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📙 The Pursuit of Unhappiness: The Elusive Psychology of Well-Being by Daniel M. Haybron — download pdf


This extremely interesting and in places downright fascinating book is worth every penny you spend to acquire it. Sure, it's a hardback, but get it anyway: you'll probably want to re-read it. Haybron's title mentions unhappiness, but this is not a catalogue of the myriad ways in which we are, or can be, unhappy -- though he thinks we're less happy than we could be. He writes exceptionally well, and he thinks clearly. Indeed it's hard to imagine that this book hasn't been the product of decades of reflection on the weighty matter of human well-being and contentedness, for he seems very wise. He's a philosopher but there are many examples in it, and a number of "practical" asides, and a goodly number of references to, and quotations from, works of literature. Above all, he is someone who has absorbed work done in other disciplines, principally psychology. He is a cautious rather than a dogmatic writer, though after he treats such themes as psychic affirmation, self-fulfillment (not in the sappy, New Age sense), the role of the emotions in our happiness, and so on, he concludes that we should live our lives in a more contextualist fashion. By this contextualism I take it that he means a kind of communitarian liberalism, something he thinks would be more conducive to our flourishing and happiness. For a work of philosophy this has some amusing parts (Haybron talks about Pollyannas vs Kvetches). He discusses -- generally in passing -- a number of thinkers and views. One will find references to Bentham, Plato, Nietzsche, Mill, Freud, Aristotle, etc. (in addition to writers like Hemingway, Thoreau, Forster and Pound). Using evidence from narratives, oral reports, novels and works of philosophy, and above all from studies in psychology and economics, Haybron shows that the major (popular) ethical theories philosophers discuss (Kantianism, utilitarianism, virtue theory) are not fine-grained enough when it comes to treating the question of happiness/flourishing. Integrating the insights of psychological investigations into philosophy will help in providing what is missing. Ultimately his target is what he calls the Personal Authority position, the view that we know ourselves best/well and therefore know what is best for our flourishing. This target is a form of "transparency" subjectivism, which he rightly argues is incompatible with the evidence. Haybron defends a version of mild objectivism, which he says is distinct from Aristotelian and other virtue/perfectionist positions, but which seems quasi-Aristotelian to me (I'll defer to Haybron). Overall, he wants us to rethink some of the more individualistic and selfish attitudes engendered by liberal modernity, without throwing the liberal baby out with the subjectivist/individualist bathwater. It could make us happier.

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