May 2012

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This is the preliminary home page for the graduate seminar “Happiness”, which is listed as both Topics in Applied Ethics (APHI 632, #9044) and Topics in Philosophical Psychology (Phi 652, #9045). It will be taught in the fall semester of 2012 jointly by Professors Bonnie Steinbock and Ron McClamrock of the UAlbany Department of Philosophy. The course will meet Wednesdays from 5:45 to 8:35pm in SS-116.

Here’s the course description, and some other preliminary information about the course.

Description: The theme of the seminar is happiness. Most people hope to attain happiness, and philosophers from Aristotle to Mill have regarded happiness as the summum bonum, the highest good. But what is happiness? How is it related to notions of satisfaction, contentment, joy, pleasure, good fortune, and well-being? Does happiness consist in ridding oneself of desire, as the Stoics maintained? Or in the satisfaction of one’s desires? Is happiness epistemically privileged, or can one be wrong about whether one is happy? What is the connection, if any, between happiness and goodness or virtue? Can a wicked person who gets what he wants be considered happy? What are the connections between happiness and rationality? Can someone who is deluded be considered happy? And is happiness central or relatively unimportant to the notion of a life worth living? These are some of the questions we will be exploring as we consider happiness and its implications for ethical theory.

We will also be looking at recent empirical work in psychology for the light it sheds on the philosophical questions. Questions here will include these: Are desire-satisfaction theories of happiness undermined by research that seems to imply that getting what one wants does not always lead to happiness? Is concern for others (altruism) connected with subjective well-being? Can contemporary neuroscience shed light on what the states of happiness really are in us, and help us encourage and enhance them? Is there a “dark side of happiness,” and can a person can be “too happy”? Is true happiness is even achievable
for human beings?

If you’re interested, you might take a look at the preliminary reading from the Readings page, Robert Nozick’s “Happiness” (from his book The Examined Life); it will give some background, and a little taste of what’s to come.

Here is some other preliminary information about the requirements for the seminar. These could change before the beginning of fall semester:

  • Readings: Approximately 50-100 pages of reading each week. Reading will be available on the course web page or on EReseveres. You are required to have done all the reading, and be prepared to discuss it in class.
  • Written work and basis of grading: A very short (1-2) page essay each week on a topic posted on the course page (50%), and a term paper (50%). The short essays will provide the basis for discussion. Intelligent class participation can help your grade. You will create your own topic for the term paper, but it must be (1) related to the course and (2) approved by us. You will submit a topic, preliminary bibliography, an outline, a first draft, and a final version on the dates indicated below. Length: 15-20 pages.

More information to come through the summer, via this web page.