Up@dawn 2.0

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Weekend diversions

Yesterday on Live From Here with Chris Thile, author/blogger Maria Popova ("brainpickings.org") read the opening and closing lines of her brilliant book Figuring (as well as a passage on Rachel Carson, whose Silent Spring kickstarted the modern environmental movement). Popova's work marries cosmic philosophy to the atomism of Democritus, the happiness wisdom of Epicurus, and the naturalism of Darwin. Highly recommended.

And, following up our discussion in class of what older people (including parents) have to offer the young...
Thoreau in Walden writes,
Practically, the old have no very important advice to give the young, their own experience has been so partial, and their lives have been such miserable failures, for private reasons, as they must believe; and it may be that they have some faith left which belies that experience, and they are only less young than they were. I have lived some thirty years on this planet, and I have yet to hear the first syllable of valuable or even earnest advice from my seniors. They have told me nothing, and probably cannot tell me any thing to the purpose. Here is life, an experiment to a great extent untried by me; but it does not avail me that they have tried it. If I have any experience which I think valuable, I am sure to reflect that this my Mentors said nothing about.
Of course, what did he know? He was young when he wrote that.

But then there's this, from Maria Popova (who is also young, and very wise):

On Children: Poignant Parenting Advice from Kahlil Gibran

In the final years of his long life, which encompassed world wars and assassinations and numerous terrors, the great cellist and human rights advocate Pablo Casals urged humanity to “make this world worthy of its children.” Today, as we face a world that treats its children as worthless, we are challenged like we have never been challenged to consider the deepest existential calculus of bringing new life into a troubled world — what is the worth of children, what are our responsibilities to them (when we do choose to have them, for it is also an act of courage and responsibility to choose not to), and what does it mean to raise a child with the dignity of being an unrepeatable miracle of atoms that have never before constellated and will never again constellate in that exact way?
Art by Derek Dominic D’souza from Song of Two Worlds by physicist Alan Lightman.
A century ago, perched between two worlds and two World Wars, the Lebanese-American poet, painter, and philosopher Kahlil Gibran (January 6, 1883–April 10, 1931) addressed these elemental questions with sensitive sagacity in a short passage from The Prophet (public library) — the 1923 classic that also gave us Gibran on the building blocks of true friendshipthe courage to weather the uncertainties of love, and what may be the finest advice ever offered on the balance of intimacy and independence in a healthy relationship.
When a young mother with a newborn baby at her breast asks for advice on children and parenting, Gibran’s poetic prophet responds:
2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngYour children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Art by Alessandro Sanna from Crescendo.
Complement with Susan Sontag’s 10 rules for raising a child and Crescendo — an Italian watercolor serenade to the splendid prenatal biology of becoming a being — then revisit Gibran on authenticitywhy we make art, and his gorgeous love letters to and from the woman without whom The Prophet might never have been born.
And, in honor of tonight's premier on pbs of Country Music, a film by Ken Burns,

A Wife Explains Why She Likes Country

Because those cows in the bottomland are black and white, colors
anyone can understand, even against the green
of the grass, where they glide like yes and no, nothing in between,
because in country, heartache has nowhere to hide,
it's the Church of Abundant Life, the Alamo,
the hubbub of the hoi polloi, the parallel lines of rail fences,
because I like rodeos more than golf,
because there's something about the sound of mealworms and
leeches and the dream of a double-wide
that reminds me this is America, because of the simple pleasure
of a last chance, because sometimes whiskey
tastes better than wine, because hauling hogs on the road
is as good as it gets when the big bodies are layered like pigs in a cake,
not one layer but two,
because only country has a gun with a full choke and a slide guitar
that melts playing it cool into sweaty surrender in one note,
because in country you can smoke forever and it'll never kill you,
because roadbeds, flatbeds, your bed or mine,
because the package store is right across from the chicken plant
and it sells boiled peanuts, because I'm fixin' to wear boots to the dance
and make my hair bigger, because no smarty-pants, just easy rhymes,
perfect love, because I'm lost deep within myself and the sad songs call me out,
because even you with your superior aesthetic cried
when Tammy Wynette died,
because my people
come from dirt.
"A Wife Explains Why She Likes Country" by Barbara Ras, from One Hidden Stuff. © Penguin Poets, 2006. Reprinted with permission. WA

The Times reports a new Happiness podcast, check it out and let us know what you think.

Saturday, September 14, 2019


Cynic literally means dog-like...

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Quizzes Sep 17 & 19-under construction (please collaborate, class)

We're NOT meeting Tuesday, I encourage your attendance at the Constitution Day Suffrage panel in the Tucker Theater at 2:30. We'll catch up on Thursday. Let's build these quizzes together: I'll do chapter 1, let's do ch 2-4 (post your quiz and discussion questions in the comments section & claim a base for each).

Image result for under construction

Epicureanism: A Very Short Introduction, ch 1-4

1. For most of history, Epicureanism has conjured what image? Did J.S. Mill share that view?

2. Epicureanism holds that there's nothing for fear or hope for from what?

3. What Epicurean view did Cicero agree with? What alternative doctrines contrary to Epicurus's did Stoics subscribe to?

4. How did early Christians and Muslims regard Epicureanism?

Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think Epicureanism has so often been errantly confused with "swinishness"? Do we humans have difficulty conceiving a difference between pleasure and hedonism?
  • What kinds of pleasures do you consider most relevant to your happiness? (Or if you prefer, to your good life?) Do you agree with Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics (contra Epicurus) that sensual pleasures are inferior to those of the mind?
  • COMMENT: “All religions are equally sublime to the ignorant, useful to the politician, and ridiculous to the philosopher.” ― Titus Lucretius Carus, On the Nature of Things: de Rerum Natura
  • COMMENT: “To fear death, then, is foolish, since death is the final and complete annihilation of personal identity, the ultimate release from anxiety and pain.” ― Titus Lucretius Carus, On the Nature of Things... Gutenberg etext
  • What do you make of Epicurus's "piety towards the gods" (according to Diogenes Laertius), in light of the Epicureans' reputation for considering them irrelevant (at most) to our happiness?

ch2 [post your questions please, in comments]




Discussion Questions

  • Do you think Epicurus was on the right track in thinking of atomic "swerve" as a "basis for free will"? 10 If they swerve randomly and unpredictably, how does that refute or challenge determinism? Or is his point that we can try to emulate their example and be random and unpredictable ourselves? Is random unpredictablility really another name for freedom? (Remind me to tell my undergrad pub story...)
  • Do you subscribe (like the Stoics) to belief in a "divine plan for the good of the universe, including human choices and decision"? 12 Is a choice a real choice, if it's foreordained?

ch3 [post your quiz & discussion questions please, in comments]




Discussion Questions
  • If you believe(d) "His eye is on the sparrow," are you (would you be) happy? 27
  • "Fearfulness promotes vigilance and caution" but may also reflect mistaken beliefs...28 Which prevalent contemporary fears are worth keeping, and which are a mistake? 

ch4 [post your questions please, in comments]




Discussion Questions
  • Was it plausible, prior to Darwin, to think that "variation and selection" or "time,chance, and the forces of the environment" could produce new species of life? Was the Epicureans ontology "rather thin" compared to other more popular creation accounts? 43
  • What do you think of David Hume's "slight emendation"? Must finite particles, given an infinity of time, inevitably produce everything under the sun? (This sounds a lot like Nietzschean eternal recurrence, btw)

Cicero's "On the Nature of the Gods"-featuring a dialogue between a Skeptic, a Stoic, and an Epicurean-

On the Nature of the Gods-Gutenberg etext. Report suggestion: each member of your group can defend a different speaker/philosophy as represented in this dialogue.

Superfans... Are they happy? Are you a fan(atic) of anything trivial (like baseball, Star Trek, a pop musician, etc.)? Are you prepared to fight about it? Has our politics become another fan-platform? Is there a healthy-and-happy way to pursue fandom?

Superfans: A Love Story
From “Star Wars” to “Game of Thrones,” fans have more power than ever to push back. But is fandom becoming as toxic as politics? 

...“Fan” is short for “fanatic,” which comes from the Latin fanaticus, meaning “of or belonging to the temple, a temple servant, a devotee.” The vestal virgins, who maintained the sacred fire of Vesta, the goddess of hearth and home, were the Beyhive of their day. But “fanatic” came to be associated with orgiastic rites and misplaced devotion, even demonic possession, and this may explain why fan behavior is often described using religious terms, such as “worship” and “idol.” (One Trekker at Comic-Con told me that the show “replaced religion for a lot of people.”) NYker

    How to Overcome the Downward Pull of Other People

    Wednesday, September 11, 2019

    "Big Trouble"

    For my first post as an author on this blog, I offer the following clip from the movie Big Trouble, which is an absolutely hilarious movie, to illustrate Haybron’s concept of an asshole (his word, not mine) as being a person who can’t distinguish his right to do something from whether it is the right thing to do.

    Tuesday, September 10, 2019


    The Role Of Meaning in Happiness


    Happy Luck?

    Football season is upon us, like it or not. I prefer to stay focused on MLB, until the last out of the last World Series game in October. But for those of you who care, here's a football/happiness question: could you happily walk away from $58 million?

    Andrew Luck’s announcement that he was retiring from the Indianapolis Colts shocked football fans for two big reasons: He was at the top of his game, despite being repeatedly injured, and he was walking away from some $58 million in the final two years of his contract.

    In fact, the owner of the team said he might be giving up as much as $450 million in future earnings, given his ability. Financially speaking, what was Mr. Luck thinking?

    Unlike most men at 29, Mr. Luck had already earned $97.1 million. After paying his agent and taxes, he probably has about $44 million, seemingly more than enough to last a lifetime... (continues)

    Documentaries, movies, & happiness

    Ken Burns documentaries make me happy. Some films (not just Woody's) do too.

    Country Music as Melting Pot
    The new documentary series by Ken Burns aims to remind divided Americans of what they have in common.
    By Margaret Renkl

    NASHVILLE — Last spring at the Ryman Auditorium, sitting in the audience for a concert filmed to celebrate the new documentary series by Ken Burns, I couldn’t help but notice that the folks around me didn’t look much like the usual bro-country fans swarming Nashville these days. Just who exactly was this documentary aiming to reach?

    All of us, it turns out. People of every age, every political persuasion, every socio-economic class, every race. The goal of “Country Music” is nothing less than to remind us of who we really are. Even its cover image is designed to evoke the American flag.

    Country music, Mr. Burns explained at the concert, is “a uniquely American art form,” one whose signature instruments, the banjo and the fiddle, continue to transmit the disparate cultures, African and European, from which the music sprang. “Country music has never been one style of music,” Mr. Burns said. “It has always been a mixture of many styles, springing from many roots and sprouting many new branches to create a complicated chorus of American voices joining together to tell a complicated American story. (continues)
    "This Movie Changed Me"
    Movies can be whimsical, terrifying, life-altering, culture-hanging experiences where the big ideas we take up at On Being show up in the heart of our lives. This hour we experience this through seven lives and seven movies — from The Wizard of Oz and Black Panther to The Exorcist. Get out the popcorn for this upcoming flavor of the new season of our On Being Studios podcast This Movie Changed Me — a love letter to movies and their power to teach, connect, and transform us. On Being

    Saturday, September 7, 2019

    TED's happy

    Maybe you'll find your report topic somewhere amidst these talks...
    TED Talks (@TEDTalks)
    Why business leaders should measure employee happiness: t.ted.com/af192Qo

    Friday, September 6, 2019

    Midterm Reports

    I'll ask on the 19th for everyone to identify their groups (of 2 or 3) and topics, and then name an author & rep to post your group's report summary & quiz later; but if you figure it out sooner than that, stake your claim to the topic of your group's choice. Or, if you know a topic you'd like to do but haven't yet found anyone to work with, post it here in a comment. Maybe someone will find you.

    A few possible topics (help me think of more):
    • Select one of Haybron's chapters, consult some of the sources named in his "further reading" at the end, and critique (support or criticize) his main claim(s) in the chapter.
    • Select a pre-Descartes philosopher of happiness (see the "library of happiness" and "historical links" in the right sidebar); explicate/critique three different aspects of that philosopher's views.
    • Present and defend or oppose a contrarian view of happiness like Eric Wilson's or Barbara Ehrenreich's (see the "lib'y of h'ness")
    • Explore differences of approach to happiness between east and west. Do you think the Buddhists, for example, have a better perspective on our "pursuit" than we have?
    • Think about the happiest people you've known, or the happiest times in your own life. What was distinctively different about their (or your) life-approach, that would seem to account for their (your) happiness? Does that reinforce or contradict Haybron's analysis?
    • Assemble a happiness soundtrack (including of course Pharrell Williams, and the Rolling Stones' "Happy," and _____... Tell us what each selection says to you about the status of happiness in contemporary popular culture, and what music in general contributes to human well-being.
    • Discuss the convergence of happiness, meaning, virtue, and service. Do the happiest people lead more virtuous, meaningful, socially constructive lives?
    • Select any three of the discussion questions we've posed in class. Respond to them at length, pointing out significant mutual implications that lead the members of your reporting group to agree or disagree; perform a debate for us.
    • Read and report on at least three chapters of Haybron's book The Pursuit of Unhappiness: The Elusive Psychology of Well-being.
    • Read and report on at least three chapters of Eric Weiner's The Geography of Bliss.
    • Your ideas here...

    Quiz Sep 10

    Time to think about midterm group reports, next week I'll ask you to identify your topic and group. (See below*) We may want to set aside some class time to discuss and decide on that. As soon as you have an idea of what topic you want to report on, post it in a comment under "Midterm Reports"-maybe that will help you identify interested collaborators.*

    Haybron 5-6-The Sources of Happiness; Beyond Happiness: Well-being

    1. According to Haybron, is it credible to claim that genetics render some people incapable of being happier?

    2. What do studies show about consumerist materialism and intrinsic motivation?

    3. At what $ level do happiness and income "cease to show a pretty substantial link"?

    4. What does an Aristotelian nature-fulfillment theory of happiness find objectionable about the experience machine scenario?

    5. What do Desire theories have trouble explaining?

    6. How might a philosophical theory of well-being settle the strivers vs. enjoyers debate?

    More QQs posted in comments?

    • Buddhists say desire and attachment are our great source of unhappiness. William James (see below $) says they're "imperative" and deserve to be fulfilled to the extent they can be, without shortchanging other worthy desires. What do you say?
    • Aristotle said living well consists in doing something, over a lifetime, that actualizes the virtues of the rational part of the soul. Agree? What kinds of things do you think you must do, to be happy?
    • Do you consider yourself genetically advantaged or disadvantaged, in the happiness sweepstakes?
    • Is there anything on your Source List that Haybron omits to mention?
    • Do you identify with the Epicureans, Stoics, or Buddhists in their emphasis on simplicity as prerequisite to happiness? 56 What aspects of your life have you simplified? What would you simplify if you could (but you can't)?
    • Was your childhood "coddled" and "risk-free"? 58 How risk-averse are you now?
    • Is happiness a choice, or isn't it? 59 If it's a "skill," how have you chosen to cultivate it? Can you fly as (relatively) imperturbably as Haybron? 61
    • Can those of us who refuse to "accept things as they are" be as happy as those who do? 61
    • Have you experienced great joy from volunteer & charity work?
    • Do you ever feel chastened by the thought that, though you know you should be happy, you still bicker about petty things? 64
    • Do you worry about becoming a "wage slave"? Since many of us must work for wages, how can you avoid that fate? 
    • How much of western unhappiness is a reflection of "option freedom"?  65-6
    • How important to your happiness is "being in charge of your daily routines"? 67
    • Do you have any use at all for an experience machine? 78
    • Can you defend watching television and playing video games in a basement as other than rank pleasure-seeking fit only for dumb grazing animals? 80
    • Can a Genghis Khan or a Hitler flourish and be happy? Why not? 85
    • What do you think of Haybron's remarks on the treatment of animals? 89-90
    • What do you think of the School of Life's "problem with our phones" and Franklin Foer's "existential threat"? (See # below)
    • Post yours
    Happiness wisdom from cousin Mary...

    Oliver said: “I’ve always wanted to write poems and nothing else. There were times over the years when life was not easy, but if you’re working a few hours a day and you’ve got a good book to read, and you can go outside to the beach and dig for clams, you’re okay.”

    ...and from Calvin & Hobbes

     Cypher's choice in The Matrix

    Aristotle & eudaimonia

    The principal idea with which Aristotle begins is that there are differences of opinion about what is best for human beings, and that to profit from ethical inquiry we must resolve this disagreement. He insists that ethics is not a theoretical discipline: we are asking what the good for human beings is not simply because we want to have knowledge, but because we will be better able to achieve our good if we develop a fuller understanding of what it is to flourish. In raising this question—what is the good?—Aristotle is not looking for a list of items that are good. He assumes that such a list can be compiled rather easily; most would agree, for example, that it is good to have friends, to experience pleasure, to be healthy, to be honored, and to have such virtues as courage at least to some degree. The difficult and controversial question arises when we ask whether certain of these goods are more desirable than others. Aristotle's search for the good is a search for the highest good, and he assumes that the highest good, whatever it turns out to be, has three characteristics: it is desirable for itself, it is not desirable for the sake of some other good, and all other goods are desirable for its sake.
    Aristotle thinks everyone will agree that the terms “eudaimonia” (“happiness”) and “eu zên” (“living well”) designate such an end. The Greek term “eudaimon” is composed of two parts: “eu” means “well” and “daimon” means “divinity” or “spirit.” To be eudaimon is therefore to be living in a way that is well-favored by a god. But Aristotle never calls attention to this etymology in his ethical writings, and it seems to have little influence on his thinking. He regards “eudaimon” as a mere substitute for eu zên (“living well”). These terms play an evaluative role, and are not simply descriptions of someone's state of mind.

    No one tries to live well for the sake of some further goal; rather, being eudaimon is the highest end, and all subordinate goals—health, wealth, and other such resources—are sought because they promote well-being, not because they are what well-being consists in. But unless we can determine which good or goods happiness consists in, it is of little use to acknowledge that it is the highest end. To resolve this issue, Aristotle asks what the ergon (“function,” “task,” “work”) of a human being is, and argues that it consists in activity of the rational part of the soul in accordance with virtue (1097b22–1098a20). One important component of this argument is expressed in terms of distinctions he makes in his psychological and biological works. The soul is analyzed into a connected series of capacities: the nutritive soul is responsible for growth and reproduction, the locomotive soul for motion, the perceptive soul for perception, and so on. The biological fact Aristotle makes use of is that human beings are the only species that has not only these lower capacities but a rational soul as well. The good of a human being must have something to do with being human; and what sets humanity off from other species, giving us the potential to live a better life, is our capacity to guide ourselves by using reason. If we use reason well, we live well as human beings; or, to be more precise, using reason well over the course of a full life is what happiness consists in. Doing anything well requires virtue or excellence, and therefore living well consists in activities caused by the rational soul in accordance with virtue or excellence.

    Aristotle's conclusion about the nature of happiness is in a sense uniquely his own. No other writer or thinker had said precisely what he says about what it is to live well. But at the same time his view is not too distant from a common idea. As he himself points out, one traditional conception of happiness identifies it with virtue (1098b30–1). Aristotle's theory should be construed as a refinement of this position. He says, not that happiness is virtue, but that it is virtuous activity. Living well consists in doing something, not just being in a certain state or condition. It consists in those lifelong activities that actualize the virtues of the rational part of the soul.

    At the same time, Aristotle makes it clear that in order to be happy one must possess others goods as well—such goods as friends, wealth, and power. And one's happiness is endangered if one is severely lacking in certain advantages—if, for example, one is extremely ugly, or has lost children or good friends through death (1099a31-b6). But why so? If one's ultimate end should simply be virtuous activity, then why should it make any difference to one's happiness whether one has or lacks these other types of good? Aristotle's reply is that one's virtuous activity will be to some extent diminished or defective, if one lacks an adequate supply of other goods (1153b17–19). Someone who is friendless, childless, powerless, weak, and ugly will simply not be able to find many opportunities for virtuous activity over a long period of time, and what little he can accomplish will not be of great merit. To some extent, then, living well requires good fortune; happenstance can rob even the most excellent human beings of happiness. Nonetheless, Aristotle insists, the highest good, virtuous activity, is not something that comes to us by chance. Although we must be fortunate enough to have parents and fellow citizens who help us become virtuous, we ourselves share much of the responsibility for acquiring and exercising the virtues... (continues at SEP)
    From THE STONE-
    The Problem of ‘Living in the Present’

    These days, many of us would rather not be living in the present, a time of persistent crisis, political uncertainty and fear. Not that the future looks better, shadowed by technological advances that threaten widespread unemployment and by the perils of catastrophic climate change. No wonder some are tempted by the comforts of a nostalgically imagined past.Inspiring as it seems on first inspection, the self-help slogan “live in the present” slips rapidly out of focus. What would living in the present mean? To live each day as if it were your last, without a thought for the future, is simply bad advice, a recipe for recklessness. The idea that one can make oneself invulnerable to what happens by detaching from everything but the present is an irresponsible delusion.

    Despite this, there is an interpretation of living in the present, inspired by Aristotle, that can help us to confront the present crisis and the perpetual crises of struggle and failure in life. There is an insight in the self-help slogan that philosophy can redeem...

    To live in the present is to appreciate the value of atelic activities like going for a walk, listening to music, spending time with family or friends. To engage in these activities is not to extinguish them from your life. Their value is not mortgaged to the future or consigned to the past, but realized here and now. It is to care about the process of what you are doing, not just projects you aim to complete... (continues... with some good comments)
    Robert Nozick, "The Experience Machine" - original text
    #The Problem With Our Phones - SoL

    #Franklin Foer, World Without Mind - How Tech Companies Pose an Existential Threat - npr
    Journalist Franklin Foer worries that we're all losing our minds as big tech companies infiltrate every aspect of our lives.
    In his new book, World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech, Foer compares the way we feel about technology now to the way people felt about pre-made foods, like TV dinners, when they were first invented.
    "And we thought that they were brilliant because they did away with pots and pans — we didn't have to go to the store to go shopping every day — and then we woke up 50 years later and realize that these products had been basically engineered to make us fat," Foer says. "And I worry that the same thing is happening now to the things that we ingest through our mind." (listen here)
    $ William James's version of "desire theory"

    From "The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life"- (Also take a look at his "On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings," making the point that we are habitually blind and insensitive to others' desires while inflating the importance of our own, and that we ought to be more mutually accommodating.)

    Take any demand however slight, which any creature, however weak, may make. Ought it not, for its own sake, to be satisfied? If not, prove why not. The only possible kind of proof you could adduce would be the exhibition of another creature who should make a demand that ran the other way. The only possible reason there can be why any phenomenon ought to exist is that such a phenomenon actually is desired. Any desire is imperative to the extent of its amount; it makes itself valid by the fact that it exists at all. Some desires, truly enough, are small desires; they are put forward by insignificant persons, and we customarily make light of the obligations which they bring.  But the fact that such personal demands as these impose small obligations does not keep the largest obligations from being personal demands...
    Were all other things, gods and men and starry heavens, blotted out from this universe, and were there left but one rock with two loving souls upon it, that rock would have as thoroughly moral a constitution as any possible world which the eternities and immensities could harbor. It would be a tragic constitution, because the rock's inhabitants would die. But while they lived, there would be real good thing and real bad things in the universe; there would be obligations, claims, and expectations; obediences, refusals, and disappointments; compunctions, and longings for harmony to come again, and inward peace of conscience when it was restored; there would, in short, be a moral life, whose active energy would have no limit but the intensity of interest in each other with which the hero and heroine might be endowed.
               We, on this terrestrial globe, so far as the visible facts go, are just like the inhabitants of such a rock. Whether a God exist, or whether no God exist, in yon blue heaven above us bent, we form at any rate an ethical republic here below. And the first reflection which this leads to is that ethics have as genuine and real a foothold in a universe where the highest consciousness is human, as in a universe where there is a God as well. "The religion of humanity" affords a basis for ethics as well as theism does. Whether the purely human system can gratify the philosopher's demand as well as the other is a different question, which we ourselves must answer ere we close...
    Every end of desire that presents itself appears exclusive of some other end of desire. Shall a man drink and smoke, or keep his nerves in condition?‑-he cannot do both. Shall he follow his fancy for Amelia, or for Henrietta?‑-both cannot be the choice of his heart. Shall he have the dear old Republican party, or a spirit of unsophistication in public affairs?‑-he cannot have both, etc. So that the ethical philosopher's demand for the right scale of subordination in ideals is the fruit of an altogether practical need. Some part of the ideal must be butchered, and he needs to know which part. It is a tragic situation, and no mere speculative conundrum, with which he has to deal...
    I'll ask on the 19th for everyone to identify their groups an/or topics, and then name an author & rep to post your group's report summary & quiz later; but if you figure it out sooner than that, stake your claim to the topic of your group's choice. Or, if you know a topic you'd like to do but haven't yet found anyone to work with, post it here in a comment. Maybe someone will find you.

    A few possible topics (help me think of more):
    • Select one of Haybron's chapters, consult some of the sources named in his "further reading" at the end, and critique (support or criticize) his main claim(s) in the chapter.
    • Select a pre-Descartes philosopher of happiness (see the "library of happiness" and "historical links" in the right sidebar); explicate/critique three different aspects of that philosopher's views.
    • Present and defend or oppose a contrarian view of happiness like Eric Wilson's or Barbara Ehrenreich's (see the "lib'y of h'ness")
    • Explore differences of approach to happiness between east and west. Do you think the Buddhists, for example, have a better perspective on our "pursuit" than we have?
    • Think about the happiest people you've known, or the happiest times in your own life. What was distinctively different about their (or your) life-approach, that would seem to account for their (your) happiness? Does that reinforce or contradict Haybron's analysis?
    • Assemble a happiness soundtrack (including of course Pharrell Williams, and the Rolling Stones' "Happy," and _____... Tell us what each selection says to you about the status of happiness in contemporary popular culture, and what music in general contributes to human well-being.
    • Discuss the convergence of happiness, meaning, virtue, and service. Do the happiest people lead more virtuous, meaningful, socially constructive lives?
    • Select any three of the discussion questions we've posed in class. Respond to them at length, pointing out significant mutual implications that lead the members of your reporting group to agree or disagree; perform a debate for us.
    • Read and report on at least three chapters of Haybron's book The Pursuit of Unhappiness: The Elusive Psychology of Well-being.
    • Read and report on at least three chapters of Eric Weiner's The Geography of Bliss.
    • Your ideas here...

    Quiz Sep 12

    1. More important than whether you're happy, says Haybron, is what?

    2. What makes civilization possible?

    3. As a general rule, says Haybron, selfish and shallow people don't look _____.

    4. A more demanding notion of the good life must meet what standard?

    5. Does Haybron recommend scheduling quality family time?

    6. What does Kahneman say about "focusing illusions"?

    Alternate QQs?


    • It's easy to say that someone else's happiness is not the most important thing, harder to say that of yourself. Do you?
    • Do you share the consensus of "virtually all ethical philosophers" that "acting badly is out of the question, even if that would make us happier"? What compels this view?
    • Comment: "One should not be an asshole in the pursuit of happiness."
    • Will having kids make you happier? Better? 97-8
    • What "model of appreciative engagement" in music or another art do you prefer? 100
    • Have you encountered "touroids"? 104 Did you ignore them, taunt them, take their picture...? Are they despicable, or merely laughable? 
    • Have you known a "Dr. Tom"?
    • What percentage of your friends and acquaintances pass the "eulogy test"? 111
    • No old person lies on his deathbed and regrets not having ended it as a teenager. 113 True?
    • Would you prefer that your children lead extraordinary public lives, or lives that are serene, wise, and anonymous? How do you defend your preference? 115
    • Are you addicted to a device or a social medium? Does this concern you? How will you redress it? 117k
    • Comment: is figure 16 disturbing? Have you been in this scenario? Will you be, in the future? Do you accept this as normal and acceptable in today's world?
    • To what grandmotherly wisdom do you subscribe? Or do you think older people have nothing relevant to teach? 
    More discussion questions in comments?
    The Myth of Quality Time
    EVERY summer for many years now, my family has kept to our ritual. All 20 of us — my siblings, my dad, our better halves, my nieces and nephews — find a beach house big enough to fit the whole unruly clan. We journey to it from our different states and time zones. We tensely divvy up the bedrooms, trying to remember who fared poorly or well on the previous trip. And we fling ourselves at one another for seven days and seven nights.
    That’s right: a solid week. It’s that part of the ritual that mystifies many of my friends, who endorse family closeness but think that there can be entirely too much of it. Wouldn’t a long weekend suffice? And wouldn’t it ward off a few spats and simplify the planning?
    The answer to the second question is yes, but to the first, an emphatic no.

    I used to think that shorter would be better, and in the past, I arrived for these beach vacations a day late or fled two days early, telling myself that I had to when in truth I also wanted to — because I crave my space and my quiet, and because I weary of marinating in sunscreen and discovering sand in strange places. But in recent years, I’ve showed up at the start and stayed for the duration, and I’ve noticed a difference.
    With a more expansive stretch, there’s a better chance that I’ll be around at the precise, random moment when one of my nephews drops his guard and solicits my advice about something private. Or when one of my nieces will need someone other than her parents to tell her that she’s smart and beautiful. Or when one of my siblings will flash back on an incident from our childhood that makes us laugh uncontrollably, and suddenly the cozy, happy chain of our love is cinched that much tighter.
    There’s simply no real substitute for physical presence. We delude ourselves when we say otherwise, when we invoke and venerate “quality time,” a shopworn phrase with a debatable promise: that we can plan instances of extraordinary candor, plot episodes of exquisite tenderness, engineer intimacy in an appointed hour.

    We can try. We can cordon off one meal each day or two afternoons each week and weed them of distractions. We can choose a setting that encourages relaxation and uplift. We can fill it with totems and frippery — a balloon for a child, sparkling wine for a spouse — that signal celebration and create a sense of the sacred.
    And there’s no doubt that the degree of attentiveness that we bring to an occasion ennobles or demeans it. Better to spend 15 focused, responsive minutes than 30 utterly distracted ones.
    But people tend not to operate on cue. At least our moods and emotions don’t. We reach out for help at odd points; we bloom at unpredictable ones. The surest way to see the brightest colors, or the darkest ones, is to be watching and waiting and ready for them.

    That’s reflected in a development that Claire Cain Miller and David Streitfeld wrote about in The Times last week. They noted that “a workplace culture that urges new mothers and fathers to hurry back to their cubicles is beginning to shift,” and they cited “more family-friendly policies” at Microsoft and Netflix, which have extended the leave that parents can take.
    They’ll be lucky: Many people aren’t privileged enough to exercise such discretion. My family is lucky, too. We have the means to get away.
    But we’re also dedicated to it, and we’ve determined that Thanksgiving Day isn’t ample, that Christmas Eve passes too quickly, and that if each of us really means to be central in the others’ lives, we must make an investment, the biggest components of which are minutes, hours, days. As soon as our beach week this summer was done, we huddled over our calendars and traded scores of emails to figure out which week next summer we could all set aside. It wasn’t easy. But it was essential.
    Couples move in together not just because it’s economically prudent. They understand, consciously or instinctively, that sustained proximity is the best route to the soul of someone; that unscripted gestures at unexpected junctures yield sweeter rewards than scripted ones on date night; that the “I love you” that counts most isn’t whispered with great ceremony on a hilltop in Tuscany. No, it slips out casually, spontaneously, in the produce section or over the dishes, amid the drudgery and detritus of their routines. That’s also when the truest confessions are made, when hurt is at its rawest and tenderness at its purest.
    I know how my 80-year-old father feels about dying, religion and God not because I scheduled a discrete encounter to discuss all of that with him. I know because I happened to be in the passenger seat of his car when such thoughts were on his mind and when, for whatever unforeseeable reason, he felt comfortable articulating them.

    And I know what he appreciates and regrets most about his past because I was not only punctual for this summer’s vacation, but also traveled there with him, to fatten our visit, and he was uncharacteristically ruminative on that flight.
    It was over lunch at the beach house one day that my oldest nephew spoke with unusual candor, and at unusual length, about his expectations for college, his experiences in high school — stuff that I’d grilled him about previously, never harvesting the generous answers that he volunteered during that particular meal.
    It was on a run the next morning that my oldest niece described, as she’d never done for me before, the joys, frustrations and contours of her relationships with her parents, her two sisters and her brother. Why this information tumbled out of her then, with pelicans overhead and sweat slicking our foreheads, I can’t tell you. But I can tell you that I’m even more tightly bonded with her now, and that’s not because of some orchestrated, contrived effort to plumb her emotions. It’s because I was present. It’s because I was there. Frank Bruni, nyt
    How to Live Wisely.
    Imagine you are Dean for a Day. What is one actionable change you would implement to enhance the college experience on campus?
    I have asked students this question for years. The answers can be eye-opening. A few years ago, the responses began to move away from “tweak the history course” or “change the ways labs are structured.” A different commentary, about learning to live wisely, has emerged.
    What does it mean to live a good life? What about a productive life? How about a happy life? How might I think about these ideas if the answers conflict with one another? And how do I use my time here at college to build on the answers to these tough questions? (nyt - continues)
    The Meaning of Life, the secret of happiness
    "Well, it's nothing very special. Uh, try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations..."
    - Monty Python

    "A life that partakes even a little of friendship, love, irony, humor, parenthood, literature, and music, and the chance to take part in battles for the liberation of others cannot be called 'meaningless' except if the person living it is also an existentialist and elects to call it so. It could be that all existence is a pointless joke, but it is not in fact possible to live one's everyday life as if this were so." Christopher Hitchens

    The literal meaning of life is whatever you're doing that prevents you from killing yourself.” Albert Camus

    “A life of short duration...could be so rich in joy and love that it could contain more meaning than a life lasting eighty years... Those who have a 'why' to live, can bear with almost any 'how'.”  Viktor E. Frankl
    Old Podcast ch7 ... Happiness & the good life

    "The Sentiment of Rationality" etc.

    Following up yesterday's discussion in class...
    WHAT is the task which philosophers set them- selves to perform ; and why do they philosophize at all? Almost every one will immediately reply: They desire to attain a conception of the frame of things which shall on the whole be more rational than that somewhat chaotic view which every one by nature carries about with him under his hat. But suppose this rational conception attained, how is the philosopher to recognize it for what it is, and not let it slip through ignorance ? The only answer can be that he will recognize its rationality as he recognizes everything else, by certain subjective marks with which it affects him. , When he gets the marks, he may know that he has got the rationality. What, then, are the marks? A strong feeling of ease, peace, rest, is one of them. The transition from a state of puzzle and perplexity to rational comprehension is full of lively relief and pleasure. But this relief seems to be a negative rather than a positive character. Shall we then say that the feeling of rationality is constituted merely by the absence 1 This essay as far as page 75 consists of extracts from an article printed in Mind for July, 1879. Thereafter it is a reprint of an address to the Harvard Philosophical Club, delivered in 1880, and published in the Princeton Review, July, 1882. Digitized by Google i 64 Essays in Popular Philosophy. of any feeling of irrationality? I think there are very good grounds for upholding such a view. All feeling whatever, in the light of certain recent psychological speculations, seems to depend for its physical condition not on simple discharge of nerve currents, but on their discharge under arrest, impediment, or resistance. Just as we feel no particular pleasure when we breathe freely, but a very intense feeling of distress when the respiratory motions are prevented, — so any unobstructed tendency to action discharges itself without the production of much /cogitative accompaniment, and any perfectly fluent ( course of thought awakens but little feeling; but when the movement is inhibited, or when the thought s meets with difficulties, we experience distress. It is only when the distress is upon us that we can be said [to strive, to crave, or to aspire. When enjoying plenary freedom either in the way of motion or of thought, we are in a sort of anaesthetic state in which we might say with Walt Whitman, if we cared to say anything about ourselves at such times, "I am sufficient as I am." This feeling of the sufficiency of the present moment, of its absoluteness, — this absence of all need to explain it, account for it, or justify it, — is what I call the. Sentiment of Rationality... (continues)

    "The attitude of unhappiness is not only painful, it is mean and ugly. What can be more base and unworthy than the pining, puling, mump- ing mood, no matter by what outward ills it may have been engendered? What is more injurious to others? What less helpful as a way out of the difficulty? It but fastens and perpetuates the trouble that occasioned it and increases the total evil of the situation. At all costs, then, we ought to reduce the sway of that mood; we ought to scout it in ourselves and others and never show it tolerance."
    This does not sound like the attitude of someone temperamentally disposed by nature to tolerate or extend sympathy or compassion toward public sadness in himself or others, and it is clearly not in support of the fixed-temper theory. James arrived at his hard and heroic bootstrapping view of happiness only by passing through and besting the worst assaults of his own nature's "pining, puling, mumping" tendencies: he conquered happiness. When he says that life feels like a fight, this is no small part of his meaning. James was an emotional man who did not avoid confrontations with the melancholy side of his nature. Not uncommonly for a thoughtful and sensitive person of his time, he recognized tendencies in himself toward what then was called "neurasthenia" (what we are more likely to diagnose as depression). An early diary entry is frequently cited to show that his attempt to reconcile this rogue element of his personality was pivotally important in the subsequent development of his thought:
    "Today I about touched bottom, and perceive plainly that I must face the choice with open eyes: shall I frankly throw the moral business overboard, as one unsuited to my innate aptitudes, or shall I follow it, and it alone, making everything else merely stuff for it?"
    The "moral business" is the possibility of self- determination through the application of will. At this time (1870; he was 28) James genuinely doubted this possibility, in the absence of a firm conviction of the will's metaphysical autonomy. James's apparent capacity to be laid low by the perceived want of appropriate philosophical arguments, to the extent that this was an actual and objective cause of his discontent, is surprising in retrospect. In later life he almost always conveyed the impression of a man whose interest in ratiocination was dictated by professional considerations but whose personal temper was gloriously untouched by any putative gap between, on the one hand, what he could not help believing and, on the other, "proof" (or conclusive philosophical reasoning). Indeed, it is almost a tenet of James's mature thought that proof is not appropriately sought in those large questions (like that of free will and determinism, in his own case) which serve as fundamental orienting markers of life itself. He approvingly insisted that "the whole man is at work when we form our philosophical opinions," not just the self-styled dispassion of some insouciant philosophizing faculty. What is lacking is not an argument, then, but a passional decision and commitment to a belief neither proved nor refuted but whose ultimate vindication could well hang in the balance between risk and caution, action and hesitation. This anticipates "Will to Believe" (1897), but the thinking that guided James's notoriously misunderstood position in that essay can already be detected in the much earlier "crisis" texts. The youthful James credits the French philosopher Renouvier with providing a persuasive argument for free will, but he insists that his favorable response is (in the spirit of the issue) a free act. He does not bend to the argument (as to a "coercive demonstration"); he chooses to accept it because it satisfies his "moral demand" for a hospitable (if not comfortable) universe in which the will is not superfluous:
    "I see no reason why his definition of Free Will - "the sustaining of a thought because I choose to when I might have other thoughts" - need be the definition of an illusion. . . . My first act of free will shall be to believe in free will. . . . I will go a step further with my will, not only act with it, but believe as well; believe in my individual reality and creative power. . . . I will posit life (the real, the good) in the self governing resistance of the ego to the world."
    The "resistance" in which James lodges so much confidence as the ground of his life-affirming "posit" is not itself a posit, or hypothesis; it functions instead as a perceptual datum that the free will theory (in contrast with determinism) is supposed to render coherent. The basic experience of agency that he says is implicit in all conscious activity includes the feeling of "resistances which [the ego] overcomes or succumbs to." The feeling of resistance is a datum, but the resolution to believe in resistance as something more than mere feeling, as evidence of our capacity to engage the world in deliberate interaction, and willfully to initiate events that depend upon our exertions, is a hypothesis. James displays an early, instinctual anchorage in the felt experience of living, and this lighted the way out of suicidal despair. He did not feel himself in any way cut off from the world but, rather, was at a loss for an appropriate response to the feeling of pressure and the summons to personal responsibility and vital engagement it posed. The fear that he might not possess a strength commensurate with the world's undeniable push and pull was finally overmatched by a greater fear: that his hesitancy would render him entirely impotent, ineffectual, and truly cut off from active participation in life. This was the nightmare vision of an all too imaginable version of himself, thinly veiled, which he related years later in Varieties of Religious Experience: @EXT:Suddenly there fell upon me without any warning, just as if it came out of the darkness, a horrible fear of my own existence. Simultaneously there arose in my mind the image of an epileptic patient whom I had seen in the asylum . . . moving nothing but his black eyes and looking absolutely non-human. This image and my fear entered into a species of combination with each other. That shape am I, I felt, potentially. . . . It was like a revelation; and although the immediate feelings passed away, the experience has made me sympathetic with the morbid feelings of others ever since.25 @TEXT:This experience must indeed have been revelatory for James. I believe it convinced him that the human situation is fundamentally precarious, that the line between robust sanity and pitiful invalidism is thin, and that the only way to conquer these feelings of helpless vulnerability is by taking life strivingly, aggressively, with combative high spirits and alert senses, and a gambler's sense of risk. The melancholy side of James, and his "moral" resistance to it (which is not to be sharply distinguished from his decision to "posit life in the self-governing resistance of the ego" to the world's felt demands), has much to do with the substance and tenor of his philosophy. His nightmare vision of physical invalidism became the model for a kind of philosophical invalidism which, in one form or another, was his constant polemical bete noire. "Intellectualism" and "rationalism" were not merely names for philosophical alternatives he found uncongenial, but theoretical embodiments of isolation and disconnectedness, of exile from the world. James was the most good humored of intellectual adversaries, always prepared to brook any philosophical dispute with personal charm and friendliness. All the more striking, then, is his scathing attack on "Bertie Russell trying to excogitate what true knowledge means, in the absence of any concrete universe surrounding the knower and the known. Ass!"26 Nothing appalled James like the casual willingness of some philosophers to dismiss or do without a concrete, surrounding universe of real events and real resistances. This is philosophizing that diminishes and eviscerates, and in so doing it repels the "entire man" who "will take nothing as an equivalent for life but the fullness of living itself." He may retain visiting rights with philosophy, but "he will never carry the philosophic yoke upon his shoulders, and when tired of the gray monotony of her problems and insipid spaciousness of her results, will always escape gleefully into the teeming and dramatic richness of the concrete world..."
    ..."I fully believe in the legitimacy of taking moral holidays," James wrote, meaning those marvelous respites from care and concern and struggle, typically coincident with the aggressively pursued leisure we call "vacation" (and the English call "holiday"). A moral holiday, then, is a vacating, an emptying, a withdrawal from the daily grind and the daily hand wringing, when we tell ourselves that it is truly morally acceptable just to relax, not only our bodies but especially our consciences, with regard to the world's (and our own) panoply of worrisome and regrettable facts; to accept ourselves and the world for awhile, despite our flaws and its corruptions and depredations; and so, to renew ourselves for return to the fray. "Moral" may seem misapplied in description of a deliberate period of neglect toward issues of the greatest moral gravity, but James denies any contradiction here. Our world is the scene of every kind of event, from joyous and ennobling to perverse and profane. In such a world, moral holidays are not merely tonic; they are probably essential to our sanity and, viewed in evolutionary terms, to our survival. Most of us find at least a week or two out of the year for this kind of renewal, but we allow ourselves to believe that time for renewal year-round is unthinkable. Apparently, we prefer to collapse into our vacations than to take them more nearly as needed, tonically and often. In a still-timely 1873 essay James contrasted our busy-ness with the artful approach to life practiced elsewhere, inviting us to consider "the shopkeeper in Germany, who for five or six months of the year spends a good part of every Sunday in the open air, sitting with his family for hours under green trees over coffee or beer and Pumpernickel, and who breaks into Achs and Wunderschons all the week as he recalls it." His "contentment in the fine weather, and the leaves, and the air, and himself as a part of it all" is a springboard of renewal that propels him cheerfully back to work, back, as we say, to "reality." But he knows that his recreation is at least as real as his work (which would suffer as surely as he would without his springboard). Perhaps the shopkeeper knows something we do not, or have forgotten. James may be a melioristic optimist, but an optimist he surely is. Yet, he remains wary, even of optimism that he credits with avoiding the snares of self-inflicted metaphysical necessity. Among his ideological betes noires in the camp of the self-proclaimed optimists are some whom he calls "healthy minded" (including the self-anointed "mind cure" practitioners and others whose vogue in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in some ways anticipated the so-called New Age movement and "spiritual healers" of our own time). We shall see, however, that James's opposition to "healthy mindedness" and the "mind curists" was by no means entire or unequivocal. In fact, he typically defends the unorthodoxy of beliefs and practices that prescind from the genuinely motivated subjectivity of individuals, not because they are unorthodox - although given James's penchant for collecting eccentric characters, it sometimes seems that way - but because they reflect a genuine piece of experience laid hold of and tenaciously held onto, against all merely theoretical objections. James always presents himself as the friend of experience and of those who seek to possess and honor their own experience, the foe of abstract and exalted sacred cows - especially philosophy's sacred cows. And so we will have to be very cautious about how we characterize the nature and intent of James's opposition to "healthy-minded optimism."
    "Some men and women, indeed, there are who can live on smiles and the word "yes" forever. But for others (indeed for most ), this is too tepid and relaxed a moral climate. Passive happiness is slack and insipid, and soon grows mawkish and intolerable. Some austerity and wintry negativity, some roughness, danger, stringency, and effort, some "no! No!" must be mixed in to produce the sense of an existence with character and texture and power."
    This is why James had such ambivalent reactions, and some revulsion, toward the Chautauqua movement of "spiritual uplift," which achieved its zenith during his lifetime. He despised its insipidity, its mediocrity, and its overall atmosphere of preening priggishness. He was put off by the walls of psychological sanctimony it erected to keep any risk or danger at bay. The author of "The Moral Equivalent of War" was not inspired by this model of life as never ending adult education in a scoured, antiseptic, and safe environment that to someone of his temperament was assuredly toxic to the spirit. "Healthy mindedness" in essence is the belief that we ought not concede the independent and real existence of negativity in any form, lest we in some way incur the handicap of negative thinking and thereby predispose ourselves to failure. Agreeing substantially with what he calls the "ascetic" attitude toward extreme optimism, James insists on our clear-eyed admission that the world sometimes disappoints, wounds, or destroys the lives it harbors. He means not simply that lives are, in fact, damaged and destroyed as a matter of course and, as it were, as a "normal" feature of human reality. This is a self-evident and even banal observation (to recall Hannah Arendt's insightful limning of the ubiquity and plain-faced commonness of evil). Nor does he intend to argue that bad things happen for reasons beyond our ken, but that they happen for no "reason" at all, in any ultimately rational sense. It is sophistry or worse to contrive explanations for a dimension of experience none of us can fathom... William James's "Springs of Delight": The Return to Life

    And see "The Feeling of Effort" ... James-Lange Theory of Emotion...