Delight Springs

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Whose "happiness"? Which "flourishing"?

It's exam & report-planning day in HAP 101, so we're officially between texts. But, just a little sneak-peak ahead to Owen Flanagan's Bodhisattva's Brain. We'll discuss it later, but let me just note for the moment how pleased I am that he introduces a level of clarity not often seen in the burgeoning field of Happiness Studies.
Many Westerners are attracted to Buddhism because it offers one way to be “spiritual but not religious,” the currently favored answer to the religion question on social networking sites.
Naturalism comes in many varieties (Flanagan 2006), but the entry-level union card—David Hume is our hero—expresses solidarity with this motto: “Just say no to the supernatural."
Buddhism naturalized, if there is or can be such a thing, delivers what Buddhism possibly uniquely among the world's live spiritual traditions, promises to offer: no false promises, no positive illusions, no delusions. 

A series of superscripts distinguishes Aristotelian, Hedonist, Buddha  (etc.) happiness, and a note further specifies the nuances of Northern California "happy because I am nice, happy" and Southern California "happy-happy-joy-joy-click-your-heels-happy."

We pluralists welcome all this superscripting and hyphenating, cumbersome though it can be to concede that any two of us rarely mean quite the same thing when we use the H-word. It just underscores the home truth that there's no royal road to flourishing, though many off-ramps and blue highways may be out there.

Also welcome: Flanagan's observation that "not suffering" does not entail "being happy," which "requires more than not suffering."
Was the Buddha happy? Was Jesus happy? Was Confucius happy? Were they trying to make others happy? The answers do not seem obviously "yes," according to common contemporary usage of the term "happy." Does it matter? Is it-- happiness of any sort-- the most important thing?
I think we'll definitely need to deploy those superscripts and hyphens, to answer all those questions.

But first we have to wake up and take an exam.

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