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PHIL2320 Happiness

Semester 1, 2010-2011

Course Coordinator:

Dr Timothy O’Leary

Office Hours:

Weds 4-5pm, in MB 309

Ph: 2859 2796



Wednesdays  & Fridays    2:00-2:50pm


The concept of ‘happiness’ has played a central role in Western thinking about human well being and the good life since the time of Socrates. But what is happiness? Is it a psychological feeling? Or is it something about the value of the life one is living? Can it be measured? And, does it really matter – is it a worthy goal for human beings? This course will explore the most important schools of thought in the history of these debates – Aristotle’s eudaimonism; Epicureanism and Stoicism; Utilitarianism and Kantianism. However, we will begin the course with an exploration of contemporary approaches to these questions, partly through the viewing and discussion of recent movies, including Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michael Gondry, 2004) and Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh, 2008).

The course will consist of 20 Lectures + 4 Tutorials. Tutorial arrangements will be made in class.

This website has some useful pointers to get you started: Pursuit of Happiness


Readings will be available in the Department Office and the Library.

A useful resource is:

Cahn, S. & Vitrano, C. (eds.), Happiness: Classic and Contemporary Readings in Philosophy, Oxford University Press, 2008. Cited below as H.

Additional reading (highly recommended):

White, Nicholas, A Brief History of Happiness, Blackwell, 2006. Cited below as BH.


Tutorial Presentation (submit written notes on same day): 20%

You are expected to attend ALL tutorials, to do the preparatory reading, and to participate in discussion.

First Essay (2,000 words), Mon Oct 25th: 40%

Second Essay (2,000 words), Fri Dec 3rd: 40%


You must consult this website:


Part 1: Setting the Scene

Lecture l: Sept 1

Introduction to course: Some Meanings of Happiness

Reading: Nettle, D. “Introduction”, H, ix-xi.

Lecture 2: Sept 3

How ‘real’ does happiness have to be?

View (clips): Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; The Matrix.

Reading: Nozick, R. “The Experience Machine”, H, 236-7.

**[No Lecture Sept 8]**

Lecture 3: Sept 10

Philosophical Confusions

Reading: Dan Haybron, The Pursuit of Unhappiness, Ch. 2.

Part 2: Back to Basics

Lecture 4: Sept 15

Being Happy/Being Good

Reading: Plato, The Republic (selections), H, 3-18.

Lecture 5 & 6: Sept 17 & Sept 22

The Role of Virtue

Reading: Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics (selections), H, 19-34.

Lectures 7: Sept 24

The Role of Pleasure

Reading: Epicurus, extracts, H, 34-40

Lectures 8 & 9: Sept 29 & Oct 1

Happiness is Hard Work: The Stoics

Seneca, “On the Happy Life”, H, 41-51.

Epictetus, The Discourses, extracts.

Lectures 10 & 11: Oct 6 & 13 **[No Lecture Oct 8]**

The Difficulty of Enjoying Happiness

Reading: Hobbes, Leviathan (selections), H, 68-77.

Hume, “The Sceptic”, H, 86-99.

Lecture 12: Oct 15

Writing Philosophy: How to get the grade that will make you happy.

HKU Reading Week: 18 Oct- 24 Oct

Lecture 13 & 14: Oct 27 & 29

Pleasure as Good: Utilitarianism

Reading: Bentham, extracts, H, 99-103.

Mill, Utilitarianism (selections), H, 121-143.

Part 3: Back to the Present

Lectures 15 & 16: Nov 3 & 5

Objectivism vs Subjectivism: Who knows if you are happy?

Reading: Kraut, R. “Two Conceptions of Happiness”, H, 201-22.

Haybron, D. The Pursuit of Unhappiness, Ch. 7 “Happiness as Psychic Affirmation”.

White, N. “Chapter 6: Happiness, Fact, and Value”, in BH, 142-161.

**[No Lectures Nov 10 & 12]**

Lectures 17 & 18: Nov 17 & 19

Happiness and Pleasure: Should being happy feel good?

View (clips): Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh, 2008).

Reading: Davis, W. “Pleasure and Happiness”, H, 163-172.

Haybron, D. The Pursuit of Unhappiness, Ch. 4 “Pleasure”.

White, N. “Chapter 3: Pleasure, hedonism, and the Measurement of Happiness”, in BH, 41-74.

Lecture 19: Nov 24

Happiness and Morality: Do only good people deserve to be happy?

View (clips): Crimes and Misdemeanors (Woody Allen, 1989).

Reading: Annas, J. “Virtue and Eudaimonism”, H, 245-261.

Cahn, S. & Murphy, J., “Happiness and Immorality”, H, 261-266.

Feldman, F. “Disgusting Happiness” (What Is This Thing Called Happiness?, Ch. 10).

Lecture 20: Nov 26

Concluding lecture.

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