March 16, 2012

"Happiness is more like knowledge than like belief."

"There are lots of things we believe but don’t know. Knowledge is not just up to you, it requires the cooperation of the world beyond you — you might be mistaken. Still, even if you’re mistaken, you believe what you believe. Pleasure is like belief that way. But happiness isn’t just up to you. It also requires the cooperation of the world beyond you. Happiness, like knowledge, and unlike belief and pleasure, is not a state of mind."

Writes David Sosa, whose field is philosophy.


MadisonMan said...

I *think* I have discerned today's theme.

chickelit said...

Regarding happiness, I've always liked the the fable entitled "The Shirt of the Contended Man" link

Anonymous said...

He must be defining his terms very carefully in other parts of this, in order to explain why belief is not a state of mind.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Also, if happiness were like knowledge, then wouldn't the same circumstances would lead everyone to be happy? Real knowledge is not contingent on your subjective response to it, is it?

Scott M said...

Happiness, like knowledge, and unlike belief and pleasure, is not a state of mind."

I don't know that I agree with this at all. What if you are a hermit and actually require all cessation of interaction with the outer world to achieve your own happiness?

What if you're so at peace with yourself and world that regardless of your daily interactions with the world outside your consciousness, nothing can pierce your inner shield?

Another way to look at it might be to examine the polar opposite, suffering. Pleasure's is pain, but the happiness/suffering dichotomy require a cognitive component, wholly a state of mind issue. Certainly the outside world can cause internal suffering, but it can be self-inflicted as well. Thus, it's a state of mind.

Suffering is pain you can't feel physically, so it's nothing but a state of mind. Anyone that's had their heart ripped out by someone can attest to this. Is happiness pleasure you can't feel physically?

traditionalguy said...

Free will is a burden. It makes individuals responsible for their choices.

A support system of like minded people is defined here to be "real happiness." That is called a Culture. But a support system of silly god worship or cynical aphorisms is called mere beliefs.

OK, but how temporary is that kind of support system for real happiness? For example, Wisconsin/Madison political mobs were easily stirred up to divide people. That cannot be a basis for anyone's happiness.

The basic human experience has been that Culture must engage with the worship of a common god. You can call that belief, or you can call that how mankind rolls.

edutcher said...

I think Scott has it.

Happiness is really being at peace with yourself, the people you care about, and the world (at least your slice of it). You feel it, rather than know it. It's intuitive.

(good insight, Scott)

Jim S. said...

Is that Ernest Sosa's son?

YoungHegelian said...

The comments at the NYT link are worth reading, some of them every bit as much as the article itself.

I'm glad to see the NYT set up a forum like The Stone. As popular culture becomes less & less religious, the only ways the "Big Questions" get addressed are through philosophy or politics.

When the "Big Questions" get addressed politically it always seems to end with millions of people ending up on the business end of a gun barrel, so let;s try philosophy for a little while to see how that works out.

OT: A guy as young as Sosa is chair of as prestigious a philosophy school as U. of Texas as Austin? No eminence grise wanted that position?

sunsong said...

I like happiness :-) Good subject.

My experience is that it is an emotion and beyond that a state of mind. I like Scott's comments and traditionalguys.

If you require events to go your way in order to be happy - then what is the difference between events and a machine and a drug?

People don't like to hear it but happiness is very often a choice. It can also be when your needs are met (as opposed to preferences).

ricpic said...

Of course happiness is a state of mind. Yeats wrote that the most dazzlingly happy moment he ever experienced came out of nowhere while he - an old man - was sitting in a nondescript coffeehouse on some nondescript street in London and it came out of nowhere, was based on nothing, nothing specific that is, and then quickly dissipated and left him back in the drear.

Peter said...

This must be an old Cracked article, as Hanna Montana has moved out of the Malls and into the thrift stores.

But in any case, if happiness is one's pre-emptive goal then the peak of human existence should be realized just as soon as someone can stick a wire in hour brains and induce intense happiness for a long as we want it.

David said...

"But happiness isn’t just up to you. It also requires the cooperation of the world beyond you."

For much of the world for nearly all of human time, life was a struggle to survive: eat, don't be eaten or killed, cope with disease, cope with war, cope with all kinds of uncontrollable forces.

Doubtless people felt happiness in these times. It seems to be a universal human feeling. But it seems unlikely that it would have occurred to them to make happiness the goal of life. The goal of life was just to stay alive a bit longer.

The way we think of ourselves and of life is strongly influenced by our overall sense of security. Our times have been relatively secure, or have at least seemed so. Perhaps that is why we resist dealing with issues, personal and societal, that truly threaten our security.

Richard Dolan said...

After a few paragraphs, I found myself skimming through the rest of Sosa's piece. The fluff was just too thick, smothering whatever point was being made.

There is not much to be gained with declarations that "happiness is X" or "happiness is like Y." It's a term used in many different contexts and its meaning often changes depending on the context.

Here's a few:
Are you happy with that color for the drapes?
Did scoring well make you feel happy?
Happy birthday!
I was so happy to see you finally graduate.

You can multiply the list ad infinitum. If you want to get a handle on what the concept means, it's probably best to start with how the word is used. It's a pretty safe bet that, when you're done, you won't end up concluding that "happiness is X."

Anonymous said...

If you understand happiness in an Aristotelian sense, then Sosa's position makes very good sense.

Lawyer Mom said...

I read or saw something w/in the last few days -- internet or radio, can't remember -- that said happiness is having something that makes you utterly enthusiastic.

I've been thinking about that statement ever since, and so far -- I can enthusiastically report -- I have found in it no flaws.