3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.and now the challenge,
I'd say the problem is #3. It seems straightforward enough, but actually I think it is not transparent at all. It's vague enough that it can be used in support of almost anything.I should start by saying I don't have a logical argument to counter this. People have been trying to come up with a solid logical argument to prove that the argument that the goal of life is happiness is not circular for roughly two and half centuries and no one has succeeded. If it were possible, someone would have succeeded.
So what can I do? Well, I think the thing to do is to take a page from Wittgenstein. In regards to another long-standing stand off not unlike this, he said, what you can do is a kind of propaganda for a certain way of thinking. Because no one on either side can come up with a knock-down logical argument, you assemble reminders about the way these things tend to work out so that people can make a choice.
So the first thing I'd want to do is to repeat what I've said in a previous post and that is that the same problems apply with the golden rule. It looks like a meaningful principle at first glance but it can also be used to support anything.
Imagine a society, to use my favourite example, where people really did believe in kill or be killed. In that society it would be the case that my I would treat my neighbour as I would have him treat me by brutally murdering him. There would be no logical inconsistency anywhere.
And we do see something like this in reality. As the Crips gang in Los Angeles murdered off the last remaining members of the Bloods gang none of the Bloods said, "Hey, this isn't fair." It was not the result they wanted but it wasn't morally questionable from their perspective. There have been conflicts like this all through history: Rome versus Carthage. As the last residents of Carthage died in the wreckage of their great city they could wail and gnash their teeth but they couldn't reasonable say that there was something unfair about the result. The exact same thing would have happened had they won.
Ultimately, I think the belief in happiness is a faith question. As Christians, we don't just believe in "a God", we believe in a God who loves us. We believe God created us in an act of love. It follows then that our pursuing happiness, while not straightforward as a mathematical equation, must make some sense. That God did not put us on this earth solely so we could suffer and die. That, no matter how hard it may seem, life has a point and purpose and fulfilling that point and purpose will give us happiness.
Now one of the challenges that Christianity faced quite early was how do you do that when it feels like everything that made life meaningful is crumbling around you. If you were in Jerusalem when the Romans launched their final assault—if, for example, you were a young woman holding your child and the invading soldier yanked her out of your arms and dashed her brains out against the rocks and then raped you—it would have been very hard to maintain much of a sense of happiness as a goal in life. The Gospels were written at a time when these things were happening or else where a very recent memory.
And Augustine wrote when the Roman empire was collapsing.
But even during the time of trial that we all daily pray we will not come into Christianity holds there is some content to the idea of happiness. That even in our sufferings, God is holding out a future happiness to us.
One more post (at least) on this subject is coming.