Samuel S Franklin
The Psychology of Happiness, A Good Human Life
Cambridge University Press, 2010
ISBN: 0521138671, 192 pages.
Samuel Franklin is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at California State University, Fresno. The book engages with Aristotle’s virtue ethics as a means to achieve happiness, by reference to the Nicomachean Ethics.
With Aristotle, Franklin believes that happiness is about the fulfilment of potential, where this is guided by rationality, which can moderate emotion and desire. We possess potentials, which are needs, and only if met, can we flourish and achieve happiness. Happiness is essentially related to personal development. Aristotle held there are two aspects to happiness; the hedonic (pleasure) and eudaimonia (the well-lived achieving life), but Franklin doesn’t give much credence to pleasure as worthy, despite the fact that current neuroscience holds that the pleasure and happiness/ thriving areas of the brain are very closely related. Franklin stands in direct contrast to the utilitarian theory of happiness. Jeremy Bentham gave an hedonistic account, arguing that it is morally correct to minimise pain and maximise pleasure, where happiness was equated with pleasure. The Benthamite view is that watching television is on a par with reading educational literature when it comes to what will lead to happiness, but he has virtually no takers on the thesis. Aristotle has many.
Aristotle is difficult to fault, which is why he is still such a central figure in philosophy. He held that ‘real goods,’ such as money and clothing, are needed as an aid for us to fulfil our potential. There are also ‘apparent goods’ which are not things we need, but that we simply want, and they do nothing to aid the fulfilment of our potential. As Franklin puts it, we might need a car to get to work, but we don’t need a Rolls Royce.
Aristotle argued for temperance. Too much food (or too little) will not lead us to thrive and achieve fulfilment. This is not to say that extremes are not acceptable in certain circumstances. Circumstances are essential to judging what is reasonable and through personal development we learn to recognise what is appropriate in a particular situation.
Philosophers will be familiar with these ideas, but the book is a useful reminder and clear exposition of Aristotelian ethics and places it alongside claims made by Darwin and Freud. The philosophical practitioner is likely to be interested in how Aristotelian ideas still abound today in the thoughts of non-philosophers, the best known being those of Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers, two more recent humanistic psychologist/ ‘actualisation’ theorists.
Unfortunately, as a humanistic psychologist, Franklin does not provide much data. Yet data is available. Bruce Heady’s team at the University of Melbourne, for instance, found happiness to be largely genetically determined (Heady, B., 2010).
Franklin does provide a brief account of the physiology of happiness, but doesn’t touch upon genetics or engage with recent neuroscientific research. The section on the physiology of happiness is small and the most up to date research he mentions is from 1997. In the last five years developments in brain research involving neurotransmitters that read the brain for conditions of happiness have developed quickly. It seems empirically likely that happiness is more closely linked to pleasure than to actualising potential. A body of research can be found in the Journal of Social Research (Summer 2010).
Apart from Freud, there is very little space given to psychoanalytic theory. Freud held that ‘to be civilised or to be tamed by the community causes unhappiness in the individual’ (1985) whereas Aristotle thought that the temperate person striving for a good life is at one with the state and creates the good city. Contra Aristotle/ Franklin, R.D. Laing has pushed Freud’s view further, claiming that adjustment to social norms result in repression, denial, splitting, projection, introjections and other forms of destructive action (1967). Franklin doesn’t mention Laing.
So since Aristotle we have advanced greatly in our understanding of human psychology. Rationality is de-emphasised. Human weaknesses rather than strengths have become an important area of study. This is also seen culturally with the rise of self-help books, which assume that human beings aren’t able to develop personally.
Franklin doesn’t seem to want to investigate this opposition to Aristotelian thought. Fortunately, the Aristotelian view of happiness lends support to mainstream business ethics, as well as the branch of business ethics called EQ (emotional intelligence).
As far as ordinary business ethics goes, the support comes from the idea of virtue. To fulfil potentials we need to develop skills of virtue. ‘The virtue of justice is about the welfare of others; it is about fairness to other’ (p. 80). Also the virtue of equality means looking beyond oneself. ‘We have to be concerned not only with ourselves but also with the welfare of others, not just family and friends’ (p. 82).
It is part of being virtuous that we take ourselves to be part of a community where we can undertake public discourse. A business is a community in which we can learn and discuss moral issues, such as whistle-blowing. Codes of conduct are empty unless employees are able to develop personal integrity. The modern idea of the business arena as a ‘community of enquiry’ where a ‘facilitator’ prompts discussion is directly in line with developing potentialities rather than following rules (Geschwindt, S., 2008).
Franklin doesn’t mention mainstream business ethics but only EQ, which was developed in the 1990s and which Franklin claims follows from Aristotelian thinking. Work in this area is still developing but from looking at an EQ web site I find there is a stress on emotion over rationality (http://www.6seconds.org). This suggests we need to look again at Aristotle and keep him in mind, remembering the very important role of reason in our personal development. It is encouraging that Aristotle can be of help within the commercial world.
Freud, S (1985). ‘Civilization and its discontents.’ Civilization, Society and Religion. Penguin Books
Geschwindt, S. (2008) Am I right? Or am I right: an introduction of ethical decision making. DW Publications
Heady, B. (2010). ‘Long-running German panel survey shows that personal and economic choices, not just genes, matter for happiness’. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 10-08612, Oct 4, 2010. On-line early edition
Laing, R D. (1967). The Politics of Experience. Harmondsworth: Penguin
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