We kicked off our first full week of class by discussing whether we can learn to live well in the same way we might learn differential equations or how to perform the perfect backswing. We saw that Aristotle answered this question with a decisive ‘yes!’. As Aristotle saw it, we must do three things in order to live a good life. First, we have to form the right habits. Second, we have to actually DO things (as opposed to merely develop theories of happiness). And third, we have to establish the right friends, friends who can help us examine our lives and decide whether we are living as we ought to live. Aristotle acknowledged that the pursuit of happiness is complicated by the fact that there are different kinds of happiness and that some forms of happiness are worth pursing more than others. Thus he advised that we be careful to pursue the right kind of happiness.
Having taken time to understand Aristotle’s view, we turned to debating whether his view was any good. We considered objections to the idea that our friends can instruct us in living well. We wondered whether there can be happiness experts in the way that there are tax experts or medical experts. If not, then we should be skeptical of Aristotle’s claim that we will need to consult friends in order to live well in the same way we need to consult tax accountants in order to file our taxes properly. And finally, in addition to questioning whether happiness experts exist, we questioned whether universities and the individuals that make them up should be viewed as something of happiness experts. Should universities be viewed as engaged in the project of instructing students in living well in the same way they are engaged in the project of instructing students in things like differential equations and accounting? Many people say yes.
What do you think? Watch the replay of the class lecture and begin considering the issues for yourself!