PHIL 6100 -- Seminar in Ethics: Happiness
Spring 2016
Mondays 5:00-7:30
Hellems 177

Chris Heathwood
Office: Hellems 192
Hours: Fridays from 10-12, and by appointment

Course Description

A recent trend in academic psychology is to study the positive aspects of our psychology alongside the pathological ones.  One strand of this "positive psychology" focuses, naturally, on happiness.  What makes us happy?  How does being happy affect other aspects of our lives?  How do we measure happiness?  How good are we at predicting what will make us happy, at knowing what has made us happy, and even at knowing whether we are currently happy?  What concrete steps can we take to make ourselves happier?  These are all terrifically interesting questions.  But it would seem that being confident in an answer to any of them would require having some idea of what happiness is in the first place.  That's the main thing that this course is about.  It is an in-depth inquiry into the nature of happiness.  We will examine prominent theories of the nature of happiness that have been offered by philosophers and psychologists.

Hedonism about happiness holds that the nature of happiness can be explained simply in terms of pleasure or enjoyment (Bentham, Davis, Feldman).  Preferentism holds that it is a matter of having things be the way one wants them to be (Davis, Kahneman).  Life satisfaction theories maintain that to be happy is to be satisfied with one's life as a whole (Tatarkiewicz, Sumner).  The emotional state theory connects happiness to a subject's overall emotional condition (Haybron).  Eudaimonistic theories hold that happiness isn't a purely psychological condition but depends on certain mind-independent, and perhaps even evaluative, features of one's life (Aristotle, Annas).  Our main goal in the course will be to understand and evaluate theories like these.

Another main goal will be to investigate the plausibility of the view that "happiness is the good," that is, that a happiness theory of well-being is true.  A third question relates the first two: of any theory of the nature of happiness, we can ask to what extent it makes plausible the view that happiness is a fundamental, intrinsic good.  We will also spend at least a little time on questions concerning the empirical study of happiness: Can empirical science shed light on the nature of happiness?; What assumptions about the nature of happiness are implicit in the ways in which psychologists, economists, and sociologists measure happiness?; How do these assumptions affect the significance of the results of empirical studies of happiness?

One books is required:

We will be reading the whole book.  I ordered it at the CU Bookstore.  There will be additional required readings, which will be linked to below on the course schedule.  These require a password, which I will give you in class.

We will also be reading a few chapters from this book:

I didn't order it and you aren't required to buy it, but I mention this in case you want to pick up a copy anyway.  I'll provide pdf's of the relevant chapters in case you don't own it.

Two recent anthologies on the philosophy of happiness that you may care to know about, but which are not required, are

I have copies of each if there is anything from them that you would like to photocopy.

Course Requirements
1. Technology.  Classrooms should be free from external intrusions.  Our classroom will be an internet-free zone (except for the occasional times when we want to look something up as a class).  Thus, please turn off or silence your cell phone when you get to class.  And please never, ever text in class.  If you need to communicate with someone from the outside world during class, it is fine to leave the room to do so.

In my undergraduate classes, I also forbid the use of laptops.*   But I'm prepared to allow laptop use in graduate classes, so long as you make certain promises, such as to turn off the Wifi and to use them just for note-taking.

*Students who use laptops in class do less well in college, as do those who sit near them; see also: "Why students using laptops learn less in class even when they really are taking notes."

2. Short Midterm Paper.  Two papers are required for the course.  The first is a short midterm paper, 1,500 to 3,000 words -- sort of like a "discussion note" for a journal (see, e.g., here).  This paper is due to me by email on Wednesday, March 16 at 11:59 p.m.  Although I dislike Microsoft Word as much as you do, please send it to me as a Word .docx file.  This makes it easy for me to comment on it electronically and get it back to you by email.

I have a pretty detailed document giving some guidance on writing a philosophy paper: my Philosophy Paper FAQ.  This document is aimed at undergraduates, but you should read it, too.  Not everything in it applies to you, however (e.g., I say not to submit papers by email, but you should submit yours by email).

3. Science Homework.  Week 12 (April 4th meeting) will be the week that we talk a little bit about the science of happiness.  There are mountains of empirical research out there.  Your homework assignment is to find some empirical study concerning happiness.  It could be from psychology, neuroscience, economics, sociology, or some other empirical discipline.  Read the study.  Then come prepared to tell us about it.  What did the study purport to show?  What conception of happiness (if any) was at play in the study.  How did the study measure happiness (if it tried to measure happiness)?  How might Feldman criticize the study (if he would)?  Would he be right?  Did the study purport to shed light on the nature of happiness?  If so, how did it purport to do that?  (I'm especially keen to hear about studies of this latter sort -- studies that purport to shed light on the nature of happiness.)  We'll take turns teaching each other what we learned over the span of a few weeks, leading up to week 12.

Since I want to avoid duplication, once you find your article, email the class and tell us what it is.  This will give you dibs on it. 

You won't need to turn anything in for your science homework.

4. Oral Summaries.  This is going to be a discussion-oriented class rather than a lecture-oriented class.  To help get discussion going, we'll have someone summarize each paper before we discuss it.  Aim for a five-minute summary, and certainly no longer than ten minutes.  For the summaries, focus on the author's theses and arguments.  You can decide whether, for any thesis or argument that you mention, whether you want to explain it (briefly) or simply refer to it.

5. Term Paper.  The second and final paper is a proper term paper.  It is due to me by email on on Thursday, April 28th at 11:59 p.m. (.docx file again please).  It should be about the length of a normal journal article, i.e., 6,000-8,000 words.  5,000 words might work, but runs the risk of being under-developed.  If you feel that you need more than 9,000 words, please tell me why and get permission.  (These word counts are not including footnotes and bibliography.)  

Your term paper can be a revised and expanded version of your midterm paper.  In giving you feedback on your short midterm paper, I'll try to indicate whether or not I think it has promise as your term paper; if I can, I might suggest some directions in which to take it.

6. TalkThe last three weeks of the class will consist of our very own conference on happiness, with you all as the speakers.  Each student will be the speaker in a ~30-minute session devoted to the topic of her/his term paper: 15-20 minute talk, 10-15 minute Q&A.  For each speaker, a classmate will be assigned to ask the first question, which can be prepared in advance.  The idea here is that you will be laying out the main ideas and arguments of your term paper, and getting feedback on them before the paper is due the last week of classes.

If you think it would be helpful for us in following your talk, you can ask us to read something, or some passages from something, in advance of your talk.  Don't assign too much reading, though.  One reason that I like to spend the last few weeks of a graduate seminar in this way is that it frees you up from the normal reading load to do your own outside research and reading on the topic of your term paper.

7. Attendance and Participation.  Of course I expect you to attend all of our class meetings (missing one is equivalent to missing a week's work of classes).  If you have to miss a day, please let me know; otherwise, I'll be worrying about you.  And I very much hope that you will participate in our classroom discussions.  In my view, classroom discussion is what graduate seminars are all about.  Don't be afraid to ask dumb questions (if not now, when?).  Don't be afraid to challenge anything I say.  Don't be afraid to challenge anything a classmate says.  Don't be afraid to explore or to endorse unpopular views, or to criticize views that seem sacrosanct.  This is exactly what we are here for.

I basically give out just three grades in graduate classes: A, A–, and B+. 

'A–', for me, means meets expectations.  This is a good grade.  It means that you are, in my view, doing the caliber of work that you need to doing to succeed in the program.  It means that you are doing A-OK.  This is the most common grade given in my graduate courses.

'A' means exceeds expectations.  I reserve this grade for truly exceptional work, the sort of work that seems like it wouldn't be completely out of place in a professional journal.  (Incidentally, you should definitely be aiming for at least some of your work in graduate school to look like this; you should expect this of yourself.  Doctoral students should have it as a goal to have at least one publication in a decent journal before going on the job market.)

'B+', for me, means fails to meet expectations.  This means that, in my opinion, if all of the work that you did in our program was of this quality, you might struggle to get all the way through the program.  Of course, this would be just one person's opinion on one paper of yours.

This grading scheme for graduate classes is my own; you should not interpret grades from other professors as meaning the same.

The main thing that will determine your grade for the course is the grade that you get on your term paper.  I won't even be officially grading anything else.  But your midterm paper, your talk and Q&A, and your contributions to class discussion can also influence your grade for the course.

Course Schedule (continually evolving)

Date Topic
(due on date listed; subject to change; Feldman readings are all from What Is This Thing Called Happiness?; brackets contain the initials of the designated summarizer)
Jan 11 Introductions, Syllabus;
Doing Philosophy Uncorrupted by Reading Philosophy
Jan 18 NO CLASS: MLK Holiday; Introduction to the Philosophy of Happiness on your own
- Feldman, "Some Puzzles about Happiness" (ch. 1).
- Haybron, "Happiness" (2011), thru §2.2.
- Mulnix and Mulnix, "Introduction," from Theories of Happiness: An Anthology (2015).
Jan 25 Sensory Hedonism about Happiness - Haybron, "Happiness and Pleasure" (2001). [CH]
- Feldman, "Sensory Hedonism about Happiness" (ch. 2). [CH]
Feb 1
Kahneman's Theory
- Kahneman, "Objective Happiness" (1999). [MT]
- Feldman, "Kahneman's 'Objective Happiness'"
(ch. 3). [ZK]
Feb 8 Feldman on Kahneman;
Davis on Pleasure and Happiness
- Feldman, "Kahneman's 'Objective Happiness'" (ch. 3). [ZK]
- Davis, "Pleasure and Happiness" (1981). [MB]
Feb 15 Davis's Theory of Happiness
- Davis, "A Theory of Happiness" (1981). [AL]
- Feldman, "Subjective Local Preferentism about Happiness" (ch. 4). [JG]

Feb 22 Whole Life Satisfaction Theories
- Tatarkiewicz, "Happiness and Time" (1966). [AW]
Sumner, "Welfare and Happiness" (1996). [CH]

- Feldman, "Whole Life Satisfaction Concepts of Happiness" (ch. 5). [MT]
- Feldman, "Happiness and Time: More Nails in the Coffin of Whole Life Satisfactionism" (Appendix A). [ZK]
- Feldman, "Happiness =df. Whatever the Happiness Test Measures" (Appendix B).
Feb 29 Attitudinal Hedonism about Happiness;
The Meaning of 'Happy'
- Feldman, "What is This Thing Called Happiness?" (ch. 6). [AL]
- Feldman, "The Meaning(s) of 'Happy'" (Appendix C). [CP]
- Bach, "Ambiguity" (1998). [CP]
Mar 7 Attitudinal Hedonism about Happiness - Feldman, "Attitudinal Hedonism about Happiness" (ch. 7). [MB]
- Haybron, "Pleasure," from The Pursuit of Unhappiness (2008). [MB]
Mar 14 Haybron's Emotional State Theory
First science presentation [CH]:
Aknin el tal, "Giving Leads to Happiness in Young Children" (2012).
- Haybron, "Emotional State" from The Pursuit of Unhappiness (2008). [JG]
- Haybron, "Happiness as Psychic Affirmation" from The Pursuit of Unhappiness (2008). [ZK]
  Mar 16 Short Midterm Paper due by email, Wednesday, March 16 at 11:59 p.m.
Mar 21      -- NO CLASS: Spring Break --
Mar 28 Haybron's Emotional State Theory;
Eudaimonism about Happiness
Second science presentation [ZK]: Killingsworth and Gilbert, "A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind" (2010).
- Haybron, "Happiness as Psychic Affirmation" from The Pursuit of Unhappiness (2008). [ZK]
- de Lazari-Radek and Singer, "The Definition and Significance of Happiness," from The Point of View of the Universe (2014). [MT]

- Annas, "Happiness as Achievement" (2004)
. [MB]
- Kraut, "Two Conceptions of Happiness" (1979). [AL]
Apr 4 The Happiness Theory of Well-Being
Third science presentation [AL]: Suh et al, "The Shifting Basis of Life Satisfaction Judgments Across Cultures" (1998).
Fourth science presentation
- Feldman, "Eudaimonism" (ch. 8). [AW]
- Feldman, "Five Grades of Demonic Possession" (Appendix D). [CP]
- Feldman, "The Problem of Inauthentic Happiness" (ch. 9).
- Feldman, "Disgusting Happiness" (ch. 10). [MB]
- Feldman, "Our Authority over Our Own Happiness" (ch. 11). [CH]

Apr 11 The Science of Happiness
Fifth science presentation
Sixth science presentation
[MB]: Demir and Weitekamp, " ... Friendship and Personality as Predictors of Happiness" (2007).
Seventh science presentation
[MT]: Brothers and Maddux, "The Goal of Biological Parenthood and Emotional Distress From Infertility" (2003).
- Haybron, "Happiness" (2011), §3.
- Feldman, "Measuring Happiness" (ch. 12).
- Feldman, "Empirical Research; Philosophical Conclusions" (ch. 13)
- Feldman, "The Central Points of the Project as a Whole" (ch. 14).
(first Q:
Apr 18 Conference on Happiness
1st Talk: ZK (first Q: JG)
2nd Talk: AW (first Q: MB)
3rd Talk: AL (first Q: MT)
(readings, if any, will be suggested and provided by the speakers)
Apr 25 4th Talk: MB (first Q: AL)
5th Talk: JG (first Q: AW)
6th Talk: MT (first Q:
(readings, if any, will be suggested and provided by the speakers)

Apr 28 Term Paper due by email, Thursday, April 28th at 11:59 p.m.

Accommodations for Disabilities
If you qualify for accommodations because of a disability, please give me a letter from Disability Services in a timely manner (for exam accommodations you must provide your letter at least one week prior to the exam) so that your needs can be addressed.  Disability Services determines accommodations based on documented disabilities.  Contact Disability Services at 303-492-8671 or by e-mail at  If you have a temporary medical condition or injury, see Temporary Injuries guidelines under the Quick Links at the Disability Services website and discuss your needs with your professor.

Religious Observances
Campus policy regarding religious observances requires that faculty make every effort to deal reasonably and fairly with all students who, because of religious obligations, have conflicts with scheduled exams, assignments or required attendance.  Please let me know well in advance about any such conflicts, and we'll work together to resolve them.  See campus policy regarding religious observances for full details.

Classroom Behavior
Students and faculty each have responsibility for maintaining an appropriate learning environment.  Those who fail to adhere to such behavioral standards may be subject to discipline.  Professional courtesy and sensitivity are especially important with respect to individuals and topics dealing with differences of race, color, culture, religion, creed, politics, veteran’s status, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and gender expression, age, disability, and nationalities. Class rosters are provided to the instructor with the student's legal name.  I will gladly honor your request to address you by an alternate name or gender pronoun.  Please advise me of this preference early in the semester so that I may make appropriate changes to my records.  For more information, see the policies on classroom behavior and the student code.

Discrimination And Harassment
We at the University of Colorado Boulder are committed to maintaining a positive learning, working, and living environment. CU-Boulder will not tolerate acts of discrimination or harassment based upon Protected Classes or related retaliation against or by any employee or student.  For purposes of this CU-Boulder policy, "Protected Classes" refers to race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, age, disability, creed, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, veteran status, political affiliation or political philosophy.  Individuals who believe they have been discriminated against should contact the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance (OIEC) at 303-492-2127 or the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution (OSC) at 303-492-5550.  Information about the OIEC, the above referenced policies, and the campus resources available to assist individuals regarding discrimination or harassment can be found at the OIEC website.  The full policy on discrimination and harassment contains additional information.

Honor Code
All students of the University of Colorado Boulder are responsible for knowing and adhering to the academic integrity policy of this institution.  Violations of this policy may include: cheating, plagiarism, aid of academic dishonesty, fabrication, lying, bribery, and threatening behavior.  All incidents of academic misconduct shall be reported to the Honor Code Council (; 303-735-2273).  Students who are found to be in violation of the academic integrity policy will be subject to both academic sanctions from the faculty member and non-academic sanctions (including but not limited to university probation, suspension, or expulsion).  Additional information regarding the Honor Code policy can be found online and at the Honor Code Office.

Anyone caught violating CU's academic integrity policy (in any way) will automatically receive an F for this course, and may be subject to expulsion from the university.  I take cheating very seriously.