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Archive for September, 2011

From Philosophy for Business Issue 68

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.

References

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

© Philosophical Practice 2011
Journal of the American Philosophical
Practitioners Association
http://www.appa.edu

E-Mail: RachelEBrowne@aol.com

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From Philosophy Pathways Issue 165

The Work of Enchantment
By Matthew Del Nevo
Transaction Publishers, New Jersey, 2011

Matthew Del Nevo is a philosopher at the Catholic Institute of Sydney. The book falls within social theory but is mainly an example of philosophical reading of literature. It laments the soullessness of the world; it’s increasing banality and the increasing influence of the culture industries and commodification of ever more areas of our lives, including education. The ‘work’ of enchantment is identified as reading, listening and gazing. These seem unimportant in today’s culture, but this soulful activity, which Del Nevo calls ‘enchantment’ is counter-cultural. He attacks modern day culture while examining some works by Proust, Rilke and Goethe, and sets this literary investigation against the background of Adorno’s philosophy.

Enchantment is written to be accessible to those outside philosophy (dependant on whether they are able to read, I suppose). Del Nevo states that he is aware of sounding elitist, but says that he doesn’t mean to be so. You can’t help but believe him and he is actually addressing cultural problems in as honest a way as possible. The book is also a defence of the humanities over technological and vocational education, which abounds in these materialistic times. Del Nevo takes the strong view that enchantment has actually been lost from the humanities. He doesn’t make quite clear why this is, but his choice of writers to look at in this book suggests that these writers are deeper than contemporary literature, film and art, which is studied.

The philosophy here is a philosophy of life, not a systematic philosophy. For instance, Del Nevo shows, through looking at a work by Marcel Proust that ‘within an enchanted life death loses its sting.’ (p.35). It is wisdom literature.

Del Nevo’s analysis of Proust makes me feel I should have paid more attention when I read him years ago. He describes Swann becoming infatuated with Odette in Remembrance of Things Past. The nature of the metaphysical experience of falling in love in this case is described as ‘aesthetic’, in that Swann comes to see Odette in a new light as he falls in love with her and comes to regard her as beautiful. Proust might not have been aware of engaging in aesthetics when he describes this.

But it is also shown that the novel embodies a philosophy of language. It is found that in Proust there is an understanding that we don’t just ‘use’ language and that it is not a mere tool. Words are not neutral. Swann receives an anonymous letter telling him that Odette has been engaged in licentious sexual behaviour, and this too changes him. He became soulful when he fell in love, but when he received the letter, it was soul destroying. The words in the letter had the power to change Swann. I suppose it is to be assumed that a writer would be aware of the power of words, but I wonder if Proust had explicit knowledge that he held a theory of language?

But Del Nevo doesn’t ignore theory. According to Adorno, philosophy from Plato on to Hegel was concerned with conceptuality, ideas and generality (Of course this was how philosophy was before Plato too), but this was turned on it’s head by Marx, Nietzsche and Freud, who were more concerned with psychology, sociology and detail. It seems that Proust, Rilke and Goethe also rejected Hegelianism by concentrating on the trivial and the particular. It is by this means of the grip of recognising the psychology presenting and meanings that trivia have for us that we are entering another ‘world’, which is denied to us by grand systems.

Time is an undercurrent of the book. The aesthetic theory that a work of art is that which passes the Test of Time, as posited by Anthony Savile and others, is an aesthetic theory that Del Nevo seems to subscribe to. He says that an ‘artwork can speak diachronically, across time, to a time of its own’ and that the ‘optimum example is those writings regarded by our culture such as Scriptures’.

It seems that Goethe’s Faust is MORE relevant now than when Goethe wrote it. It has more than passed the test of time. It seems prophetic. Parallels are drawn between Faust’s pact with Mephistopheles and modernity, which is out of control and subject to external forces. Mephistopheles had hold over Faust, but eventually Faust comes to see that pleasure-seeking and worldliness are disenchanting. We can only hope this is prophetic if we find modernity spiralling out of control.

Just a warning to atheists! This is a philosopher who teaches in a theological institute, who is theologically informed and so uses metaphorical language of the soul, heaven and angels. This should not put you off. I’m an atheist and it didn’t put me off. This is not a religious book and actually notes that the soul is not to be confused with the spirit, which is the religious concept. This distinction can be found in Rilke. The soul is about humanity, recognition of depth, being able to appreciate art, and finding resonance in things. Things, or objects, are held to be important in this book. The poets discussed are particularly interested in how some things resonate with us — real things, names of real things that have the ability to arouse feeling in us — not brand names.

I take it that properly this book is about the inner life; of our ability to be captivated by things; about being enchanted in contrast to the modern obsession with economics and technological communication. It doesn’t fit neatly into the modern world of mobile phones and twittering and at times the author seems to apologise for what he is writing about. Such apology has been made before, by the Jewish philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas, who is quoted as having said ‘The inner life: One is almost ashamed to pronounce this pathetic expression in the face of so many realisms and objectivisms’ (p22).

I write this review shortly after the riots in England, which occurred in London, Birmingham and several other cities and towns. This is also shortly after English pop singer Amy Winehouse was discovered dead. Although unfashionable to write about enchantment, this book is relevant to the modern world. Of technology, Del Nevo suggests that ‘we become the unwitting tools of our own tools’. Del Nevo believes that capitalism often provides ‘delusory substitutes for enchantment’ (p.13), such as glamour, and that even violence can be taken to be glamorous. This certainly seems to have been the case in the recent riots. Those involved were unable to see the reality of destruction and harm to others. Furthermore they were seeking glamour by looting for designer goods in many cases. Del Nevo also claims that celebrities ‘lead glamorous lives which, very often, are totally disenchanted’ (p.13). The sad case of Amy Winehouse immediately comes to mind. There are truths to be found in this book which many would not like to voice for fear of sounding superior.

Since enchantment, listening and gazing are about absorption — in art, philosophy, and religion (some forms of science are not excluded) — this book won’t appeal to those who twitter and text and probably would bring remorse to the friends of Amy Winehouse. But really it is these people to whom the book should be addressed. An interesting question is whether the book would have rapport with such people. Del Nevo defines the soul as that which refers to ‘the unity… of our inner sensibilities and sensitivities’ (p.23). Soulfulness and enchantment are about our inner life. Everyone has an inner life in this sense, unless seriously ill, so enchantment is about the quality of that inner life.

Enchantment, or being captivated, and having ‘metaphysical experience’ (Adorno’s term, which Del Nevo uses) is of physical, not just social, importance. We need to take note of the warnings that this book brings to us.

© Rachel Browne 2011

E-mail: RachelEBrowne@aol.com

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