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Is the fact that spraining my ankle is bad for my welfare something that exists

Is the fact that spraining my ankle is bad for my welfare something that exists independently of my feeling that spraining my ankle is bad for my welfare?

It certainly would seem to be. After all, if my ankle is sprained it gets in the way of doing things I need to do to take care of myself - whether I recognize this or not. Compare: it's pretty clearly bad for the welfare of an animal if it has a broken leg, even though the animal may not be able to understand this.

Of course we can dream up one-off cases where having a sprained ankle might be good for your welfare. For example, having a sprained ankle might keep you out of pointless combat. But even in that sort of case, it's not a matter of my opinion. Generally speaking, not getting shot is better for your welfare than getting shot!

There is a wrinkle, however. If someone who is neither crazy or confused wholeheartedly embraces preferences that go against what we normally take to be for one's welfare, it's not so clear that we can simply say that they are wrong. Sharon Street has interesting things to say on related matters. If you have access to a University library, you might find this paper worth a read.

It certainly would seem to be. After all, if my ankle is sprained it gets in the way of doing things I need to do to take care of myself - whether I recognize this or not. Compare: it's pretty clearly bad for the welfare of an animal if it has a broken leg, even though the animal may not be able to understand this. Of course we can dream up one-off cases where having a sprained ankle might be good for your welfare. For example, having a sprained ankle might keep you out of pointless combat. But even in that sort of case, it's not a matter of my opinion. Generally speaking, not getting shot is better for your welfare than getting shot! There is a wrinkle, however. If someone who is neither crazy or confused wholeheartedly embraces preferences that go against what we normally take to be for one's welfare, it's not so clear that we can simply say that they are wrong. Sharon Street has interesting things to say on related matters. If you have access to a University library, you might find this...

In the bhuddist religion, the aim is obviously to become "enlightened" or as it

In the bhuddist religion, the aim is obviously to become "enlightened" or as it could be redefined "a state of inner unwavering happiness" however along with being englightened one must take away his/her desires for material objects, relationships, negative emotions etc. So if ones family was to be brutally be tortured and killed, one would see it as a change of energy, and feel no pain. Assuming that this is the only way to be permanently happy, could it be considered that to become enlightened would be to deny being human, and so would become like a machine that does not care. Year 10 - Hale Highschool

It's a good question, but I think it may rest on a misunderstanding of Buddhism. None of the Buddhist teachers I know think that Buddhism is a path to not feeling pain. If even the most enlightened Buddhist puts her hand on a hot stove, it will hurt. If people we love are hurt, we will feel sad. Beware forms of Buddhism (or any other view of the world) that says otherwise. In the Buddhist tradition, there are stories of the Buddha repeatedly meeting Mara. In some of the stories, he invites Mara to tea. Many teachers would say that the point is to remind us: the Buddha was still a human being. He still could feel anger, pain and the like. The difference, the Buddhist would say, is that the Buddha had learned not to get attached to those things They didn't take him over and control him.

Enlightenment and permanent happiness aren't the same thing, on my understanding. The enlightened person is one who's awake - who sees things for what they are. One of the facts about the way things are is that pain is inevitable. What many Buddhist teachers add is that suffering is optional.

This may sound paradoxical or contradictory. Isn't pain just a form of suffering? On one perfectly good use of the words, the answer is yes. But Buddhism claims that we can learn to step back from our pains, small and large, and not become identified with them.

That answer is likely too short to be very helpful, let alone convincing. In any case, the Buddhist would say that if Buddhist teachings are true, this is something we will learn by trying them rather than through some sort of revelation or acquiescence to authority. Though I don't count myself a Buddhist, what impresses me about the versions I've encountered is that there's nothing starry-eyed or blissed-out about them. They're open-eyed, realistic and profoundly practical.

There are many good books that you might turn to if you want to get an idea of what this is supposed to mean in practice. You might read, for example, books by Thich Nhat Hanh or by Pema Chodron or the Dalai Lama - or by Western teachers such as Tara Brach. You might or might not be convinced, but I think you'll end up with a different picture of what Buddhism is trying to offer.

It's a good question, but I think it may rest on a misunderstanding of Buddhism. None of the Buddhist teachers I know think that Buddhism is a path to not feeling pain. If even the most enlightened Buddhist puts her hand on a hot stove, it will hurt. If people we love are hurt, we will feel sad. Beware forms of Buddhism (or any other view of the world) that says otherwise. In the Buddhist tradition, there are stories of the Buddha repeatedly meeting Mara. In some of the stories, he invites Mara to tea. Many teachers would say that the point is to remind us: the Buddha was still a human being. He still could feel anger, pain and the like. The difference, the Buddhist would say, is that the Buddha had learned not to get attached to those things They didn't take him over and control him. Enlightenment and permanent happiness aren't the same thing, on my understanding. The enlightened person is one who's awake - who sees things for what they are. One of the facts about the way things are is that pain...

If philosophers are asked, "What makes people happy (eudaimonic)?", why do they

If philosophers are asked, "What makes people happy (eudaimonic)?", why do they sit around and speculate on what should make people happy, instead of walking out into the street and checking people out? "Hey, are you happy? If so, tell us why!"

You're making a perfectly good point: no one can figure out what will make people happy just by sitting in their armchair. But there are a lot of things we might mean by the word "happy" and if we just ask the person on the street if they're happy, we may not know what to make of the answer.

There's a recent short essay by Gary Gutting in the New York Times' The Stone series that deals with some of the issues here. and for present purposes I don't have a lot to add. But at the least, we'd want to make a distinction between the passing state of our moods and the condition of our lives overall. Being annoyed of an afternoon doesn't mean that I'm not happy, full stop. And being in a good mood on another afternoon also doesn't mean I'm happy, full stop. To which we can add: part of what Aristotle and other philosophers want to know is what sorts of things make for a life worth living; the word "happiness" is at best a rough translation for "eudaimonia."

There's another problem with just asking people if they're happy and if so why. As mountains of psychological research have made clear, we're often not nearly as good as we think we are at figuring out what's going on in our own minds. And even if I'm right in reporting that I'm happy in some sense or other, I might be wrong about why.

So yes: there's a lot to be learned about happiness by getting out of the armchair. But if we're going to look to the world, we need to have some well-thought-out ideas on what we're really asking and what would count as an answer. That part of the job isn't just for philosophers, but it's the part that philosophers are likely to have the most to say about.

You're making a perfectly good point: no one can figure out what will make people happy just by sitting in their armchair. But there are a lot of things we might mean by the word "happy" and if we just ask the person on the street if they're happy, we may not know what to make of the answer. There's a recent short essay by Gary Gutting in the New York Times' The Stone series that deals with some of the issues here. and for present purposes I don't have a lot to add. But at the least, we'd want to make a distinction between the passing state of our moods and the condition of our lives overall. Being annoyed of an afternoon doesn't mean that I'm not happy, full stop. And being in a good mood on another afternoon also doesn't mean I'm happy, full stop. To which we can add: part of what Aristotle and other philosophers want to know is what sorts of things make for a life worth living; the word "happiness" is at best a rough translation for "eudaimonia." There's another problem with just asking...

It is said that happiness comes from within - that no one can make you happy.

It is said that happiness comes from within - that no one can make you happy. However, some people do bring out the best in us (people we fall in love with) and others bring out the worst in us (people we dislike). So the statement that happiness comes from within is not entirely true. What is your opinion?

You're pretty clearly right. What's going on around us matters for our happiness, and though how we look at things makes a difference, it's not all. There may be some people (a fully enlightened being such as the Buddha supposedly was, perhaps?) who are able to maintain their equanimity in all circumstances, but for the rest of us, this would be a superhuman achievement. Moreover, it's not entirely obvious that it would be desirable to have that kind of detachment.

That said, there's a point to the saying that no one can make you happy. Making others responsible for one's own happiness is not a mark of wisdom, and not likely to succeed.

You're pretty clearly right. What's going on around us matters for our happiness, and though how we look at things makes a difference, it's not all. There may be some people (a fully enlightened being such as the Buddha supposedly was, perhaps?) who are able to maintain their equanimity in all circumstances, but for the rest of us, this would be a superhuman achievement. Moreover, it's not entirely obvious that it would be desirable to have that kind of detachment. That said, there's a point to the saying that no one can make you happy. Making others responsible for one's own happiness is not a mark of wisdom, and not likely to succeed.

As far as I am aware most if not all religions promise the possibility of

As far as I am aware most if not all religions promise the possibility of eternal happiness in the next life. However the concept of eternal happiness is impossible to understand. How could we be happy without our negative emotions - don't we enjoy our negative emotions sometimes (watching a sad or scary film)? Aren't our negative emotions a release? People who are happy for extended periods, e.g. people in-love or people suffering from mania cannot keep up being happy because it is exhausting and also people in these states become irrational. So why do we buy into the concept of eternal happiness in the next life so easily?

It's a nice question, and one that' s been discussed before in various versions. You've put particular emphasis on the idea that without negative emotions, we couldn't really be happy.

Let's suppose you're right. As your own way of putting things suggests, it doesn't follow that there couldn't be such a thing as eternal happiness. The reason is that the kind of happiness that's at issue isn't best thought of as an emotion or mood but as some more global feature of our lives. In fact, your own point is that negative states can be part of, well, our happiness.

We could also spend a bit of time on whether "negative states" that we enjoy (the frisson of "horror" we pay good money for at the movies, for example) really are negative states. But let that pass. I think the partisan of eternal life would probably object to being tied to the word "happiness." Some talk, for example, of "eternal bliss." But whatever state that's meant to pick out, it may not be quite the same as the one we describe as "happiness." This isn't to disparage happiness; it's just to say that there might be more than one kind of condition that we'd want to think about if we were thinking seriously about eternal life.

And while we're at it, we might want to query the word "eternal." Should we think of eternal life as unending? Or as outside time altogether? If eternal life is atemporal life, then our usual ways of thinking about what it is to be happy may not be up to the task.

Of course, the idea of life outside time might seem too paradoxical to take seriously, though the idea that God is outside time has a long history in theological thought. But the larger point here may allow us to dance around the question: if there is such a thing as eternal life, it seems a reasonable bet that we're not in a very good position to imagine what it's like.

Needless to say, the fact that we have trouble imagining something isn't a reason for believing that it's true. But the fact that we have trouble imagining something isn't always a good guide to whether it's possible either.

A couple of further points. The first is that I'm not particularly inclined to believe that something like eternal happiness awaits us, but that's not because I think the idea is incoherent. The second is a bibliographic note: there is a well-known paper by Bernard Williams, in which he argues, roughly, that anything that could count as one's own endless life would be intolerably boring, and that any sort of endless "life" that escaped this fate wouldn't be one's own. (Williams means to raise a problem about personal identity here; you can chase down the essay, which is called "The Makropoulos Case: Reflections on the Tedium of Immortality." It's in his Problems of the Self, Cambridge University Press, 1973.) I find William's arguments singularly unconvincing, but you might feel differently. John Martin Fischer offers a reply called "Why Immortality is Not So Bad," in International Journal of Philosophical Studies, 1994 pp. 257-270. And you can read an interesting discussion by Tim Chappell here.

It's a nice question, and one that' s been discussed before in various versions. You've put particular emphasis on the idea that without negative emotions, we couldn't really be happy. Let's suppose you're right. As your own way of putting things suggests, it doesn't follow that there couldn't be such a thing as eternal happiness. The reason is that the kind of happiness that's at issue isn't best thought of as an emotion or mood but as some more global feature of our lives. In fact, your own point is that negative states can be part of, well, our happiness . We could also spend a bit of time on whether "negative states" that we enjoy (the frisson of "horror" we pay good money for at the movies, for example) really are negative states. But let that pass. I think the partisan of eternal life would probably object to being tied to the word "happiness." Some talk, for example, of "eternal bliss." But whatever state that's meant to pick out, it may not be quite the same as the one we...

The consideration that harm is inherently related to the perception of the

The consideration that harm is inherently related to the perception of the harmed (i.e., s/he who perceives that s/he has been harmed has been harmed) is widely accepted, and I even sometimes see philosophers on this site answering questions of ethics from this position. However, it seems to me that this way of viewing "harm" is too generally subjective. Are there widely accepted objective means for defining harm? What are they?

I wonder just how widely accepted this is. I suspect that most people, including panelists here, would agree that just because someone thinks they've been harmed, it doesn't mean that they actually were. In fact, it's perfectly possible that something someone takes to have harmed them actually did them good. (You might think your boss would be upset if he knew that you stood up to some obstreperous client. I know that he'd actually be pleased; he's been looking for an excuse to "fire" this client, you've provided it, and because I tell him what you did, you'll be in for a bonus at year's end.)

There are a couple of cases that might seem to support the equation of thinking one has been harmed with actually being harmed, but I'm not sure they're what you had in mind. First, suppose I think I'm in pain. It's been widely held that I can't be mistaken about this. I might be mistaken about whether the pain signals some sort of organic damage, but if I think I have a headache, it's odd to say that I don't -- even if it's all "in my head," if you get my drift. But that's a special kind of case.

Another sort of case might be when you've done something that upsets me. If my distress is unreasonable, I doubt we'd be inclined to say that you harmed me. If what you did could be expected to distress most people, we might count this as harm. For example: suppose you've mocked me in front of people whose opinion I might reasonably care about. The fact that I care is part of why I take myself to have been harmed. (Harm to reputation is a kind of harm.) If I were more thick-skinned, there would be no harm. But it might be unreasonable to expect me not to care.

I'm not sure how much that helps. As for objective ways of defining "harm," I don't have a lot to offer that's terribly informative, except to say that if I do something to you that interferes with your normal functioning, physically, socially, economically, emotionally... we might reasonably count that as harm. But the mere fact that I take myself to have been harmed doesn't settle the matter.

I wonder just how widely accepted this is. I suspect that most people, including panelists here, would agree that just because someone thinks they've been harmed, it doesn't mean that they actually were. In fact, it's perfectly possible that something someone takes to have harmed them actually did them good. (You might think your boss would be upset if he knew that you stood up to some obstreperous client. I know that he'd actually be pleased; he's been looking for an excuse to "fire" this client, you've provided it, and because I tell him what you did, you'll be in for a bonus at year's end.) There are a couple of cases that might seem to support the equation of thinking one has been harmed with actually being harmed, but I'm not sure they're what you had in mind. First, suppose I think I'm in pain. It's been widely held that I can't be mistaken about this. I might be mistaken about whether the pain signals some sort of organic damage, but if I think I have a headache, it's odd to say that I don...

Is it possible to for me to suffer a misfortune or a harm of which I am

Is it possible to for me to suffer a misfortune or a harm of which I am completely unaware? At first sight the idea seem ridiculous. It's like someone telling you they were suffering a toothache yesterday but were quite unaware of it at the time! If I am harmed surely I must undergo a disagreeable experience of some kind? On the other hand if I lose the chance of promotion in my job due to some malicious gossip put about by a colleague surely I have been harmed as I have been deprived of a benefit I would otherwise have enjoyed. This must be true even if I never know about it. Rob W. United Kingsdom

I think you've done a good job of answering your own question. Your example is a pretty clear case of someone being harmed without knowing about it.

I think you've done a good job of answering your own question. Your example is a pretty clear case of someone being harmed without knowing about it.