Monday, 4 June 2012

Libby Enstrom wrote ... The Psychology and Philosophy of Morality and Happiness

Many think that the pursuit to understand and heal the mind will give humans more insight into how to perpetuate their contentment and happiness. More students are entering the field every year to help in this pursuit and earning a psychology degree on-line - something once unheard of - is now allowing for advancements within the growing community. Every day more types of therapy are developed and discoveries made that are helping people revolutionize their lives. It appears the perpetual pursuit of happiness has, at the very least, piqued the interest of humanity in general.

George Washington said: "Happiness and moral duty are inseparably connected." Therefore, if you know how to apply the objective moral law to yourself, you must be very happy: right or wrong? Wrong, according to the 18th-century Prussian philosopher Immanuel Kant. He argued that moral
requirements are based on a standard of rationality called the Categorical Imperative. Morality is thus achieved through reason, whereas happiness is achieved through the instincts. There is not necessarily any virtue in happiness. English philosopher John Stuart Mill’s utilitarianism, on the other hand, links morality with happiness. It is possible to argue that some forms of morality make us happy, while others do not, so each philosopher is both right and wrong.

The difference lies, to some extent, in differing views of what is right and wrong. Murder is universally considered wrong, and generally speaking, only a morally depraved or psychopathic person would achieve happiness by committing it. A person who murders another to get rich -- to collect on a life insurance policy, for example -- might think that the wealth acquired will make him happy. But the blood money wouldn’t give the killer the same satisfaction as wealth acquired legally, and there would be an ever-present chance of getting caught and spending life in prison, which forfeits access to the wealth and can’t possibly make anyone happy. In this case, the overwhelming majority of people would be made happier by moral behaviour, i.e. refraining from murder.

For Mill, moral behaviour increases the overall happiness of the world. For Kant, however, the highest good is not happiness. Inclinations are the opponent of moral disposition in Kant’s synthesis of virtue. Virtue is fortitude, or the ability to withstand the vigorous and unfair enemy that inclination is. A person engages in many types of behaviour because of inclination. If a person calls in sick to work when he is not really sick, he is following an inclination. It may very well make him happy to stay home from work or school like Ferris Bueller; he may engage in all sorts of stimulating, fun activities instead of subjecting himself to the drudgery of work. Will he be contributing to the overall happiness of the world? What if, during his day off, he rescues a child from a burning building? Here, Mill would be conflicted, but it would be a case in point for Kant: the right thing, going to work, would have been the less happy thing.

When it comes to those moral directives about which huge swaths of society disagree, from abortion to gay marriage, Kant probably would have been on the conservative side. Morally, he would say, by a process of reason, only a man and a woman should marry. If two men do, they will be following a base inclination, and they may well be happy. Mill might have found that gay marriage was a moral possibility because it increased the overall happiness in the world.

Clearly, in some areas, Americans, who love happiness, don’t agree about what causes it.

A guest post, most welcome ................

1 comment:

  1. ... well Libby, as I wrote in my email, your "Happiness and moral duty are inseparably connected" needs challenging.

    What is a "moral duty" ?

    To begin, do we speak of a collective morality or do we start from a personal morality ?