Exploring Happiness: From Aristotle to Brain Science

Exploring Happiness: From Aristotle to Brain Science

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by Sissela Bok
     
 

In this smart and timely book, the distinguished moral philosopher Sissela Bok ponders the nature of happiness and its place in philosophical thinking and writing throughout the ages. With nuance and elegance, Bok explores notions of happiness—from Greek philosophers to Desmond Tutu, Charles Darwin, Iris Murdoch, and the Dalai Lama—as well as the latest

Overview

In this smart and timely book, the distinguished moral philosopher Sissela Bok ponders the nature of happiness and its place in philosophical thinking and writing throughout the ages. With nuance and elegance, Bok explores notions of happiness—from Greek philosophers to Desmond Tutu, Charles Darwin, Iris Murdoch, and the Dalai Lama—as well as the latest theories advanced by psychologists, economists, geneticists, and neuroscientists. Eschewing abstract theorizing, Bok weaves in a wealth of firsthand observations about happiness from ordinary people as well as renowned figures. This may well be the most complete picture of happiness yet.

This book is also a clarion call to think clearly and sensitively about happiness. Bringing together very different disciplines provides Bok with a unique opportunity to consider the role of happiness in wider questions of how we should lead our lives and treat one another—concerns that don’t often figure in today’s happiness equation. How should we pursue, weigh, value, or limit our own happiness, or that of others, now and in the future? Compelling and perceptive, Exploring Happiness shines a welcome new light on the heart of the human condition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
For as long as human beings have been capable of articulating needs beyond basic survival, one subject has occupied their thoughts perhaps more than any other: happiness. How do we achieve it? How do we maintain it? If it springs from deception (of self or others), as has been suggested, is it any less valid? Thinkers great and small have wrestled with questions such as these for millennia. Bok seeks to synthesize differing opinion and explore the many views on happiness-from philosophers to neuroscientists-and organizes her findings around themes such as luck, illusion, and transience. Happiness is such a subjective concept that it's difficult to imagine an author managing to even touch on it, let alone offer a comprehensive survey. Still, Bok culls a careful collection of thoughts into a surprisingly dense philosophical examination, chronicling what great thinkers have had to say about the subject. Though the title may suggest something from the self-help shelf, this is indeed an exploration, not a guide; readers who want help getting happy should look elsewhere.
Wall Street Journal

"It is hard to imagine how anyone else, in fewer than 200 pages of text, could better encompass so much Western thinking about a question so important to the way we live."—Wall Street Journal
Notre Dame Philosophical Review

“Very smart, sensitive, and thought-provoking. . . . This thoughtful, beautifully written book makes one feel one is present, conversing with the very best minds of the last 2500 years on one of the few philosophical problems that is of universal importance.”—Owen Flanagan, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

— Owen Flanagan

The Christian Century

"Sissela Bok offers a clear and engaging historical tour though dozens of competing philosophical renderings of happiness over the ages."—Timothy Renick, The Christian Century

— Timothy Renick

The American Scholar

"Happiness is complicated. And Bok elaborates its complications through labyrinthine pathways. . . . Exploring Happiness is an intellectual feast. . . . It is an invitation to turn to personal writing and reflection and to past thinkers from Goethe to Swedish feminist Ellen Key, who thought that happiness was the process of developing our capabilities. Exploring Happiness explores not only happiness but the question of how we should live our lives."—Priscilla Long, The American Scholar

— Priscilla Long

Richard Sennett

"Sissela Bok makes sense of happiness for adults: what sort of happiness we can seek, and what lies beyond our grasp. The book illuminates 'the pursuit of happiness' in modern economics, psychiatry, and philosophy, but she addresses, in the end, any intelligent reader. Sissela Bok writes so clearly and directly that the reader is often caught up short, suddenly realizing that her arguments are always provocations to think more deeply. This is a wise book."—Richard Sennett

Walter Isaacson

"What causes true happiness? From ancient philosophers to contemporary neuroscientists -- as well as any of us searching for how to lead a good life -- people have grappled with that most profound of all simple questions. Sissela Bok weaves together the different conceptions of happiness to create a shimmering and subtle tapestry. This book will take you a step closer to happiness by helping you understand the idea better."—Walter Isaacson, President and CEO, the Aspen Institute

Barbara Goldsmith

"A profound, erudite, and lucid exploration integrating a vast array of sources - personal, philosophical, historical, scientific and spiritual - that cohere to illuminate this elusive subject."—Barbara Goldsmith

Notre Dame Philosophical Review - Owen Flanagan

“Very smart, sensitive, and thought-provoking. . . . This thoughtful, beautifully written book makes one feel one is present, conversing with the very best minds of the last 2500 years on one of the few philosophical problems that is of universal importance.”—Owen Flanagan, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews
The Christian Century - Timothy Renick

"Sissela Bok offers a clear and engaging historical tour though dozens of competing philosophical renderings of happiness over the ages."—Timothy Renick, The Christian Century
The American Scholar - Priscilla Long

"Happiness is complicated. And Bok elaborates its complications through labyrinthine pathways. . . . Exploring Happiness is an intellectual feast. . . . It is an invitation to turn to personal writing and reflection and to past thinkers from Goethe to Swedish feminist Ellen Key, who thought that happiness was the process of developing our capabilities. Exploring Happiness explores not only happiness but the question of how we should live our lives."—Priscilla Long, The American Scholar
Philosophical Practice - Kathryn Russell

"[Bok] sets up a fascinating dialogue between insights from the history of philosophy and recent work in the social and natural sciences. . . . It will be a treasure for the philosophical counselor: in the classroom, for background reading and for work with clients. . . . authoritative, engagingly written, and thorough."—Kathryn Russell, Philosophical Practice
Choice - Choice Outstanding Academic Title: Philosophy

Selected as a Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2011 in the Philosophy category.
The Pharos - Stephen G. Post

“Bok’s best ever . . . [and] the best example of integrative scholarship on happiness to date. . . . Both the philosophy and the science are presented in a way that most lay readers will easily handle, and in her skillful, almost pastoral, style, Bok is able to make all this relevant to the lay reader on an existential level. It is possible to read this book and be transformed.”—Stephen G. Post, The Pharos
Library Journal
In this wide-ranging study, Bok (senior visiting fellow, Harvard Ctr. for Population & Development Studies: Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life) endeavors to survey happiness from a variety of perspectives rather than to advance an overarching thesis about it. A well-known moral philosopher, she discusses experiences of people who have described being happy, reflections of philosophers about happiness, and experimental results of brain scientists and psychologists who have studied happiness. She often talks about Robert Nozick's posited Experience Machine, a device programmed to give us any experiences we want. Like Nozick, she thinks that experience—the "inside" dimension of life—is by itself inadequate. Among the scientific investigations that interest Bok are attempts to measure happiness and studies of the "hedonic treadmill," i.e., the tendency to keep one's level of happiness constant while responding only briefly to the ups and downs of life. Bok argues that the pursuit of happiness should not be all consuming. People need to limit the search for happiness by moral constraints. Like Kant, she places particular emphasis on truthfulness. VERDICT Bok's fluently written book is an outstanding guide to a topic sure to interest the general reader as well as specialists in philosophy, psychology, and brain science.—David Gordon, Bowling Green State Univ., OH

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780300168433
Publisher:
Yale University Press
Publication date:
08/20/2010
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
File size:
2 MB

What People are saying about this

Richard Sennett
Sissela Bok makes sense of happiness for adults: what sort of happiness we can seek, and what lies beyond our grasp. The book illuminates 'the pursuit of happiness' in modern economics, psychiatry, and philosophy, but she addresses, in the end, any intelligent reader. Sissela Bok writes so clearly and directly that the reader is often caught up short, suddenly realizing that her arguments are always provocations to think more deeply. This is a wise book.(Richard Sennett)
Walter Isaacson
What causes true happiness? From ancient philosophers to contemporary neuroscientists — as well as any of us searching for how to lead a good life — people have grappled with that most profound of all simple questions. Sissela Bok weaves together the different conceptions of happiness to create a shimmering and subtle tapestry. This book will take you a step closer to happiness by helping you understand the idea better." - Walter Isaacson, President and CEO, the Aspen Institute
Barbara Goldsmith
A profound, erudite, and lucid exploration integrating a vast array of sources - personal, philosophical, historical, scientific and spiritual - that cohere to illuminate this elusive subject." - Barbara Goldsmith

Meet the Author


Sissela Bok is Senior Visiting Fellow at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, and a moral philosopher of international renown. A former member of the Pulitzer Prize Board, Bok is a Fellow of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, and sits on the editorial boards of the Bulletin of the World Health Organization, Common Knowledge, and Ethical Theory and Moral Practice. Her many books include the seminal Lying, Secrets, A Strategy for Peace, Mayhem, and Common Values. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Exploring Happiness: From Aristotle to Brain Science 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Recommend it to everyone searching for an applicable understanding if happiness