Law in Contemporary Society
I had about half a paper written before class on Tuesday when something was brought up that seemed to conflict with some of the basic assumptions of my thesis. Talking about Robinson and whether he is happy or not, Prof. Moglen mentioned in passing that the idea that life is all about happiness is not a universal position and a uniquely American one.

I've been thinking about this and can't seem to come up with any approaches toward life that don't have attaining some sort of happiness as a major goal. Maybe I shouldn't use the word happiness, but some sort of personal satisfaction is a universal goal isn't it? Even if you're entirely motivated by a sense of duty or obligation and find no pleasure in the things that you do, surely this means that you're working towards some other type of satisfaction, even if it couldn't really be defined as "happiness"?

Am I just conflating happines or satisfaction with any type of goal, or is there some other life philosophy out there?

-- JustinChung - 26 Feb 2009

I too struggle with Prof. Moglen's assertion that the pursuit of happiness is a strictly American aspiration and think that happiness is too general a term and can mean too many different things for the ideal to be easily dismissed as a strictly American one. Perhaps the idea that happiness can only be achieved through the collection of material wealth is exclusively American, but surely happiness in a broader sense includes general joy for life and content with one's role in the world. Why would anyone want to live if not to maximize one's enjoyment of life? Even the person motivated by a sense of duty or obligation surely achieves some "happiness" when they make a significant stride forward in their work.

-- JustinPurtle - 26 Feb 2009

I think what Professor Moglen was referring to was not "happiness" in the abstract, but rather hedonism. With this interpretation, I would have no problem accepting that this is a very "American" aspiration (though I would also hesitate to say that no other cultures practices this behavior). If people did not seek "happiness" (and in the abstract, this includes personal fulfillment and/or striving to find and execute a life's purpose), then there would be truly no point in living. Finding a life calling (be in making mergers and acquisitions or reforming the criminal justice system) and striving to obtain the goals of that calling is, in my opinion, the very meaning of happiness. I would even go as far as to say that Robinson is actually a happy person- while he is unhappy with some aspects of reality, he would not have things any other way.

On another note, I would recommend people to read the book "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho. This is definitely a book on the meaning of happiness, and I think it goes a long way in showing that achieving happiness is a universal human goal.

-- AlexHu - 26 Feb 2009

I may be misremembering here, but I am pretty sure that after Prof. Moglen dismissed the pursuit of happiness as an American phenomenon/fetish he went into a discussion about how we need to figure out how to live fulfilling/happy lives. I did not catch a distinction, if there was one, between the happiness-driven lifestyle that he dismissed and the happiness-driven life that he wants us to seek. Maybe he was using the "American pursuit of happiness" phrase to stand in for "getting rich," but it seemed to me that he meant more than that. In any case, I agree with you, Justin, that "happiness" can be achieved even if the person desires a life far different from the one inspired by the American Dream.


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r5 - 07 Jan 2010 - 22:50:17 - IanSullivan
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