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Grant number: AQ-50610-12

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AQ-50610-12

New Mexico State University, Las Cruces (Las Cruces, NM 88003)
Mark Walker (Project Director: 09/21/2011 to present)

NEH Enduring Questions Course on "What Is the Nature of Happiness?"

The development of an undergraduate seminar on the question, What is the nature of happiness?

Mark Walker, an assistant professor of philosophy, develops a course on "the nature, value and means to obtain happiness." He argues that "the nature of happiness is not as well understood as we might imagine or hope. Its value may not be what we think it is, and we may be mistaken in how to pursue it." The course utilizes insights from classic Western sources, contemporary social science, and Buddhism. Professor Walker notes that this course might be the first time that many of his students, a number of them first-generation undergraduates, tackle original texts; hence, it includes an introductory section on critical thinking. Then the course moves through a number of topics, first using Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and a recent psychological study, "The Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect: Does Happiness Lead to Success?" by Sonya Lyubormirsky and others, to complicate the question of whether the inhabitants of Huxley's "brave new world" are happier than we are. Next, it looks at the film The Matrix to see if the altered mental state of the character Cypher makes him "really happy." Plato's Myth of the Cave from the Republic and a recent article by Charles L. Griswold elaborate the mental state theory of happiness. The course then moves beyond such mental accounts to Plato's Philebus and Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics to consider other bases of happiness in knowledge and virtue; the idea that there might be a difference between happiness and well-being will also be introduced. J. S. Mill's Utilitarianism then offers the view that people have a duty to maximize total happiness. Recent readings from social science and "positive psychology" by Lyubormirsky, Martin Seligman, and others allow the students to consider whether success leads to happiness or happiness to success. Political considerations regarding happiness are addressed through John Locke's Two Treatises of Government, and the Declaration of Independence. Readings from contemporary social science by Ed Diener, John Helliwell, and Haifing Huang explore whether public policy can be used to promote happiness. Finally, the class considers Buddhist perspectives articulated by the Dalai Lama about the root causes of happiness and unhappiness. In addition to standard classroom activities, the students are given opportunities to present papers to the undergraduate philosophy club and to set up a "philosophy booth" during one of the class periods to engage other students in the question. Professor Walker states that since most of his teaching is on contemporary sources, he wishes to use the course development time to improve his skills with historical texts and to increase his understanding of Buddhism.

Project fields:
Ethics

Program:
Enduring Questions: Pilot Course Grants

Division:
Education Programs

Total amounts:
$24,995 (approved)
$20,806 (awarded)

Grant period:
5/1/2012 – 4/30/2014