Fall 2012 Happiness Class Professor's Blog

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Return to Happiness

August 31, 2012

Followup on 1st week of classes:

Occasionally during the semester, I will email you some comments on our class and sometimes add things that we didn't get to in class. These are also on the wiki.

Apologies to the am class for all the technological problems. I must admit, I found that quite distracting. The IT folks are getting everything squared away though. It seems like a few things went wrong at once. We'll have a practice clicker quiz on Tuesday and then start keeping track on Thursday.

We've only talked about content once so far, but you already have three conceptions of happiness to think about. You might want to compare these to what you take to be contemporary US cultural models of happiness, however you can define that (using media, regional culture, etc.).

While our class effort on Thursday was mostly to get clear about the reading, and while that will be true of some of the early classes, I'll also be introducing more material through lecture on philosophical methods next week and the week after. Our ultimate goal (final end?) is to build philosophical theories and viewpoints. To do that we have to not only understand the resources in the course schedule list, but also how to evaluate them and use them selectively in the theories we build. That's going to take a few classes to unfold, but I wanted to remind you that understanding the readings is preparatory to actually doing philosophy. I'll remind you of some of the tools philosophers have for building theories, and maybe suggest some you didn't know about. Simple things like the ones we've already mentioned -- make and evaluating lists, and making distinctions -- are tools, but other tools are bigger and maybe more central, like trying to organize claims into arguments, or offering explanations. Anyway, we'll get to all of that. One of the great things about philosophical tools is that you can carry most of them around in your head.

Have a great weekend. Ask some people you meet what they think happiness is! That's research now.


September13, 2012

A few more thoughts on yoga philosophy.

I was trying to think about how to convey the idea from yogic tradition that engaging in certain kinds of thought or verbal behavior, such as picking at the faults of others or verbal aggression, is "poisonous". We do have that metaphor in contemporary pop psychology, when we refer to someone's behavior as "toxic." But you could also look at lists of virtues and vices across cultures (there's a good wiki page on this) and notice, for example that we refer to pride, avarice, wrath, lust, envy, greed, and sloth as "deadly sins." I don't think it's a stretch to see this in relation to the five kleshas, which sort of define what someone like Patanjali might have found toxic.

Regardles of the truth of the underlying metaphysics, once humans started talking about themselves in terms of a spiritual state or essence, they lined up cultural values (like virtues and vices) to define that state. (And then enforced it on each other.) There's still alot of good psychology in these religious and philosophical traditions. For example, you could say that the Bramavihara, which consul seeking joy, praising others, being compassionate, and not focusing unduly on other's faults, is about pumping "postivie affect" while avoiding unnecessary or harmful negative affect. We'll talk more about that in Buddhism, Epicureanism, and Stoicism. That's a comparative hypothesis I'm offering, not a well-supported claim. So, to make this concrete, the reason devotees of yoga would typically shun negative, sarcastic and derogatory talk isn't that they are "schmarmy," but rather because they think it does them harm, much in the way a christian today might decide that the seven deadly sins are actually psychologically harmful, if not a peril to his or her immortal soul.

Starting to get journals, which is nice. If you've signed up to do journals turn them in as you go, please. Don't save them until the end of the assignment.

Have a great weekend. This weather is insane.