Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Are you happy now?

Happiness as a ‘feeling good’ sentiment is boring and highly overrated. There isn’t much effort in it. XTC could do that job. Or Robert Nozick’s experience machine. No need to write actual books and an oeuvre, and eventually get the pleasure of receiving literary prizes. Just hook up to this machine and get the feeling of being a successful author (see p42, Anarchy, State, and Utopia). If happiness is defined the Aristotelian way then it becomes interesting. Instead of psychological states activities are valued, activities that constitute a good life for a human being. Living well is then not merely feeling well but doing actively well according to human excellences (a talent alone does not deserve praise). Living well depends then on many factors: to have physical and intellectual resources (Aristotle went so far as to claim that an ugly person will have a very hard to become happy), to have financial resources, to have friends (friendship is not merely an instrumental but also an intrinsic value), to live in a certain socio-political context, and, of course, to be lucky (severe and prolonged disaster can strip a virtuous man of all the resources to live a happy life). And because of the influence of (bad) luck we can only evaluate a life when it is complete, Aristotle writes: “One swallow does not make a summer; neither does one day. Similarly neither can one day, or a brief space of time make a man blessed and happy (Nicomachean Ethics, I.7).” So is this girl in the photo happy? She still has a long way to go. Martha Nussbaum asks then: “To what extent can we distinguish between what is up to the world and what is up to us, when assessing a human life?” This requires reflection upon our own self-conception, the ways we see ourselves (see p2, The Fragility of Goodness).

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