Shorty topics #9

Yet more shorty topics. This is set #9. Do one of your choice, due by email Sunday night, November 4th. All readings are posted on the readings page.

  1. The so-called “Easterlin paradox” has been defined as consisting in the following factual claims:
    • Within a society, rich people tend to be much happier than poor people.
    • But, rich societies tend not to be happier than poor societies (or not by much).
    • As countries get richer, they do not get happier.

    Easterlin argued that life satisfaction does rise with average incomes but only up to a point, and the beyond that the marginal gain in happiness declines. Some economists have challenged the “Easterlin paradox” by claiming that his data is wrong, and the empirical debate has probably not yet been resolved. But suppose Easterlin’s data is correct. Does it give rise to a paradox? Why or why not? What lessons should we take from Easterlin, assuming his data is right? What lessons should we take, assuming his critics are right, and happiness does continue to increase with per capita income?

  2. What reasons do Helliwell and Wang give to support the claim that happiness surveys are valid methods for measuring happiness? Are these reasons persuasive? Why or why not.
  3. Some people argue that assessments of happiness are individual and personality-driven, so that data claiming to show “what makes people happy” is of little use. It is also claimed that there’s a “set point” for happiness: that even after set-backs (or fortunate events) people eventually return to their basic happiness state. How do Helliwell and Wang attempt to refute these claims? Are you persuaded? Why or why not?
  4. Denmark ranks among the top of countries with high life satisfaction. Peru ranks near the bottom. Yet, according to WHO, the suicide rate in Denmark in 2006 was 23.9 per 100,000, while the suicide in Peru for 2007 was 2.9 per 100,000. Is this a paradox? Can it be explained?
  5. According to Helliwell, Layard, and Sachs, “The first lesson of happiness research is that GDP is a valuable goal, but that other thing also matter greatly. So GDP should not be pursued to the point where:
    • Economic stability is imperiled
    • Community cohesion is destroyed
    • The weak lose their dignity or place in the economy
    • Ethical standards are sacrificed, or
    • The environment, including the climate, is put at risk.

    Do you agree that these principles are implied by happiness research? Why or why not?

  6. Should other countries follow Bhutan’s example and attempt to determine what makes their people happy? In your view, how important is happiness research to development of public policy, and why?
  7. What is the problem with choice-based or decision utility as an index of welfare? What problems do Lowenstein and Ubel see with experience utility? Should we go “back to Bentham,” as Kahneman suggests, or opt for “something in-between”?

More readings added

The readings for the next two weeks are now added to the readings page: World Happiness Report; Loewenstein & Ubel, “Hedonic adaptation and the role of decision and experience utility in public policy”; Dolan & Kahneman, “Interpretations of utility and their implications for the valuation of health”; and Menzel, “Utilities for health states: Whom to ask”.

UPDATE: Also, there are a couple of short news items to look at there: “Why the Happiest States Have the Highest Suicide Rates” from Time, and “Maybe Money Does Buy Happiness After All” from the NYTimes.

Shorty topics #8

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.

Shorty topics #7

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?

Shorty topics #6

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?

Shorty topics #5

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?

Shorty topics #4

Here are the new (week #4) “shorty” topics; please do one of these. These are due by email Sunday night, September 30th. As always, send to Bonnie if you’re registered for PHI 632 and to Ron if you’re registered for PHI 652. And more information is on the Shorties Page.

  1. In chapter 4, Gilbert uses the contrast between Adolph Fischer and George Eastman to make a point about a common mistake people make when attempting to predict happiness. What is the mistake, and do you think it helps to explain or illuminate the example of Fischer and Eastman? Why or why not?
  2. Gilbert claims that we “fill” in the future assessment of how much we’ll like something in something like the way vision “fills in” the blind spot in the eye, or areas in the periphery of vision. What do you think are the best (most accurate and illuminating) and worst (most misleading) consequences of taking this parallel seriously?
  3. What are Griffin’s arguments against hedonism, as recounted by Sumner? Could Bentham or Mill defend hedonism against these arguments? How?
  4. Sumner says that he is looking for “something in between”. In between what two things? What’s the best reason for thinking that there is something in between in the way he thinks, or the best reason for resisting that idea?
  5. In the middle of page 9, Sumner accuses Griffin of a confusion. What is that confusion supposed to be? Does Summer’s criticism seem right? Why or why not?
  6. One of Sumner’s main criticisms of a desire theory of happiness is it implies that we can be benefited by occurrences we never experiences, such as those that occur after we die. Is that right? Defend or rebut this criticism.
  7. What bit of data reported on by Railton do you think has the largest impact on what your view of happiness (or well-being, or whatever)? Why should it have such an impact?
  8. Explain how Sumner uses discounting to resolve the question of whether the wife was or was not happy during the years when she was being deceived. Are you persuaded by his account? Should you be? Why, or why not?

Shorty topics #3

Here are the new (week #3) “shorty” topics; please do one of these. These are due by email Sunday night (Sept. 16th). As always, send to Bonnie if you’re registered for PHI 632 and to Ron if you’re registered for PHI 652. And more information is on the Shorties Page.

  1. According to Julia Annas, in twentieth century moral philosophy “virtues have typically been seen merely as dispositions to do the right thing, or to do the right thing reliably…” (247) What two predictable results of this conception of the virtues does she identify? Is she correct in thinking that the virtues cannot play an important role in utilitarianism?
  2. Can one consistently hold, as Socrates did, that (1) everything we do, we do in order to be happy and (2) virtue is the only thing worth having — that being a good person is more important than wealth, health, or even preserving one’s life? If the view is consistent, is it plausible?
  3. Why does Socrates believe that being virtuous is sufficient for happiness? Compare his view with Aristotle’s and/or Hume’s. Which do you find more plausible and why?
  4. Can an immoral person be happy? Consider Hume’s views as well as those of Cahn and Murphy.
  5. Why does Adeimantus claim that it is not justice, but the appearance of justice, that benefits a man? How does Socrates try to show that justice itself, and not its appearance, is to a man’s own interest and advantage?

Shorty topics #2

Here are the new (week #2) “shorty” topics; please do one of these. These are due by email Sunday night (Sept. 9th). As always, send to Bonnie if you’re registered for PHI 632 and to Ron if you’re registered for PHI 652. And more information is on the Shorties Page.

  1. Epicurus claims both that no pleasure is intrinsically bad and virtue is a necessary and sufficient condition for leading a pleasant life. In your view, can he consistently maintain both views? Why or why not?
    How might Bentham respond to Nozick’s experience machine example?

  2. Mill famously says, “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.” (123) Can he consistently make this claim and be a hedonist? Why or why not?
  3. Haybron says that hedonism “appears to commit something of a category mistake.” (176) What does he mean by this, and is he right?
  4. According to Haybron, happiness has a causal depth that pleasure lacks. What does he mean by this? Is this claim consistent with his project of determining the nature of happiness as a psychological state? Why or why not?
  5. Haybron faults hedonism for treating the case of the flat tire as it treats the case of the parent who learns of a child’s sudden death. Explain why he thinks this shows that hedonism is false. Can a successful hedonist response be made?

Shorty topics #1

Here are the first “shorty” topics; do one of these. These are due by email Sunday night (Sept. 2nd); send to Bonnie if you’re registered for PHI 632 and to Ron if you’re registered for PHI 652.

More information is on the Shorties Page.

  1. What do you think about Gilbert’s “surprisingly wrong answer” and “surprisingly right answer” about control and happiness (in the “Prospection and Control” section of chapter 1)? Say whether you think he’s generally right or not on this, and give the best quick reason you can for your opinion.
  2. Gilbert’s suggest (in “Feeling Happy” in chapter 2), following Freud, he say, that people universally seek emotional happiness. What do you think is the best reason to accept that, and the best reason to reject it? Which seems better?
  3. In referencing Nozick (“Feeling Happy Because” in chapter 2), Gilbert says we shouldn’t confuse living a life virtuously with happiness, (although the former might tend to cause the latter). Is this a good criticism of Nozick? Why or why not?
  4. Aside from the points raised in the earlier questions, what do you think is either the strongest point made by Gilbert in chapters 1-3, or the biggest mistake he makes? Give your best reason for thinking this.