In the second paragraph of Bertrand Russell's "The Happy Life," how does Russell construct his argument?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At the very end of his book titled The Conquest of Happiness, Russell offers two summary paragraphs in which he discusses the “happy life.” In the second of those two paragraphs, Russell constructs his argument as follows:

  • In the sentence beginning “There is another difference,” Russell announces that the attitude toward life he recommend differs in an even more subtle way from the attitude “recommended by the traditional moralists.” He thus begins with a general statement which the rest of the paragraph will elucidate.
  • In the next three sentences, Russell disputes the traditional argument that love should be unselfish. He argues instead that

it should undoubtedly be of such a nature that one's own happiness is bound up in its success.

In other words, Russell now offers the somewhat paradoxical argument that the kind of love most likely to be actually beneficial to both parties is the kind of love rooted, at least to some degree, in self-interest.

  • In the sentence beginning “If a man,” Russell now offers a specific example to illustrate the general claim he has just made.
  • In the next two sentences, Russell explains, and elaborates upon, his earlier general assertion that true love is partly rooted in self-interest. He thus shifts from a specific example to a general claim.
  • In the sentence beginning “Through such interests,” Russell uses an analogy (comparing some human relations to the collisions of billiard balls) to illustrate a key contrast.
  • In the sentence beginning “All unhappiness,” Russell moves once again back to general assertions.
  • In the next two sentences, Russell comments on the general characteristics of “the happy man.”
  • Finally, in the last sentence, Russell ends on a very sweeping and optimistic assertion, using a metaphor (“the stream of life”) to make his claim more vivid:

It is in such profound instinctive union with the stream of life that the greatest joy is to be found.

Such, then, is an outline of the final paragraph of Russell’s book. It is a paragraph that shuttles back and forth between general claims and specific examples and one that ends on a note of strong confidence. It is also a paragraph that doesn’t hesitate to challenge conventional ideas and to do so in ways that sometimes seem deliberately paradoxical.