A Brief History of Happiness (Anglais) Broché – 8 février 2006
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Revue de presse
"A valuable aid to the flourishing literature on happiness and its history."
"Nicholas White offers a brisk, informative, and readable account of various attempts, throughout the Western philosophical tradition, to articulate the meaning of that elusive term ′happiness.′" Review of Metaphysics
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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur Amazon.com (beta)
First of all, this book isn't really "a brief history of happiness." Rather, it's an exploration of what Western philosophers have had to say about happiness, especially ancient Greeks and Romans. This limitation of course leaves a lot out, including both non-Western philosophy as well as ideas from outside of philosophy, so I think the book's title overpromises and is misleading.
My second complaint is that White's writing style is repetitive and unnecessarily overcomplicates matters, and thus demonstrates why so many people who search for wisdom are turned off by academic philosophy, especially the analytic approach which is evident in this book.
My third and most important complaint is that White's conclusion is anti-climactic and ultimately unhelpful, and thus reading the book turns out to be largely a waste of time. If I understand him correctly, his conclusion is that Western philosophers have been unable to propose an understanding of the concept of happiness which could gain even a smidgen of consensus, and thus there has also been no consensus on how the happiness of a life should be evaluated, nor how happiness can best be attained. This raises the question of whether "happiness" is even a reasonable goal, given the apparent conflicts between the plurality and incommensurability of our various aims, intrapsychic harmony versus creative tension, tranquility/indifference versus engagement/attachment, contemplation (theory) versus action (practice), moment-to-moment versus time-aggregated happiness, happiness versus morality/virtue, and happiness of one person versus another.
In other words, the implication of White's conclusion is that happiness eludes us because we're simultaneously being pushed and pulled in many directions, and we have no reliable criteria with which we can decide which way to go. This means that what we're really wrestling with is the question of the meaning and purpose of our lives. Other than very briefly touching on a few Christian perspectives, White is essentially silent on this underlying and all-important question, so the book ultimately fails to get to the heart of the matter.
Maybe I can best sum up the book by quoting White himself (p. 15): "Philosophers' concrete advice about how to become happy isn't any better (in fact, it's probably worse) than that of the average person." That conclusion may not apply to all philosophers, but it certainly applies to this book.