high on my list of priorities right now. And my publisher hasn’t asked me to do so. I’ve had readers write from time to time and say, "Why don’t you write something about how to stay Christian in the workplace?" But I haven’t had a lot of demand to update that particular book.
Jed: So, what’s your next project then? What’s highest on your next list of things?
J. Budziszewski: Well, I’m working on it now, and it’s on the more academic side, again. I mentioned that I’d written this series of line by line commentaries on portions of the Summa Theologiae. The first one was on treatise on law which, in my focus there is the natural law. The second one was on Thomas Aquinas’s approach to moral character, virtue ethics. The third one was on the treatise on happiness as an ultimate purpose, which is lying in the shadows behind this book that we’ve been talking about. The fourth one was on his treatise on divine law, and now I’m writing a line by line commentary on his doctrine of God. It’s the very first part of the Summa where he talks about the so-called five ways. This is how we know that God exists.
A lot of people think that it’s only that, they might have been assigned to Five Ways to read in a Philosophy course in college. But he says much more, he thinks that even without recourse to scripture, even before you get to the Bible, which he absolutely believes in and thinks it’s true and authoritative, but even before you get to that, he thinks you can demonstrate that God exists, that He is wise, that He is infinite, that He is good, that He’s all powerful, that there’s only one of Him, that He is the Creator. And that our beatitude, our blessedness, our happiness could lie nowhere else but in Him. So, I just go through that. I think it’s one of these things that people think, "Oh, that’s only for philosophers to read," and I don’t want it to be just for philosophers to read, so I’m trying to unpack it.
Jed: Awesome, well, in my last little question here, I am a physics professor, as you know, but I get to teach econophysics this semester along with an economist, and I am struck by how often the word happiness comes into play in the economist way of talking about things.
Is there something that a budding economist should know about happiness that you could tell them from having written this book and having thought deeply about this?
J. Budziszewski: Yes, it’s of the cautionary nature, there have been two approaches to happiness, which have been taken by economists since the 1800s. One was influenced by the philosophical doctrine called Utilitarianism, and basically it held that happiness is pleasure, it’s satisfaction. And so they thought that people’s demand curves and how much they were gonna buy of a particular good and everything, was going to be determined by the utility that it gave them, the pleasure that it gave them. Then along in the, I think, 1930s, Vilfredo Pareto , an economist said, "No, no, no, you can’t even know what’s in other people’s heads, you can’t know whether it’s making them happy or not."
So, we can still derive all those demand curves and so forth by making no other assumptions other than the fact that people will always try to get from a lower state on their preference scale to a higher state on their preference scale. And you can always know if they’ve entered into a voluntary contract that they must be going higher because otherwise they wouldn’t have agreed to it. And that latter one may be descriptive of people’s behavior, but happiness is not simply getting what you want, and even if you bought the old utilitarian idea, happiness isn’t simply satisfaction or pleasure either, that people certainly seek satisfaction, they like pleasure, but this is not what ultimate fulfillment lies in. An economist can say many useful and helpful and true things, but he has to keep that limitation of his theoretical approaches in mind, I think.
Jed: Alright. Well, thank you for ending on that very interesting note for my students and for just people in general watching this awesome interview. Thank you so much, J, for taking the time with me. I really appreciate it.
J. Budziszewski: Thank you, Jed. I’ve really enjoyed it.
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