When I was a young philosopher, I asked a senior colleague, Pat Suppes (then and now a famous philosopher of science and an astute student of human nature), what the secret of happiness was. Instead of giving me advice, he made a rather droll observation about what a lot of people who were happy with themselves seem to have done, namely:1. Take a careful inventory of their shortcomings and flaws2. Adopt a code of values that treats these things as virtues3. Admire themselves for living up to itBrutal people admire themselves for being manly; compulsive pedants admire themselves for their attention to detail; naturally selfish and mean people admire themselves for their dedication to helping the market reward talent and punish failure, and so on.
These principles laid down as in variable rules: that one must pay a card sharper, but need not pay a tailor; that one must never tell a lie to a man, but one may to a woman; that one must never cheat any one, but one may a husband; that one must never pardon an insult, but one may give one and so on. These principles were possibly not reasonable and not good, but they were of unfailing certainty, and so long as he adhered to them, Vronsky felt that his heart was at peace and he could hold his head up.
Tolstoy said, 'The antagonism between life and conscience may be removed either by a change of life or by a change of conscience.' Many of us have elected to adjust our consciences rather than our lives. Our powers of rationalization are unlimited. They allow us to live in luxury and indifference while others, whom we could help if we chose to, starve and go to hell.