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What is the definition of happiness and how is it possible for human beings to

What is the definition of happiness and how is it possible for human beings to achieve happiness? What are the limits toward an individuals happiness and how can I know when I have surpassed or come close to such limits?

Not easy questions. Philosophical accounts of happiness have tended either to stress happiness as a subjective matter involving (for example) the satisfaction of preferences and desires or in a more objective or less subjective matters, for example, a person is happy if she is flourishing. Subjective accounts tend to give more authority to the person's own self-evaluation, e.g. you seem to be the best authority when it comes to identifying what you desire or prefer. But subjective accounts may still distinguish between what you actually desire or prefer and what you should desire or prefer if (for example) you knew more of the relevant facts. Thus, you might desire to marry Fred but (unknown to you) Fred is a terrorist and you most emphatically do not wish to marry a terrorist. A subjectivist might also allow for self-deception. In such a case, a person may think they are happy because she believes her main desires in life are fulfilled and yet those desires are the result of some self-created impairment (you believe you want to marry Fred but this 'want' is based on a dreadful fantasy that you have invented).

I am inclined to a somewhat less subjective account. So, the subjectivist may be right that happiness involves our preferences and desires, but the kinds of preferences and desires that are truly conducive (or partly constitute) happiness are those that contribute to a person's flourishing. What is flourishing? Not easy to spell out, but I believe that Aristotle gets us off to a good start in his Ethics in his treatment of the actualization of your powers (of reasoning, thinking, perceiving, acting with prudence, temperance, justice, courage). From an Aristotelian point of view, you may grow in happiness insofar as you flourish, realizing the great practical and intellectual virtues. Knowing whether you are flourishing may require a mix of self-awareness as well as living in a community in which persons care about and reflect on the happiness or wellbeing of its members.

I am not quite sure what you are looking for in terms of limits. Maybe it is useful to distinguish happiness and being healthy. I believe we have good reason to think that sometimes unhappiness is healthy and good, as when we mourn or grieve the loss of someone or thing we love. In light of that, maybe we should think that the limits of our happiness should (in some sense) be determined by our own and others' health or overall wellbeing. It would not be good (it would, in your terms, surpass the limits of healthy happiness) to be happy in the face of profound tragedy. Ending on a lighter note, it also may in some sense be a duty to try to be happy (or to try to try to be happy) in the presence of great goods such as young, healthy children, romantic love, courageous compassion, and an illuminating philosophical dialogue.

Is it sensible for someone to carry out the study of philosophy at the

Is it sensible for someone to carry out the study of philosophy at the undergraduate level or above with the aim of self-psychological therapy(in place of, or with orthodox psychotherapy)? Can it help us organize our minds to be in order? Can it reduce neuroses and anxieties, and make us happier?

It did in my case. I grew up in the context of two older half-brothers who made me feel worthless. (My mother and father had one son each in a previous marriage and when they got together and had two children, we were resented by their sons.) When I discovered the practice of philosophy, it was like discovering an escape from resentment, disrespect, and bullying. Ideally, when philosophy is true to its name of being the love of wisdom, it can be a practice in which one finds a site to engage in questioning and exploring (with others who treat each other with respect) values, matters of meaning and purpose, that can be therapeutic. I also found philosophy as a practice to be therapeutic when I recovered from a short period of abusing psychotropic drugs (LSD, etc). I basically found life with philosophy (without drugs) as a practice healthier, happier, less neurotic, than a life of blurry, self-abuse (and probably self-pity).

OK, so that is more of a testimony than an expected, scholarly or less personal response, so (to earn my keep, though I suppose the only earning panelists earn is the privilege of being read as there is no money involved) I should also add that the study of philosophy can lead to a very different outcome than it had in my case. Embracing Schopenhauer's worldview can lead to a regret that one has been born and some philosophers like Pascal, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche, can be read as seeking to instill anxiety (as well as offering insights on how to address anxiety and dread and renounce certain forms of consolation). In fact, our sort of patron saint, Socrates, seemed to specialize in making his fellow Athenians nervous by exposing their ignorance (about justice, holiness, courage, friendship, and so on). Moreover, those of us who are professional philosophers are far from perfect; we are not immunized against depression, unhappiness, neuroses and anxiety.

Still, my hope is that you might find in the practice philosophy what I did and find the reason why I am still very excited about the practice of philosophy and find it liberating and a source of joy.

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.

Who´s happiness is most important? My own or my family´s wich I have a

Who´s happiness is most important? My own or my family´s wich I have a responsible for as a mother and a wife? I´m used to, and it´s a part of my personality to always make sure that everybody around me is happy and content.But I suddenly realized that I forgotten all about me and what I want and need to be happy. I´m now facing the fact that in order to be happy and content, I need a divorce. Our marrige with two teenagers, is OK, but nothing more- we are like best friends. I suppose that my action will come as a complete surprise to everybody around us. And it will cause a lot of anger, tears and questions. And the only answer I have is- I have to do this for me. Do I really have the ethic right to hurt everybody around me in order for me to be happy.

Your questions are important and obviously deeply-felt. I hesitate to offer answers to them because I don't think I'm particularly qualified as a philosopher to do that. But there are philosophers who hold themselves out as qualified; they're known as "philosophical practitioners," and you can find out more at this website. I don't know enough to say whether they're any good.

But a couple of responses do occur to me. You say that you're "responsible" for your family's happiness. If by that you mean "solely responsible" or "more responsible than any other member of the family," then I'd respectfully disagree. I don't see why one parent in the family has more responsibility for the collective happiness of the family than the other does. You also ask if it would be ethically OK for you to divorce if it hurts others. Unless you have reason to think that your divorce would be more hurtful to others than most divorces are, then really you're asking whether divorce, period, is ethically OK. I myself don't see anything ethically wrong with divorce as such.

But above all, I'd recommend talking about these questions with someone more professionally qualified to answer them than I am.

In a class on Aristotle we have been discussing the difference between the Greek

In a class on Aristotle we have been discussing the difference between the Greek's idea of Eudaimonia and what we today call happiness. Many of my classmates seem skeptical of more objective accounts like Aristotle's, instead defending subjective theories of happiness. Do you think this perhaps misguided view of happiness could be problematic? It seems to me that this view is embraced by a great number of my peers who, like me, come from comfortable middle class backgrounds. This "Do what you like as long as it makes you happy" attitude seems to result in both a sense of entitlement to whatever they happen to desire at the moment as well as a slavish need to act on any impulse. At the same time many of these people seem awfully depressed and unhappy for people with such privileged, comfortable lives. Do you think that this unique type of depression and a certain view of happiness are linked?

First, a clarification: as many scholars have noted, "happiness" is a misleading translation of the Greeek "eudaimonia," and partly for the very reason that is at the heart of your question. The Greeks certainly had disputes over how precisely we should understand eudaimonia, but all would agree that it is the term to use in describing someone who has a good and enviable life (and by thuis, they did not mean good or enviable in a restricted moral sense, but in the very pragmatic sense that all of us would prefer, at least all other things equal). So eudaimonia will be the condition that is always, utterly, and flawlessly in our interest.

Now, this makes what is wrong with a subjective conception of eudaimonia fairly obvious, but since you asked, I will quote myself (and my co-author, T. C. Brickhouse) here:

"Giddy morons may suppose they pursue their interest by doing what only makes them giddier and more foolish, but sensible evaluation will conclude that such lives are nothing to envy. The addict's high, even secured by a lifetime supply of intoxicants, is no model of surpassing success in the pursuit of self-interest. One may be subjectively and even exclusively interested in what is not really in one's interest. For what is really in one's self-interest, one's own personal opinion of what self-interest consists in is hardly decisive. It may be that a certain degree of subjective satisfaction is required for a truly good life. But what qualifies as an authentic self-interest for a given agent [...] is an objective fact about that agent." (Socratic Moral Psychology, Cambridge University Press, 2010, pp. 46-7; emphasis in original)

There is one more thing to add here. As a matter of fact, it seems that people can actually also be fairly poor predictors of what will, as a matter of fact, actually produce even subjective enjoyment. So, one recent study (reported in my daily paper, The Oregonian) sampled 632 Americans, who were asked to rate their own happiness on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the happiest. They were also asked to estimate how much of their spending went to paying bills, buying gifts for themselves, buying gifts for others, and giving to charity. A pattern emerged in their replies: those who engaged more in "prosocial spending" (the latter two categories) rated themselves happier than those who did less "prosocial spending." Now a quote from that same article in the Oregonian:

"A separate study published in 2006 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the same parts of the brain that produce a good feeling when a person receives a reward also respond when they give to someone else. In fact, the reward areas were more active when giving a gift than when receiving one."

I think these studies (and there have been many others that point in the same direction) show that the very selfish kind of subjective "happiness" seeking that you talk about in your question is actually quite poorly suited even to secude a subjectively "happy" existence. My suspicion is that (for healthy human beings, at any rate), the best way to succeed at securing subjective happiness is to try to do well in achiveing objective flourishing (eudaimonia).

Long story short, I agree with you, and it looks to me as if there is increasing scientific basis for your suspicion, in addition to a very long tradition of philosophical thought in its favor.

It is said that happiness should be attained from the "inside out". That it

It is said that happiness should be attained from the "inside out". That it should be unilaterally seeked, and not externally determined. On a philosophical standpoint, is this view tenable, considering that we do not live in a vacumn? It is, to a large extent, true that we can choose the way we respond to a situation. But wouldn't undesirable or negative events (or even harassment) trigger the need to choose to respond in a way that does not allow for the event to determine one's happiness, and that that itself connotes that external events have a role to play? I may be stretching the notion too far, in which case, a rephrasing of the question would involve asking the extent to which happiness should/could be unilaterally determined? On a general level, is happiness a concept that is consensually determined (a social construct) or is it a subjective pursuit, such that one can "choose to be happy" for real?

Excellent question or set of questions! The Ancient Greeks were especially vexed by this concern, some of them (like the Stoics) stressing happiness as something that is almost always an internal matter, but those influenced by Greek tragedy tended to take the opposite view (chance or fate can have a major impact). Probably the best book on this historically and as a substantial question on its own is The Fragility of Goodness; Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy by Martha Nussbaum (Cambridge University Press, 1986). I suspect that some kind of middle ground is the most reasonable: your flourishing or happiness cannot be entirely internal (it would be hard to be happy while being slowly tortured to death), but it cannot be entirely external (we can imagine a chap having the best conditions possible and yet responding with spiteful unhappiness).

As for your general question on happiness, the current debate is quite interesting! Some philosophers are impressed by some empirical evidence that suggests (to them) that a person is not the best judge of whether he or she is happy. There are studies to the effect that most people report being happy with their lives (see "Most People are Happy" in Psychological Science, vol. 7, 1996). There was a 1978 study that reports that accident victims who become paraplegic usually return to their original state of happiness within one year. And another study in 1996 which suggests that few of us (except in non-fatal conditions of course!) are badly effected after three months of a bad event. (There is an excellent paper on this by Jason Marsh entitled "Quality of Life Assessments, Cognitive Reliability and Procreative Responsibility.") Some philosophers think all this is pretty good news, but others conclude that the data must reveal that people are self-deceived and while they think they are happy, they are not. I personally have a hard time believing these studies (I think it would take me more than a year to recover from being paraplegic), but if these studies are accurate they perhaps support a middle ground position: a person's happiness is neither entirely internal nor entirely external.

I don't think Marsh's paper is published yet; I heard it presented to my department. But keep an eye out for his treatment of such cases!

If the market for certain entertainment media - films, video games, television,

If the market for certain entertainment media - films, video games, television, etc. - prefers to consume media that is sexist, racist, heteronormative, or otherwise prejudiced against certain groups, should the creators of such media nevertheless try to produce "fair" media? Why? As a consumer who wants fair depictions in media, what right do I have to demand that media be fair to minorities, if that means denying the majority what they want?

There are a few reasons to not just give people what they want. First, how do they know unless they are given alternatives? Secondly, what they want may have dangerous consequences for others and be incompatible with life in a civilized society.

The demand for fairness is a basic moral demand and on occasion may well not be popular, but that is irrelevant to its rationale.

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.

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.

If there were a a good reason to believe that irrational thinking--or at least a

If there were a a good reason to believe that irrational thinking--or at least a certain train of irrational beliefs--leads to greater happiness and prosperity (and I think there is a bit of psych research that suggests this is true), could a rational person decide to think irrationally--to adopt irrational beliefs--and would that itself be a rational decision?

Before I try to give an answer to your question directly, I want to object to the claim that seems to be its basis. I do believe that recent psychological research about happiness supports at least some elements of what might be called "irrationalism." On the other hand, it seems to me that this same research always treats happiness as a purely subjective property, and I want to make clear that this subjectivist treatment of happiness is very much at odds with the objectivist presumption in most of the philosophical literature on happiness.

To quote myself (the easiest author for me to remember!), "Giddy morons may suppose they pursue their interest by doing what only makes them giddier and more foolish, but sensible evaluation will conclude that such lives are nothing to envy. The addict's high, even secured by ba lifetime supply of intoxicants, is no model of surpassing success in the pursuit of self-interest" (T. C. Brickhouse and N. D. Smith, Socratic Moral Psychology, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010, p. 46). In other words, one who might be counted as "supremely happy" from a subjective point of view only, could still count as a complete wretch to a sensible objective observer. In the philosophical tradition known as "eudaimonism" (from the Greek word, eudaimonia, which is often translated as "happiness," but which is also reasonably well translated as "flourishing," "thriving," or "well-being"), happiness does have some important entailments with respect to subjectivity, but the achievement of actual happiness will not be exhausted by subjective considerations alone.

But if we take this objectivist stance, it starts to look like the hypothesis that forms the basis of your question may not be one to which we can really give our assent: One who thinks or acts irrationally is not one who seems to us to think or act in a way that is objectively choiceworthy. Maybe thinking or acting irrationally can provide subjective advantages (just think how happy I might be if I could convince myself that absolutely everybody loves and cares about me!!!), but if we (more sensibly, I contend) bring the objective point of view to bear on the question, I don't think we would ever suppose the irrationalism was preferable to rationalism.

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