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Ethics and Happiness

This course is an introduction to the study of ethics as a component of a happy life. As such, we will discuss ethics in the ancient tradition and how its role changed in Modern Philosophy through 19th Century Utilitarianism and contemporary Virtue Ethics. We will focus on questions about the role of character and the moral life in a good life, considering the question of how we define happiness, and whether being good is necessary or sufficient for a good and happy life (as defined properly). 


Eligibility for English Composition I

Pedagogical Approach

We take an analytic approach to questions of the good life and morality, beginning with the ancient view of virtue and happiness, considering Plato's position that virtue is sufficient for happiness. We compare his approach to Aristotle's view that virtue is necessary for happiness, but not sufficient, discussing what those other goods are that lead to a happy life in Aristotle's view. These views are compared to Jeremy Bentham's and John Stuart Mill's views about happiness as pleasure and the absence of pain, and the connection between happiness and morality. Having laid the groundwork for the contemporary view of happiness as defined by contemporary psychology, we discuss the scientific approach to happiness, how morality fits in (or doesn't) to this view, and we discuss the role of virtue ethics in contemporary view of the good life. Some other questions: is happiness enough for a good life, or is a good life something different from a happy life? What is the role of meaning in a good life? A happy life? Is being a morally good person necessary for a meaningful life?

Learning Outcomes

At the end of the course, students should be able to:   Think more critically about the concept of morality and good character in relation to happiness. They should be able to explain the three main theories of happiness in philosophy: hedonism (happiness as pleasure), desire satisfactionism, eudaimonism (happiness as human flourishing), as well as the philosophical concept of virtue and moral character.  Students should be able to read and critically assess philosophical responses to questions about the nature of happiness.    


Formative and summative assessments; essays will be written for the purpose of applying the theories to concrete case studies as well as the students’ own lives. Students should exhibit an ability in these essays to apply key concepts and provide a critical assessment of the philosophical concepts, as applied to case studies.

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