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Saint Mary’s club hosts renowned philosopher

Alicia Smith | Friday, March 19, 2010

Goodness and happiness are in conflict, Alasdair MacIntyre, the John A. O’Brien senior research professor of philosophy at Notre Dame, said Thursday.

MacIntyre visited Saint Mary’s College as a guest lecturer on the invitation of the Philosophy Club.

In a lecture titled “Happiness and Goodness,” MacIntyre spoke about the ways in which humans can live a happy life and a good life.

“People constantly offer us happiness,” MacIntyre said. “Sometimes people who are in love with us promise to make us happy. Politicians often promise to make us happy.”

MacIntyre defined which terms should be used when speaking about what it means to be happy.

“The concept that I’m going to talk about is the concept that gets expressed when someone tells you that they’re happy, meaning that they feel good about themselves,” he said. “They feel good about their lives.”

After defining which phrases can be used to describe happiness, MacIntyre discussed whether or not sources that make humans happy exist.

“It may be the case that with which we are pleased, delighted or satisfied is something that exists in the real world,” MacIntyre said.

MacIntyre also discussed how to interpret what happiness means.

“When people tell us that they’re happy with their lives, it’s very much a matter of what they think the range of possible alternatives are for better,” MacIntyre said.

MacIntyre explained the language used when judgments are made about the ideas of good and bad.

According to MacIntyre, humans can be good when they understand how to integrate other aspects of goodness into their lives.

“Human beings, that is to say, can be good in a wide variety of ways,” he said. “And we do have criteria for how to be a good friend, or being good at tennis, or being a good worker or being a good sibling, the list goes on.”

MacIntyre then explained that goodness and happiness can conflict.

“Caring about something or caring about somebody means that when things go wrong for that person, you feel badly about it and you act differently as a result,” he said.

He discussed how humans must be sympathetic, vulnerable, truthful, trustful and have self-knowledge in order to be a good person. With these traits, he said humans will find conflict existing between happiness and goodness.

“It therefore follows that in a characteristic human life … people will have good reason to be unhappy a great deal of the time,” MacIntyre said. “A good life would be one in which both happiness and unhappiness find a place, the right place.”