Professor Antti Kauppinen: The pursuit of happiness does not result in happiness

20.11.2018
It is the duty of philosophers to keep on reiterating that there are no easy answers to big questions. Happiness is not only joy and laughter, and questions of right and wrong cannot be approached without considering our emotions.

What is right? What is good?

These are big questions. And they are far from simple, says Antti Kauppinen, a new professor of social and moral philosophy.

“Emotions greatly influence our notions of right and wrong, which may not always be a bad thing. It only means that to avoid moral errors, we must learn to regulate our emotions.”

As an example, Kauppinen mentions an experiment conducted in Israel where two groups of research subjects were shown photographs of acts by Palestinians and Israelis, asking them to assess their justification.

One of the groups was also given additional instructions: they were asked to study the photos from the perspective of an impartial observer.

“The results between the two groups differed clearly. Those steered towards the role of an unbiased observer considered the acts by Palestinians more justified than those taking a more personal view. They were also more prepared to make greater concessions to make peace.”

Kauppinen emphasises the importance of emotions also to the wellbeing and happiness of individuals. He thinks we view happiness too often in a superficial manner, highlighting enjoyment and happy thoughts, which, in the end, are only the tip of the iceberg. What matters more are the emotions and experiences below the surface.

“As a student, I viewed Seinfeld, the sitcom, from beginning to end at one go when my girlfriend broke up with me. The show was funny, I enjoyed watching it, I laughed, but in reality I was unhappy,” Kauppinen explains.

“From a narrow hedonistic point of view, viewing the show made me happier. A closer look, however, reveals that that was really not the case. My happiness only returned after a change of scenery and after finding a new circle of friends among whom I once again felt at home.”

Kauppinen does not believe that the mere pursuit of happiness can result in happiness. Other goals and challenges are also needed to make life meaningful.

It is the duty of philosophy to fight against bullshit.

Philosophy rarely offers unambiguous answers. Instead of finding definitive answers, it is more important to formulate creative and precise arguments.

“Personally, I think it is the duty of philosophy to fight against bullshit. By bullshit I mean thinking that doesn't care for the truth. Philosophers must identify such talk and point it out whenever claims no longer hold water.”

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