One Must Imagine Sisyphus

As Used by Paul Bloom as an Example of the Relationship Between Activities and Goals

There might be a pleasure in the exercise of what philosophers call atelic activities, things that you can never complete because they have no end. (“Telos” means purpose; “atelic” means without purpose.) Think of an aimless walk or just goofing around with friends. But in general, it’s hard to sustain effort at atelic tasks, particularly if they are difficult or aversive. In Greek mythology, Sisyphus had to roll an immense boulder up a hill, then have it roll down to the bottom, then roll it back up again, forever, and it’s easy to see why this is such an awful fate—there’s no goal; he’s never finished. Having a goal might be a necessary condition, but it’s far from a sufficient one. Many effortful tasks that nobody would do for fun, like cleaning a bathroom, have tangible goals. But still, the goal does add to the pleasure of the experience. Cleaning the bathroom for thirty minutes is unpleasant, but wouldn’t it be worse to spend a half hour cleaning a Sisyphean bathroom, one that stayed dirty no matter how much you scrubbed it?

The Sweet Spot, Paul Bloom, p.134 (02021)