Critical Thinking as Productive Questions

1. Is loyalty to "happiness" as an objective anything but an excuse not to think carefully about human purposes?

2. Does not our failure to ask "achieved how?" or "So as to be able to _____________?" suggest an emptiness to the word as ordinarily used?

3. Are we beguiled by "the smile" to think that something positive about human functioning is implied by that facial feature?


One of my doctors tells me all she wants for her 19 year old daughter is for her to be happy.

Someone just walked by where my wife and I are working and addressed us as if we were suffering from a devastating malady: "Why don't the 2 of you come into the bar and get happy?"

Gurus offer their mentoring services to teach us the universal laws of nature that will provide us happiness from within.

Are these people really wishing for the rest of us a life fed by an ongoing injection of pleasure units, regardless of how the units are produced? Is the following picture what we are supposedly in dire need of locating?

I assume some would respond to my questions by saying "well, we do not wish to be in pain or to be traumatized by fear."  Of course, we don't. But we in no manner define a purpose for living by saying what we do not wish for. There are many non-painful, non-fearful pursuits that arguably chart a course for a good life, almost regardless of how you define such a mouthful.

In addition, we all know that the fruits of discomfort can be among the most valuable of life experiences. Many of us may have grumbled and resisted parental attempts to assist our development as a musician, artist, intellectual, but had we relented and followed their advice, we could have shared the ecstasy of creativity and wisdom that greets such endeavors. Perhaps we would not have been smiling all the time; much in the world should not be greeted with a smile unless one is cruel or inane. But we would, by pushing ourselves in directions we would at one level prefer not to approach, enter the threshold of decisions and achievements that comes from reaching higher than we thought people like us could ever extend.

Anyone tempted to be a disciple of happiness as the epitome of human accomplishment must be aghast at the huge array of alternative definitions of happiness.

In other words, when someone urges us to be happy, the reply should be "so that what happens?" The behavior associated with a definition of happiness tells us a great deal about whether we wish for more or less of that type of happiness. To make the point, consider someone who claims to be at his most happy when producing unimaginable pain in the mind of the person he is torturing. Nothing is gained analytically by saying such a person is sick or crazy. If happiness is a subjective state, and that is the approach people seem to take most frequently, then one person's sickness can well be for another the source of a huge smile.

1. What does it tell us about human cognition that we are so easily seduced to use vague abstractions as answers to some of our most perplexing questions?

2. Are huge proportions of humans content to see pleasure seeking as the ultimate source of what they call "happiness?"

3. What are the social dangers of a society's tolerance for any definition of happiness that a person might have?     


AuthorM Neil Browne