Happiness and Different Ways of Life





Susanna Rinard (Department of Philosophy)
Freshman Seminar 63X    4 credits (fall term)     Enrollment:  Limited to 12

What is happiness, and what can we learn from different ways of life about what conduces to human happiness? In this seminar we begin with an overview of thought in philosophy and contemporary science about the nature of happiness (our guide: Sissela Bok’s book Exploring Happiness). We then consider a few different ways of life. First, we look at modern-day Buddhist approaches to the search for happiness (our guide: Matthieu Ricard’s Happiness). This will provide a context in which we can consider to what extent internal conditions—your mental habits, your attitude, your overall outlook—are determinants of happiness. Then we turn to a study of the lifestyles of prehistoric humans, and consider their approaches to child-rearing, dispute resolution, and more (our guide: Jared Diamond’s The World Until Yesterday). Looking at these radically different cultures will prompt us to consider whether our modern society could benefit from re-adopting some aspects of these ways of life. Finally, we look at the conditions of poor women in India, and what we can learn from them about justice and quality of life (our guide: Martha Nussbaum’s Women and Human Development). We will consider both the devastating effects of oppression and certain kinds of material poverty, as well as the ways in which people can nonetheless flourish in difficult circumstances. Throughout the course we will see what can be learned by combining abstract philosophical reflection on happiness with attention to the details of the actual lives of human beings at different places and times.

See also: Spring 2023