PHIL 255(F) Knowledge and Happiness

Can you be genuinely happy even if you are mistaken about your deepest beliefs? It might seem so: imagine that everything you believed turned out to be illusory. The association of happiness with knowledge runs deep in the western philosophical tradition, reaching back at least to Socrates, and still resonates with some of our strongest intuitions about what gives life meaning. At the same time, this Socratic tradition has inspired a long and rich sceptical counter-tradition according to which human happiness consists in relinquishing the attempt to acquire knowledge and instead making peace with the fact that all we will ever know is how things appear to us. The sceptical tradition also appeals to some of our deepest intuitions-about human fallibility and the tenuousness of our grasp of things of fundamental importance. In this course we will study a range of philosophical and literary works from within both of these traditions with the aim of enriching our own sense of the place of certainty, rational conviction and trust in the pursuit of happiness. Authors will include Plato, Sextus Empiricus, Montaigne, Descartes, Hume, Mill, Chekhov, Martin Luther King Jr., Annette Baier, Sissela Bok, Iris Murdoch, Thomas Nagel, Robert Pirsig. Format: lecture/discussion. Requirements: several short papers with rewrites, presentation, final exam. No prerequisites. Enrollment limit: 10 (expected: 5-10). Preference given to sophomores and first-year students. This course is part of the Critical Reasoning and Analytical Skills initiative.