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Possible Worlds and Possible Lives: A Meditation on the Art of Living

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Here’s a simple thought, but one that I think is quite profound: one’s happiness in life depends, to a large extent, on how one thinks about and navigates the space of possible lives one could have lived. If you have too broad a conception of the space of possibility, you are likely to be anxious and unable to act, always fearing that you are missing out on something better. If you have too narrow a conception of the space of possibility, you are likely to be miserable (particularly if you get trapped in a bad set of branches in the space of possibility) and unable to live life to its full. But it’s not that simple either. Sometimes you have to focus on the negative and sometimes you have to narrow your mindset.I say this is a profound but simple thought. Why so? Well, it strikes me as profound because it captures something that is fundamentally true about the human condition, something that is integral to a number of philosophical discussions of well-being. It strikes me as simple because I think it’s something that is relatively obvious and presumably must have occurred to many people over the course of human history. And yet, for some reason, I don’t find many people talking about it.Don’t get me wrong. Plenty of people talk about possible worlds in philosophy and science, and many specific discussions of human life touch upon the idea outlined in the opening paragraph. For example, discussions of human emotions such as regret, or the rationality of decision-making, or the philosophical significance of death, often touch upon the importance of thinking in terms of possible lives. What frustrates me about these discussions is that they don’t do so in an explicit or integrated way.This article is my attempt to make up for this perceived deficiency. I want to justify my opening claim that one’s happiness in life depends on how one thinks about and navigates the space of possible lives; and I want to further support my assertion that this is a simple and profound. . .

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News source: Philosophical Disquisitions

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