6100: Seminar in Ethics: Happiness
Some Discussion Questions on Some of the Readings
Here are a few discussion questions on a few of our readings.
Sumner, "Welfare and Happiness" from Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics (Oxford University Press, 1996).
- As you recall, on Sumner's view of happiness, for you to be happy is, roughly, for you to be satisfied with your life, where this involves both a cognitive component (judging that your life is going well) and an affective component (feeling fulfilled by your life). But just what is the logical relation, on Sumner's view, between these two components (the cognitive and the affective) and being happy. Consider these two quotations (the second one is a kind of statement of his theory of welfare rather than his theory of happiness itself, but of course his theory of welfare involves happiness):
"Being happy ... means having a certain kind of positive attitude toward your life, which in its fullest form has both a cognitive and an affective component."
"The result is an analysis on which some condition of a subject's life is (directly or intrinsically) beneficial for him just in case he authentically endorses it, or experiences it as satisfying, for its own sake" (172-173).
Are both the cognitive component and the affective component necessary for happiness? Or is either one sufficient?
- Sumner suggests that a person is happy only if they judge that their life is going well. And he suggests that their life is going well only if they are happy. Is this circular? Is this a problem?
Haybron, "Happiness" (2011), thru §2.2; Mulnix and Mulnix, "Introduction," from Theories of Happiness: An Anthology (2015); and Feldman, "Some Puzzles about Happiness" (ch. 1).
- Compare what the main kinds of theories of the nature of happiness are according to Haybron (2011) to what the main kinds of theories of the nature of happiness are according to Mulnix and Mulnix (2015). Haybron says that there are at least these two senses of the word 'happy': the psychological sense and the well-being sense. He says that his article is on the nature of the phenomena that is picked out by 'happy' in the psychological sense. How does this view and this decision affect his taxonomy?
- Feldman appears to be on board with Haybron's distinction. But is his taxonomy of theories of happiness the same?
- If you ask, "What is happiness?", Haybron (2011: 2) says that you might be asking "what the word 'happiness' means." But he goes on to say that you probably "had something more interesting in mind: perhaps you want to know about the thing, happiness, itself." In other words, Haybron is saying that it is one thing to ask about the meaning of the word 'happy' and quite another thing to be asking what it is to be happy.
Feldman seems not to agree. After listing some candidate definitions of 'happy' on p. 7, he writes, "Each of these definitions purports to give an account of the nature of happiness. It does this by making a claim about the meaning of the word 'happy.'" In other words, Feldman evidently rejects Haybron's assumption that it is one thing to ask about the meaning of the word 'happy' and another to be asking about the nature of happiness.
Who is right? Could it be that while 'is happy' means, for instance, the same as 'is satisfied with life as a whole', it is not the case that to be happy is to be satisfied with life as a whole?
Haybron, "Happiness and Pleasure" (2001).
- Haybron claims (p. 503) that even if "there is no well-defined folk notion [of happiness] to analyze," it "hardly follows that there is no subject matter worth studying," for we can still ask, of any of the psychological phenomena in the ballpark of our muddled happiness talk, whether it is valuable. This seems right. However, that is not what he is doing in this paper; his paper is not mainly about the value of happiness or happiness-related phenomena. His topic is the nature of happiness. If there is in fact "no well-defined folk notion to analyze," might that have worrisome implications for his topic?
- How might a hedonist about happiness try to accommodate the view that an irritable or depressed mood constitutes a reduction in happiness? (p. 509)
- State non-reductive hedonism about happiness in your own words.
- Suppose that some theory of the nature of happiness makes it plausible that happiness is intrinsically good for people. Is this any evidence in favor of that theory of the nature of happiness?
- In the first week of our class, we entertained the thought that the expression 'is happy' might be ambiguous between an occurrent sense and a dispositional or general sense. (To illustrate, if Bob walks into the room smiling and upbeat, and we say, "Wow, Bob is happy," we probably mean happy in the occurrent sense. On the other hand, if you breakup with your boyfriend, Bob, and he asks you why, and you say, "Bob, I'm just not happy," you probably mean happy in the dispositional or general sense.) If this distinction is legitimate, might it be used to respond to some of Haybron's objections against hedonism about happiness, such as the objections in 4.2 and 4.4?
- Suppose we are more likely to make a better decision about which profession to choose if we try to figure out the effect of our decision on our mood or affect than if we try to figure out the effect of our decision on our pleasure and pain. Is this any evidence in favor of the affective state theory of happiness over the hedonistic theory of happiness?
Feldman, "Sensory Hedonism about Happiness" (ch. 2).
- Feldman doesn't say what he means by 'sensory pleasure' (p. 24). What do you think he means? Are there pleasures that aren't sensory?
- Haybron thinks hedonism about happiness goes wrong in part because some pleasures are shallow and fleeting and, accordingly, "play no constitutive role in determining how happy a person is" (Haybron 2001: 505). Feldman rejects this argument. Who is right?
- Haybron thinks hedonism about happiness goes wrong in part because "Hedonistic happiness is an essentially episodic ... phenomenon," whereas in fact happiness "is a substantially dispositional phenomenon" (Haybron 2001: 510). Feldman rejects this argument. Who is right?
- Haybron thinks hedonism about happiness goes wrong in part because "Hedonistic happiness is an essentially ... backward-looking phenomenon," whereas in fact happiness ascriptions "are firmly anchored in the present" (Haybron 2001: 510, 512). Feldman rejects this argument. Who is right?
- What do you think of the methodology Feldman describes in iii, p. 35?
- What do you think the lesson is that Feldman is describing in iv? Is it that happiness is an attitude rather than a sensation or a feeling?