Sunday, April 19, 2015

Semi-Open Philosophical Sunday Thread: How do You Define Happiness?

As is our habit, do treat this as a semi-open weekend thread. And as always do feel free to share interesting matters, topics, or information of public or private concern.

Philosophy is "love of wisdom".

Ideally, philosophy should be applied as a means of improving the human condition.

The question becomes, how does one live such a life?

Moreover, how can we work towards the Common Good through the pursuit of knowledge, and the development of a proper ethical framework, while also learning how to be better and more critical thinkers?

I was asked to teach an introduction to political theory and philosophy course this past quarter. Theory is one of the areas I enjoy--although I would never pass myself off as an expert beyond a niche interest in "democratic theory" and "power"--so I knew that I could do something passable akin to the Introduction to Political Thought class that I took while an undergraduate.

The course was interesting. It was more of a success than a failure. I did not have an Obi-wan who believes he can teach Anakin better than Yoda moment. Such an avoidance of disaster is all that I ask for in such situations.

However, I am still struck by how few students, many of which are about to graduate, have never been exposed to any of the foundational thinkers in the Western canon (Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Hobbes, Marx, Smith, Rousseau, Mill, etc.) that would qualify a person as being "educated". I have taught at a range of institutions. The problem is less worse at the elite schools, but seems to be pretty common at the decent to good mid-tier institutions that most students will attend.

[I also noticed a clear stratification in preparation. There were several students who attended good if not elite high schools who had a familiarity with the thinkers we were grappling with in class. Other students would have had no idea what or who we were talking about before class began. This is very troubling for the future of American democracy. The myth of meritocracy and upward mobility is exposed once again. Our public schools are contributing to the creation of American feudalism.]

I ask and challenge the students, "how can you be a good citizen and live a fulfilled and reflective life, if you have not grappled with critical thinking and 'big ideas?'" Most have no answer. They sit, looking embarrassed.

Yes, a broken economy and other priorities are part of this problem. Yes, the rise of S.T.E.M. and standardized testing has robbed many students of the ability to be anything more than technicians, robots, and human drones who feed the maw of hyper-capitalism and the 1 percent.

But, there has to be another way. Am I that wrong and misguided?

I am curious as to your thoughts on happiness.

Aristotle suggested that happiness is:
the function of man is to live a certain kind of life, and this activity implies a rational principle, and the function of a good man is the good and noble performance of these, and if any action is well performed it is performed in accord with the appropriate excellence: if this is the case, then happiness turns out to be an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue.
What makes you happy?


Learning Is Eternal said...

Doing for others. Making others happy, feel secure. Anything I can do to help others capitalize on their dreams or failures yields happiness for me.

A possible hero complex? Yep. I'm not good at receiving the love I give out.

On to more important gossip.

Have you heard/already discussed the resignation of the towns police force after the election of the said towns 1st black/female mayor?

Her name is Tyrus Byrd. This took place in Parma, Missouri. The previous mayor Randall Ramsey had served for 37 yrs.

KissedByTheSun said...

Ah the elusive definition of happiness. Such a tricky thing to pin down. Most definitions boil down to whatever gives us and others positive feelings, which on the surface sounds ok but in practice it can lead to horrible conclusions. Consider an ISIS member being brought a voluptuous woman who has been kidnapped for his pleasure and the feelings of happiness he may feel upon her arrival. Or the kidnappers feeling great that they made their buddy's day by bringing him this woman. I'm sure most of us wretch at the thought but according to how most define happiness it cannot be argued that these men aren't feeling it. Some may argue that the because they have inflicted pain on the kidnapped woman there is no happiness unless all are happy. But of course this wouldn't apply if some heroic person saved the woman, thus giving her great happiness, but alternatively caused the kidnappers a great deal of pain. So it seems that what we consider happiness is inextricably linked to what we consider moral and just. Which complicates things even further because how exactly do we define morality? Or better yet who gets to define what morality is? What is moral cannot be decided by majority rule or even by a select few because whatever they come up with can always be turned on its head. And there's always the question of authority. Who gives one man the right to tell another man what to do with his life? Defining happiness is elusive in a world that likes to pretend it isn't in the grips of nihilism. If happiness, and by extension morality, doesn't come from a source that transcends humanity, a source outside human efforts to define it, then it is worthless.

kokanee said...

Wow, excellent comment! My thoughts are similar but much more simplistic so I'll add them under yours. ;)

I've previously mentioned this bit of current culture philosophy from a Mad Men episode:
"Life is a constant struggle between what we want to do and what is expected of us to do."

I think more accurately that life is a constant battle between what we want to do and what we expect of ourselves to do (our morality). When they are polar opposites you have despair. When they are completely in sync you have happiness.

kokanee said...

Dear Idiot --

You are completely ignoring one's feelings for his/her family members, community, country and world.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

The problem with immediate with philosophies is the quantification of social sciences for ease of presentation and preparation for students and teachers. Only advanced placement classes would begin to address many of these individuals' works.
The curriculum has been molded to follow specific standards and objectives which have desired outcomes for student advancement. Teachers must put forth an enormous effort in social studies classes for basic outcomes and most programs have an end of year test which covers everything.
Teachers should be creative about how they can present information while still adhering to the state curriculum, but there is a lot of resistance from traditional type of faculty members.

As for happiness: Somewhere between hedonism and asceticism. ;)

chauncey devega said...

"Only advanced placement classes would begin to address many of these individuals' works."

How did we get to this point? Not too long ago, basic readings from The Classic were a given.

chauncey devega said...

Idiocracy? Great movie. Destroy critical thinking, make more sheeple?

chauncey devega said...

The symbolic power of one black woman who is elected mayor. They resigned? Quite a confession. No?

Myshkin the Idiot said...

Perhaps a combination of cultural aversion as well as our entire society devaluing those skills in our creation of curriculum. History and other social sciences are strange relics in contemporary schools. While math and language arts have grown and changed to suit the students' needs, history classes and books have been static. Despite how conservatives feel liberals have taken over education, most educators I know are really pretty conservative.

Honestly people are afraid of history because studying history can be an act of liberation, but white people in America don't need liberation. White people need allegiance to whiteness which is difficult to maintain once people have learned about the real 20th century.

joe manning said...

I.L. Horowitz et. al. have drawn rather convincing distinctions between moral absolutism and scientific ethics. It goes to the philosophical debate about whether or not objectivity is possible i.e. the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, is social science possible?