The Rationality of Happiness

South African Journal of Philosophy 23 (4):375-382 (2004)
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Abstract

In his recent book, Happiness: personhood, community, purpose, Pedro Tabensky answers the question of what happiness is. He develops an Aristotelian account of happiness that, he claims, is every one's maximally rational ideal. Much of the support for this claim rests on what Tabensky calls the method of critical introspection. This method involves introspecting on the kind of beings that we are and the kind of lives we can thus lead. If properly carried out, Tabensky claims, critical introspection will reveal to any individual that the active life of virtue is in fact the maximally rational ideal. I argue that two features of Tabensky's account undermine this claim. The first is his account of the method of critical introspection itself. The second is his account of the nature and acquisition of virtue developed in his analogy between living and painting, and in his discussion of the eudaimon community. Tabensky's account of critical introspection carried out at the general level of persons shows only that it works negatively to identify the kind of lives we could not lead as persons. It does not function positively to reveal that the maximally rational life for any person is the active exercise of virtue. Tabensky does suggest that the method carried out by particular individuals will reveal the kind of life they should be leading. However, it follows from Tabensky's account of the nature and acquisition of virtue, I argue, that critical introspection can only reveal the active life of virtue to be the maximally rational ideal for those individuals who have had the right sort of upbringing in the right sort of community. S. Afr. J. Philos. Vol.23(4) 2004: 375-382

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