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Topic: Happiness
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Robert Solomon, Quincy Lee Centennial Professor of Philosophy and Business and Distinguished Teaching Professor; University of Texas, Austin
What is it? Is happiness a mere psychological state? And if so, what's so important about it? Is there anything more to being happy than just thinking you're happy? Or is happiness a way of life?

About the Guest

A specialist in the philosophy of emotions, business ethics, and post-Kantian continental philosophy, Professor Solomon has also published extensively on ethics and the history of philosophy. His more than forty books include The Passions (Doubleday, 1976), In the Spirit of Hegel (Oxford, 1983), From Hegel to Existentialism (Oxford, 1987), Continental Philosophy Since 1750 (Oxford, 1988), Ethics and Excellence (Oxford, 1992), The Joy of Philosophy (Oxford, 1999), and Living with Nietzsche (Oxford, 2003). He has a three-volume series On the Passionate Life; the first two volumes appeared in 2003 and 2004. He co-authored (with Kathleen Higgins) What Nietzsche Really Said (Random House/Schocken, 2000) along with two widely used collections on Nietzsche. His more than 100 articles have appeared in many of the leading philosophy journals and in numerous books. Before coming to Texas, he taught at Princeton, UCLA, and the University of Pittsburgh. He is a yearly visitor at the University of Auckland. He is also President of the International Society for Research on Emotions.


Listening Notes


Is happiness just an emotion? Emotions usually have two aspects: the feeling and the thought. There seems to be two kinds of happiness. One is transitory, the other is a long-term state. Ken introduces the guest, Robert Solomon, professor at University of Texas, Austin. Solomon thinks that all of the possibilities for happiness discussed are wrong. He says that Aristotle focused on long-term happiness. John distinguishes between subjective and objective happiness. Aristotle focused on the latter. Solomon talks about self-deception and happiness; we can deceive ourselves into thinking we're happy when we're not and we can be happy without realizing it.


Is happiness the same as the good life? Solomon does think that says much. Happiness may just be one component of the good life. Does an objective component to happiness mean that it does not vary across cultures? Different cultures have varying standards by which to judge whether someone is happy. If one can be wrong about whether one is happy, then it seems like there is an objective part of happiness. What is the relation between contentment and happiness? Does one entail the other or are they mutually exclusive?


Do we have the power to choose to be happy or unhappy? Solomon thinks we can choose to do anything, but can we choose to be one way or another? Are all kinds of happiness created equal? Some people are happy taking prozac while others are happy helping orphans. Solomon thinks this is misguided since happiness is not a single all encompassing concept. Solomon wants to emphasize how complex the notion of happiness is while most people think of it in a very simplistic way. There are two other notions that are important to happiness are self-actualization and joy. Self-actualization seems to support Aristotle's notion that happiness is the good life, reaching one's potentials. John points out that joy goes in and out of vogue as important for happiness.

  • Amy Standen the Roving Philosophical Reporter (Seek to 04:35): Amy Standen asks several people about what happiness is.


  • Ian Shoales the Sixty Second Philosopher (Seek to 50:04): Ian Shoales gives a brief history of the philosophy of happiness.


Additional Resources

  • Articles from JSTOR (note: subscription required to view online):


  • Other articles and texts:
    • Julia Annas.  "Virtue and Eudaimonism."  Social Philosophy and Policy.  Vol. 15, No. 1 (Winter 1998), pp. 37-55.
    • David O. Brink.  "Mill's Deliberative Utilitarianism."  Philosophy and Public Affairs.  Vol. 12, No. 1 (Winter 1992), pp. 67-103.
    • James Butler.  "A Case for an Intellectual Hedonism in the Philebus."  Desire, Identity, and Existence: Essays in Honor of T.M. Penner.  Reshotko, Naomi ed. (Edmonton 2003), pp. 109-125.
    • Philip Cafaro.  "Virtue Ethics (Not Too) Simplified."  Auslegung: A Journal of Philosophy.  Vol. 22, No. 1 (Winter-Spring 1997), pp. 49-67.
    • Thomas L. Carson.  "Happiness, Contentment and the Good Life."  Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 62 (October 1981), pp. 378-392.
    • Stephen Engstrom.  "The Concept of the Highest Good in Kant's Moral Theory." Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.  Vol. 52, No. 4 (December 1992), pp. 747-780.
    • David Estlund. "Mutual Benevolence and the Theory of Happiness."  Journal of Philosophy.  Vol. 87, No. 4 (April 1990), pp. 187-204.
    • Daniel M. Haybron.  "Happiness and Pleasure."  Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.  Vol. 63, No. 2 (May 2001), pp. 501-528.
    • Daniel M. Haybron.  "What Do We Want from a Theory of Happiness?"  Metaphilosophy.  Vol. 34, No. 3 (April 2003), pp. 305-329.
    • Marcia L. Homiak.  "The Pleasure of Virtue in Aristotle's Moral Theory."  Pacific Philosophical Quarterly.  Vol. 66 (January-April 1985), pp. 93-110.
    • Diane Jeske.  "Perfection, Happiness, and Duties to Self."  American Philosophical Quarterly.  Vol. 33, No. 3 (July 1996), pp. 263-276.


    • Glenn Lesses.  Plato's "Lysis" and Irwin's Socrates.  International Studies in Philosophy.  Vol. 18 (Fall 1986), pp. 33-43.
    • Geoffrey Scarre.  "Happiness for the Millian."  British Journal for the History of Philosophy.  Vol. 7, No. 3 (October 1999), pp. 491-502.
    • Matthew Silverstein.  "In Defense of Happiness: A Response to the Experience Machine."  Social Theory and Practice.  Vol. 26, No. 2 (Spring 2000), pp. 279-300.
    • Marcus G. Singer.  "Mill's Stoic Conception of Happiness and Pragmatic Conception of Utility."  Philosophy: The Journal of the Royal Institute of Philosophy.  Vol. 75, No. 291 (January 2000), pp. 25-47.

    • Gregory Vlastos.  "Happiness and Virtue in Socrates' Moral Theory."  Topoi: An International Review of Philosophy.  Vol. 4 (March 1985), pp. 3-22.



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