I would like to apply Hegel's dialectic to the following thesis/antithesis and that you help me find sublimating synthesis ideas. Here is the thesis:

"to live a happy life, you must accept your life, be grateful for what you have, and not always try to get what you don't have, a.k.a stocic thesis",

and here is the antithesis :

"to live a happy life, you must pursue your desires and try to improve your condition, don't accept your situation if you feel you can get to a better place and deploy your will and your power to achieve a better life, a.k.a nietzschean thesis".

What kind of transcending synthesis can you imagine ? What authors should I read to get some light on this topic ?

  • 1
    We must then stand in awe of ourselves! "Hmmm. Not bad!" said Eve, admiring her own reflection. Jun 19, 2023 at 10:26

2 Answers 2


In this answer I talk about the history and status of the idea of the dialectic: Relation of dialectics, as of Hegel and Marx, toward Enlightenment liberalism

In this answer, I argue that a pivotal figure for the transfer of Ancient Greek thought into Christendom, was Boethius with 'On The Consolations of Philosophy', which advocated a kind of 'quietist' Stoic acceptance of political and economic inequality. And the hegemony of that, was profoundly disturbed by the rise of Protestantism, and associated with that, Capitalism: What are the intellectual roots of U.S. happiness and Western Continental Europe suffering?

I argue that each generation must learn it's own lessons from history: that it is a well we go to in order to refresh our understanding of ourselves, rather than a finished text about the past: Do historians have responsibility in how they decide to depict something?

Although there are a few modern Stoics, eg James Stockdale, I suggest your first thesis is better represented in modern discourse by Buddhism. And it's interesting how Zizek is angry about what he percieves as a quietistic tendency or risk of that, towards greed and violence in how Buddhist thought is taking root in the West. Discussed here: Answering Zizek's challenge to Buddhism.

It's easy to misrepresent Nietzsche. The way you've framed it, he sounds like an advocate of the 'spirit of Capitalism'. But I don't think that was his game at all. He advocated dominating the discourse, the creative space. I argue here that his preoccupation was with the mythos of a society and it's role in social cohesion which battles against anomie and nihilism-of-heart: Would Nietzsche approve of the concept of dictatorship? and that he intuited the linking of the intrusion of the communities subconscious drives and needs to the mythologically monstrous here: Nietzsche on balancing service to the creation of (or becoming) the Overman and living a life of ones own choosing?

So, I suggest the synthesis is about going from dime-store Buddhism and a shallow reading of Nietzsche, to recognising that we have a role in shaping who the being is that wants.

"Man can want what he wills, but not will what he wills." - Schopenhaur

This view oversimplifies. Across a life, we cannot sever ourselves from our history and transplant a new head. But we can cultivate desires, and shape the habits of what seizes us. Nietzsche advocated in his metamorphosees, developing ourselves spuritually, to be self-reliant, and assertive - but above all to return to a childlike creativity:

"Man's maturity: to rediscover the seriousness he had as a child at play." - Nietzsche in Beyond Good and Evil

There are better games, than playing who can die with the biggest hoard. Nietzsche wanted art, and music, and dancing and laughter, his Will To Power was more like Socrates listening to his daimon (conscience) in pursuit of eudaimonia, than it is like the 'spirit of Capitalism'. To want what other people say you should want, that is the ethic of the Last Man. To truly listen inwardly, and to be a kind of catalyst for rekindling the fires of passionate fulfilling absorbing lives, that, is the ubermensch.

Mahayana Buddhist philosophy, has a looong history of looking at how we can decide how to be. They hold that the thing that really matters, the only desire that lasts, is bodhicitta. you might teanslate it as Great Compassion, or love for all beings, or being in love with the world. And when we can do that, sustain that, despite all the flaws and selfishness and delusions we encounter, we have a mind ready to face Nietzsche's "heaviest burden": Eternal Recurrance (discussed in detail here What if I get born again as the same person for ever?).

We can remake who wants, but there is a deep contradiction in wanting ourselves to be different, by becoming someone who doesn't want things. In Buddhist thought they point towards the answer to that as 'non dualism'.

"The meaning and purpose of dancing, is the dance." -Alan Watts

We should aim not for quietism, but to dance through life like a child who has not yet been told or accepted, that dancing can only be done in certain ways. Don't do someone elses dance, do your dance.

No longer turned away from ourselves, we can recognise the greatest gift we have is remaking who we will have been, until at last we can let it go, and leave only joy.


Zen - To live a happy life, enjoy what you have, and if you further desire to get what you don't have, take action without undue attachment to the uncertain outcome.

What is Mushotoku?


In daily life, man always wants to obtain what he does not have, and he is afraid of losing what he already has. Some people are constantly thinking of profit, wondering what they can get in return for what they give. Or course, in everyday life you must sometimes make a profit to survive.

Mushotoku, this state of mind in which you act without wanting to achieve a result, and give without wanting something in return is the key attitude characterizing the way of the Buddha and the way of Zen.

Usually I am not Mushotoku (indifferent to the drama) when people try to enmesh me in their residual drama characterized by iconic and symbolic roles and role reversals in their effort to survive.

  • "My miracle is that when I feel hungry I eat, and when I feel thirsty I drink." -Bankei
    – CriglCragl
    Jun 19, 2023 at 22:06
  • "Sometimes you need some money, so you try to earn it, but if you try too hard, it runs away, like the cat." I think this appears in Questions to a Zen Master, but I have read many books on Zen, and I can't keep all the philosophers' names, quips, and ideas stored in memory. When I was young I chased the cats (and some girls) and they ran away! I realized you have to let the cats come and go as they please and some women like the illusion of being pursued even though they would run away too if I actually chased them! No one speaks the truth about the psychology of money - it is taboo. Jun 19, 2023 at 22:38
  • On the idea of a self-made man or woman using willpower to accomplish goals, there is the saying in the United States, "Pull yourself up by your bootstraps!" This is usually given as glib or sometimes humorous advice. Historically it is a poor derivation of Abraham Lincoln's aphorism - "A man can no more improve his own character, without the help of God, then he could lift himself off the ground by pulling on his own bootstraps!" Jun 19, 2023 at 23:25

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .