October 2012

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Even more “shorty” topics. This is set #8. Do one of your choice, due by email Sunday night, October 28th. No new readings this week!

  1. Julia Annas uses the example of someone who has just won the Nobel Prize and has also just lost his family in a car crash to cast doubt on empirical studies of happiness. How might Daniel Kahneman respond to this example? In particular, what might he say about GB values and the additive function?
  2. How would a social psychologist who was trying to determine whether people were happy in the global, eudaimon sense go about trying to measure it? Is eudaimonia something that can be empirically measured, do you think? Why or why not?
  3. Pick one of our authors who would insist that happiness is not additive over time; say why they would reject that idea, and whether their rejection seems right.
  4. Pain seems to be the kind of subjective experience that is capable of being captured by a ranked metric, as in “On a scale of 0-10, where 0 is no pain and 10 is excruciating, how much pain are you experiencing now?” By contrast, something like intelligence seems resistant to being categorized in that way. Is happiness more like pain or more like intelligence? Defend your answer.
  5. Several of the authors we’ve read refer to the interest policy makers have in happiness or well-being. Is what they should care about captured by something like Kahneman’s “Objective Happiness”? Why, or if not, why not?
  6. A virtue theorist like Annas seems to think that a life truly lived in accordance with the virtues would thereby be a life of real happiness. Does this seem right? Why or why not?
  7. Using any two of the semester’s readings so far, say how any one of them provides a good critique of the other in a way we haven’t haven’t given significant attention to yet.

Same as it ever was; still more “shorty” topics. This is set #7. Do one of your choice, due by email Sunday night, October 21st, to the usual person. Remember, the readings for this week are the Kahneman and the Schwarz & Strack, available on the Readings page.

  1. What is the (a) the best reason and (b) the worst reason that Kahneman gives for claiming that we should try to find and unify a common single “GB” value?
  2. Do you think that Kahneman’s comments shed any new light on the idea of the “hedonic treadmill”? If so, what? If not, don’t do this one.
  3. What is a way in which Schwarz & Strack claim that conversational norms (or conversational implicature if you prefer) affect satisfaction and happiness reports? Does this seem like a serious problem for the assessment of happiness and well-being? Why or why not?
  4. What claim of Schwarz & Strack’s seems most centrally in conflict with some claim of one of the authors we’ve read earlier in the semester? Does this conflict seriously undermine the earlier author’s point? Why or why not?

Yet more “shorty” topics; this is set #6. One of your choice due by email Sunday night, October 14th. You know who to send them to, and where to get more information about shorties.

  1. According to Kraut, when we ask a man what his idea of happiness is, we’re asking about the standards he imposes on himself, and the goals he is seeking. Does this conception cohere with Railton’s understanding of happiness? Why or why not?
  2. What’s the difference between subjectivism and objectivism, as defined by Kraut? Why does he think that subjectivism is the correct account? Do you agree? Why or why not?
  3. According to Kekes, he parts company with Kraut “because he attacks and I defend the objective view of happiness.” (193) Is Kekes right? Does Kraut reject the kind of objectivism that Kekes propounds?
  4. Why does Kraut regard Aristotle’s brand of objectivism to be inhumane? What improvement does Kraut suggest? Is it, your view, an improved version of objectivism?
  5. Can someone with serious developmental disabilities be happy? Discuss in light of Kraut’s discussion of happiness.
  6. What is Annas’ best reason for claiming that “when I wonder whether winning the lottery will make me really happy… I am not wondering whether it will produce smiley-face feeling or give me what I want”? (242) Does that reason seem compelling to you?

More “shorty” topics; these are set #5, due by email Sunday night, October 7th. As always, send to Bonnie if you’re registered for PHI 632 and to Ron if you’re registered for PHI 652, and find more information is on the Shorties Page. (Remember, the Railton is continuing into this week, and we’re doing the Seneca and Kekes pieces, but the Annas and Kraut are being pushed back one week.)

  1. After rejecting the notion that pleasure is the highest good, Seneca characterizes Epicurus’ teachings as “upright and holy.” How do the views of Epicurus and Seneca differ, if at all?
  2. Both Kekes and Seneca reject the view that happiness is getting what you want. Explain and compare their views on this issue.
  3. According to Kekes, “…a man is extremely unlikely to have a happy life without having a more or less clearly formed view about what his life should be.” (181) Explain his reasons for thinking this. According to Gilbert, the notion of a rational life-plan as a constitutive part of having a happy life is in serious conflict with what we know about human psychology. Who do you think is right, and why?
  4. Kekes suggests that hedonism is either trivially true or false. Explain his view. Could a sophisticated hedonist give a plausible response?
  5. Kekes’ rejection of the single-minded pursuit of one end seems to imply that someone passionately devoted to something — excelling in art, philosophy, science, or a sport, for example — could never be happy. Is this a defect of his account? Why or why not?
  6. What is the role of luck, if any, in Kekes’ architectonic conception of happiness?
  7. Kekes gives two ways in which a person might be mistaken about whether her life is happy. What are they? Does either of these ways pertain to the example Sumner gives of the woman married to a faithless husband? Suppose he was an incredibly good liar so that his wife’s belief that he was faithful was a reasonable one. On Kekes’ account, should we say that the woman was happy during the years she was unaware of his dual life?
  8. According to Kekes, a happy man may be immoral. Is this claim consistent with his overall view? Why or why not?
  9. How is Railton’s “delta meter” example supposed to account for some of the data about subjective well-being? Do you think this account is successful? Why or why not?