The Good Life (Spring 2010) - Syllabus

The Good Life: Well-Being and Meaning

PHIL 2921 | CRN 092211 | TR 11:00-12:20 | Room: Anderson Hall 622 | Spring 2010

Course Syllabus

Instructor: Dr. Aaron Smuts | | office hours: 746 Anderson Hall, 2:15-3:00 R


This class will focus on one of the most fundamental questions in moral philosophy: What makes a life good for the one who lives it? To answer this question is to provide a theory of well-being. We will study four different types of answers: Hedonism (pleasure), Preferentism (desire-satisfaction), Perfectionism (perfecting human nature), and Objective List theories. The readings will come from a mix of classical and contemporary sources. In addition to philosophy, we will read some work from psychology and economics. We'll be thinking about experience machines, deceived business men, porky pig, sadistic killers of children, ascetic hermits, evil universes, grass counters, strangers on trains, drug addicts, and James Dean. Along the way we explore several related issues. Is there anything common to the experiences that we call "pleasures"? Is death bad for the one who dies? Can you can be harmed after your death? Can one have a good but meaningless life? What is the meaning of life? Is it better to die in the prime of life than after a period of moderate decline?


There are eight required texts for this course:

  1. E. D. Klemke (Editor), Steven M. Cahn (Editor). The Meaning of Life: A Reader. Oxford UP, 2007. ISBN 0195327306.
  2. Steven M. Cahn (Editor), Christine Vitrano (Editor). Happiness: Classic and Contemporary Readings in Philosophy. Oxford UP, 2007. ISBN 0195321405.
  3. Fred Feldman. Pleasure and the Good Life: Concerning the Nature, Varieties, and Plausibility of Hedonism. Oxford UP, 2006. ISBN 0199297606. [PGL]

I will post numerous additional readings on Blackboard. [BB]


There will be three forms of coursework: (best 20 out of 27) daily quizzes, two papers, and two examinations. I will give a short quiz at the beginning of each class that will require one or two sentence answers. Early in the semester there will be a very short (1 page) paper. This will be used to help improve your philosophical writing. There will be two 5 page papers on assigned topics. There will also be a take-home mid-term and a take-home final examination.

Quizzes (10%) + Paper 1 (5%) + Paper 2 (15%) + Paper 3 (25%) + midterm (20%) + final (25%).

Attendance Policy

If you miss 6 or more classes, you will receive a 0 for your quiz grade. If you miss 12 or more classes, you will receive an F for the course.

Academic Honesty

Plagiarism—claiming someone else’s ideas or written work as your own—will not be tolerated. Anyone caught cheating will be given a failing grade in the course.

Class Schedule (tentative)

Topic I The Concept of the Good Life

Week 1

T (1/19): C1: Introduction; Epictetus, "The Handbook" [BB]; Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil #200 [BB]

R (1/21): C2: Feldman, "The Quest for the Good Life" [PGL, ch. 1, pp. 1-21]; Diener, Wirtz, and Oishi, "The James Dean Effect" [BB]

Week 2

T (1/26): C3: Sumner, "The Concept of Welfare" [BB, WHE, ch. 1, pp. 1-26]; Optional: Haybron, "What Do We Want from a Theory of Happiness?" [BB]

Topic II Hedonism

R (1/28): C4: Feldman, "Hedonism: A Preliminary Formulation" [PGL, ch. 2, pp. 21-38]

Week 3

T (2/2): C5: Mill, "What Utilitarianism Is" [Cahn and Vitrano, pp. 121-133]; Homer, "Circe's Pigs" (from bk. 10 of the Odyssey) [BB]

R (2/4): C6: Nozick, "The Experience Machine" [Cahn and Vitrano, pp. 236-238]; Nozick, "Happiness" [BB]

Week 4

T (2/09): C7: Feldman, "Classic Objections to Hedonism" [PGL, ch. 3, pp. 38-52]

R (2/11): C8: Feldman, "Attitudinal Hedonism" [PGL, ch. 4, pp. 55-79]

Paper I Due (1 page)

Week 5

T (2/16): C9: Epicurus, "Letter to Menoeceus" [BB]; Feldman, "Epicurus and the Evil of Death" [BB]

R (2/18): C10: Sumner, "Hedonism" [WHE, ch. 4, pp.81-113]; Feldman, "Replies to Some Objections" [PGL, ch. 5, pp. 108-123]

Week 6

T (2/23): C11: Kahneman, "Objective Happiness" [BB]

R (2/25): C12: Kupperman, "Myth One" [Six Myths, pp. 1-22] | Optional: Haybron, "Why Hedonism is False" [Cahn and Vitrano, pp. 173-179]

Topic III Preferentism

Week 7

T (3/2): C13: Sumner, "The Desire Theory" [WHE, ch. 5, pp. 113-138]

R (3/4): C14: Heathwood, "Desire Satisfaction and Hedonism" [BB]

Week 8

Spring Break (3/8-3/12)

Week 9

T (3/16): C15: Smuts, "The Feels Good Theory of Pleasure" [BB] | Optional: Feldman, "Reflections on the Attitudinal/Sensory Distinction" [PGL, ch. 4, pp. 79-91]; Optional: Heathwood, "The Reduction of Sensory Pleasure to Desire" [BB]

R (3/18): C16: Luper, “Posthumous Harm” [BB] | Optional: Pitcher, “The Misfortunes of the Dead” [BB]

Paper II Due (5 pages)

Week 10

T (3/23): C17: Carson, "The Desire/Preference-Satisfaction Theory of Value" [BB]

R (3/25): C18: Parfit, "What Makes Someone's Life Go Best" [BB]

Topic IV Perfectionism and Objective List Theories

Week 11

T (3/30): C19: Aristotle, The Nicomachaen Ethics [Cahn and Vitrano, pp. 19-34]; Kupperman, "Myth Two" [Six Myths, pp. 22-45]

R (4/1): C20: Kraut, "Two Conceptions of Happiness" [Cahn and Vitrano, pp. 201-222]

Midterm Due

Week 12

T (4/6): C21: Sumner, "Objective Theories" [WHE, ch. 3, pp. 45-81]; Brave New World (excerpt) [BB]

Topic V Well-being and the Meaning of life

R (4/8): C22: Sumner, "Welfare and Happiness" [BB, WHE, ch. 6, pp. 138-184]

Week 13

T (4/13): C23: Taylor, "The Meaning of Life" [Klemke and Cahn, pp. 134-143]

R (4/15): C24:Wolf, "Happiness and Meaning: Two Aspects of the Good Life" [BB]; Optional: Cahn, "Meaningless Lives" [Klemke and Cahn, pp. 236-238]

Week 14

T (4/20): C25: Kagan, "The Limits of Well-being" [BB]; Kagan, "Me and My Life" [BB]

Paper III Due (5 pages)

R (4/22): C26: Victor Frankl, "Logotherapy in a Nutshell" (Man's Search for Meaning) [BB]

Week 15

T (4/27): C27: Nagel, "The Absurd" [Klemke and Cahn, pp. 143-153]

R (4/29): C28: Kaufman, "Death" [BB]; Optional: Kaufman, "Death Without Dread" [BB]

End of Classes

Week 16 (Final exam week)