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teaching happiness « Previous | |Next »
May 24, 2006

It's pretty standard stuff, isn't it, philosophically speaking. It is teaching ethics. Happiness is a central part of ethics--both classical and modern. Of course, there are different and competing understandings of happiness.

Andrew Joyner

In the article Robert Miller is criticizing the weeked self-help pop pyschology that is a perversion of ethics understood as a philosophical therapy.

So this reaction over at Larvatus Prodeo suprises me:

The problem with this is that it eviscerates philosophy, and strips it of its seriousness. Of its moral as well as its intellectual seriousness. It reduces philosophy to another species of self-help or personal growth training.

Perhaps. It depends whether or not the therapy is connected to a conception of the good life. The Greek conception of ethics was a form of philosophical therapy and reference is made to the classics--- to the Stoic philosopher Epictetus

But this is different:

Socrates died because he had the courage of his convictions. His serenity did not come about because he was unfailingly smiling. The Epicureans, in reaction, turned their back on the world of events and engagement. The Greeks would not recognise this as either philosophy or happiness (a word so banal I doubt there's a classical equivalent). Perhaps this shows that you can still dumb down education while teaching the canon.

Miller makes reference to the Stoics and to Epictetus.

The Stoics (Cicero, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca) were fully engaged in the Roman world as political beings and they criticized the Epicureans for withdrawing from it. However, the Epicureans were a part of Greek philosophy.

Happiness has different meanings depending on whether it coded by the utilitarians (the greatest happiness for the greatest number, with happiness coded as personal desires) or Aristotle and the other Greek schools. The Greek word for happiness is Eudaimonia, or a flourishing life. The Greeks understood moral philosophy as having the practical purpose of guiding people towards leading better lives. The aim was to live well, to secure for oneself eudaimonia ('happiness' or 'a flourishing life'), with the different schools and philosophers of the period offered differing solutions as to how the eudaimon life was to be gained.

As Keith Seddon, over at the Internet Encyclopedia, says the role of the Stoic teacher was to:

...encourage his students to live the philosophic life, whose end was eudaimonia ('happiness' or 'flourishing), to be secured by living the life of reason, which ---for Stoics -- meant living virtuously and living 'according to nature'. The eudaimonia ('happiness') of those who attain this ideal consists of ataraxia (imperturbability), apatheia (freedom from passion), eupatheiai ('good feelings'), and an awareness of, and capacity to attain, what counts as living as a rational being should.

This therapy is about reason ''controlling" the passions to allow us to live the philosophic life, which for a Stoic, consists in, and how to live it oneself. The ills we suffer, says Epictetus, result from mistaken beliefs about what is truly good. We have invested our hope in the wrong things (eg., money or fame), or at least invested it in the wrong way.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:29 PM | | Comments (3)


What is the "correct" translation of "eudaimonia"? "Well-spiritedness"? Then again there is the "happ" in "happiness". But "ataraxia"? Ouch!!!

I work with eudaimonia as a flourishing life.On the Stoic conception this would include ataraxia.

Presumably the 'ouch' refers to the Stoic concern to extirpate the passions rather than modify them?

For them passion is a disorderly movement of reason towards irrational things. All the passions are bad; they are psychical diseases (in opposition to Aristotle). Hence Stoic philosophical therapy resists his passions and tries to extirpate them so that we become passionless (apatheia)

There seems to me to be echoes of Rorty in that. What philosophers should be aiming at is not to solve problems (pseudo-problems, perhaps, in Rorty's eyes). Rather, they should be aiming to adjust their 'language-games' in order to dissolve the problem.

It may seem that we can unequivocally trace our unhappiness to a certain source, but perhaps if we adjust our 'language-game', we might see that things aren't quite so bad after all.