Gary Gutting on happiness, philosophy, and science

Update: If you found my website by way of Arts and Letters Daily and if you’re interested in learning more about philosophical counseling in general or my philosophy practice in particular, you might try taking the following path:

First, “On Prescribing Aristotle: Show Transcript and Clarifications”;

Second, “A Few Essays on Philosophy as a Way of Life”;

Third, “Toward an Alternative Business Model for Philosophical Counseling”

And feel free to drop me a note with further questions you might have.

In his New York Times blog “Happiness, Philosophy, and Science,” Gary Gutting suggests that empirical investigations can’t answer philosophical questions. Philosophy must come first. For

Even if empirical investigation could discover the full range of possible conceptions of happiness, there would still remain the question of which conception we ought to try to achieve.  Here we have a question of values that empirical inquiry alone is unable to decide without appeal to philosophical thinking.

In consequence,

Psychologists should recognize this and give up the pretension that empirical investigations alone can answer the big questions about happiness.  Philosophers and other humanists, in turn, should be happy to welcome psychologists into their world.

I have no truck with Gutting’s defense of conceptual analysis. In fact, I agree with him and applaud his effort. Our conceptions of happiness ought to be disentangled and understood before we can proceed with our empirical investigations. I wonder, though, whether conceptual analysis is sufficient; I don’t think it is. And I don’t think it is because we live with and live out certain conceptions of happiness. Hence, theoretical insight into what and how we’re living out a certain conception or set of conceptions must be matched with strenuously retraining ourselves (ascesis) to live out better ones. Meaning what we say occurs simultaneously with meaning what we do.

Further Reading

Andrew Taggart, “Is Therapy a Waste of Time (and Money)?”