Skip to main content

30% Off New Releases: Explore the List

Harvard University Press - home
Happiness, Death, and the Remainder of Life

Happiness, Death, and the Remainder of Life

Jonathan Lear

ISBN 9780674006744

Publication date: 02/15/2002

Jonathan Lear

Separated by millennia, Aristotle and Sigmund Freud gave us disparate but compelling pictures of the human condition. But if, with , we scrutinize these thinkers’ attempts to explain human behavior in terms of a higher principle—whether happiness or death—the pictures fall apart.
Aristotle attempted to ground ethical life in human striving for happiness, yet he didn’t understand what happiness is any better than we do. Happiness became an enigmatic, always unattainable, means of seducing humankind into living an ethical life. Freud fared no better when he tried to ground human striving, aggression, and destructiveness in the death drive, like Aristotle attributing purpose where none exists. Neither overarching principle can guide or govern “the remainder of life,” in which our inherently disruptive unconscious moves in breaks and swerves to affect who and how we are. Lear exposes this tendency to self-disruption for what it is: an opening, an opportunity for new possibilities. His insights have profound consequences not only for analysis but for our understanding of civilization and its discontent.


  • Today, the domain of psychology is hopelessly split between the 'high' theory, caught in its expert language, and the popular self-help manuals addressing people's actual crises and dilemmas. The miracle of Lear's book is that he effortlessly unites these two seemingly incompatible dimensions. Through the most stringent conceptual analysis of the basic notions of the Freudian edifice, he asks the simple crucial questions that gnaw us all: What is happiness? How does psychoanalysis enable us to orient ourselves in today's reality? With envy and admiration, I still wonder how Lear was able to do it!

    —Slavoj Žižek, author of The Sublime Object of Ideology


  • Jonathan Lear is John U. Nef Distinguished Service Professor on the Committee on Social Thought and in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Chicago. His works include Wisdom Won from Illness, Radical Hope, A Case for Irony, and Happiness, Death, and the Remainder of Life.

Book Details

  • 204 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

From this author