SEP 13

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3: SEP 13 - 2. Introduction to Happiness


  • Haybron, C2, “What is Happiness?” (16 short)
  • Haybron, C3, “Life Satisfaction” (10)
  • McMahon C1, “Highest Good” (19-40)


  • Short ungraded informal writing assignment starts today, due Wednesday, 9/15

SUI: Short Ungraded Informal Writing Assignment (10 points)

  • Prompt: Reflect on the two forms of rationality we discussed last week. Mythos and Logos. Explicate this distinction, then, drawing on both Labouvie-Vief and your understanding of Socratic wisdom, evaluate it. How would you respond to someone who said that wisdom is only found in the pursuit of Logos and theoretical understanding? Please respond to this prompt in 400 words or less. You will receive 10 points for completing this assignment.
  • You should probably write your answer in a word processing program so you can edit it, save a copy, and add in the word count.
  • Follow this link when you are ready to write. Please turn in your writing by Wednesday, September 15.

McMahon, "Chapter 1: The Highest Good" (first half 19-40)

1. Classical Greek Models of Happiness

Key theme: Greek cultural break with accommodation to destiny. Recognition of possibility of control of circumstances determining happiness. The emergence of "autonomy" (self-rule, self-government) at the social and individual level.

Implicit historical narrative: Classical Greek philosophy has a point of connection with Periclean Athens, but develops Athenian cultural values in a radically new way. This begins a distinctive kind of narrative about happiness in the West.

1. The Greek Cultural Model
  • Connection of the culture with tragedy, appreciation of fate, happiness as gift of gods.
  • Dionysian culture
  • Athenian democracy as a contrasting force representing control of the destiny of the polic by the peeps.
  • Socratic culture as a radicalization of autonomy. Socratic method intended to liberate us from tradition and the pretense of knowledge. (Socrates was, however, no demo-crat.)
  • Post-Socratic Schools -- Hellenism and Hellenistic culture (we'll be returning to some of these schools later in the course)
2. The Greek Philosophical Models of Happiness: Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, and Zeno.
A. Plato - Symposium gives us picture of Plato's view.
  • Socrates/Plato raise the question of happiness in the Euythedemus
  • Contrast the Symposium with the cult of Dionysius - Dionysian 'ecstasy' (quote at p. 29) vs. Platonic transcendence. A private symposium often replicated public debauchery for the elite. "Komos"
  • Reasoning our way to the Good (Happiness). Symposium as purification ritual (Summary including Alcibiades twist). bad desire/good desire. We will find real happiness in the pursuit of transcendent knowledge.
  • The Symposium itself: Speeches on love. (Eros as a force that draws us toward happiness.)
  • Pausanias - distinction bt Common Eros / Heavenly
  • Erixymachus - eros as broad natural force in all life.
  • Aristophanes - the fable of "finding your better half"
  • Socrates - Eros is the child of Poverty and Plenty. (Socratic analysis of desire - lack.) Eros needs guidance, not auto-telic. Socrates proposes an educational model, a "ladder of love" (read at 35) that guides eros toward its proper object.
  • Object of desire is transcendent. (Reminder about Platonic metaphysics.) "intellectual orgasm" (36)
  • McMahon: "radical reappraisal of the standards of the world" 37
  • Stop here for 9/13 reading assignment
B. Aristotle (note McMahon pp. 41ff and Aristotle reading)
  • end, function, craft, techne. Hierarchy of arts.
  • end vs. final end -- the universal good is the final end, not relative. sec. 6-7.
  • happiness as activity of the soul in accordance with virture (def., but also consequence of reasoning from nature of human life)
  • Section 13: nature of the soul. two irrational elements: veg/appetitive and one rational. Note separation/relationship.
  • As M notes, Aristotle's focus on the rational part of the soul leaves him with a similar problem as Plato -- a model of happines that few (not the Alcibiades in the world) will attain.
  • Is the Greek Classical model of happiness (as seen in the Symposium and Aristotle's thought), a revelation of truth about happiness or the beginning of a repressive line of thought in happiness studies?
  • If happiness requires a disciplined practice, how do you maintain solidarity with those who do not maintain the discipline (the Alcibiades problem)? Possible weakness of an individual enlightenment model of happiness.

Haybron, Chapter 2: What is Happiness?

  • Recall the distinction between H(s) and H(l).
  • Haybron takes us into a rich phenomenal account of emotional state happiness (Share our examples.)
  • Endorsement -- Being "at home" in your life. An "emotional evaluation". Satisfying criteria you accept as counting toward the claim, "my life is positively good" Haybron associates this most closely with joys and sadness, gains and loss.
  • Examples -- Feeling from actual endorsements (give examples), but also from savoring accomplishment or appreciating need fulfillment (parents seeing contented children, a full pantry...)
  • Engagement - vitality and flow. But note, this aspect of H(s) is compatible with "negative affect".
  • Attunement -- peace of mind, tranquility, confidence, expansiveness
  • Is Haybron making a recommendation or describing objective, transcultural features of emotional happiness? How do we know this isn't just "a few of his favorite things"? How do we ground these?
  • Problem of "false happiness" -- discrepancies such as Robert's (also Happy Frank) -- adaptive unconscious might be part of the explanation -- interesting that we can go wrong in this way. mood propensity or dispositional happiness. These cases seem to show that a deeper analysis of H(s) is needed.
  • Can you also be happy and not know it?
  • The Haybron discussion also gets at the idea of superficial vs. deep happiness. Ricard, or the sage, presumably has it.

Haybron, Chapter 3, "Life Satisfaction"

  • More cases of lives that require narratives (interesting connection to our wisdom discussion of mythos) to understand: Moresse "Pop" Bickham. Note what Bickham says. It's possible that Bickham has deployed a powerful version of the "internal strategy".
  • Haybron considers whether we should infer from his life satisfaction that he was happy
  • Claim: You can judge your life favorably no matter how you feel. (Probe this. Even if H(s=0)?
  • Claim: (33) There may be a diff between being satisfied with your life and judging that it is going well.
  • Comment: Bickham is the extreme case in which its hard to get our intuitions around the idea that Hs and Hl could go together. But let's do our own investigation of this.
  • Was Wittgenstein's "wonderful" life plausibly happy or satisfying?
  • LS defined at p. 35: "To be satisfied with your life is to regard it as going well enough by your standards."
  • That's a puzzling definition since early he convinced us that you "satisfied" and "going well" can be judged separately.
  • Claim: It's a mistake to call life satisfaction a hedonic good because it is "not just a question of pleasure"
  • Comment: This doesn't tell us that it doesn't also involve a kind of feeling. The fact that it involves judgement doesn't mean emotion isn't involved.
  • Small Group Problem: How do you make life satisfaction judgements? How will you decide if your life is "going well" in the coming 2-3 years? Can you be satisfied with your life even if some aspects are not going well? When you think of what is good in your life, do you experience a kind of affect? (Mention the tenure study.)
  • Problems with LS judgements:
  • they are global judgments of complex sets of events over time. too reductive a judgement to make 1 - 10.
  • it sounds like a simple judgement of the relationship between expectation and outcome (like ordering a steak), but it isn't, really, now is it?
  • Good point: more like assessing a "goal-achievement gap" -- example of tenure happiness study
  • determining "well enough" is pretty subjective (variable). -- maybe, but that could be explained within the "goal-achievement gap" model since we're always "resetting" in one direction or another ("Things won are done." or "I guess that's not working") recall point about hedonic structure of this.
  • most people seem to be able to assert satisfaction with their lives independently of whether they were "choiceworthy"
  • For Haybron, this implies that Hl judgements are basically much less relevant to assessing happiness than emotional states. He even suggests with the Calcutta workers reports that they are not grounded judgements.
*kidney patients, colostomy patients.