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Life's ValuesReview - Life's Values
Pleasure, Happiness, Well-Being, and Meaning
by Alan H. Goldman
Oxford University Press, 2019
Review by Kamuran Elbeyoğlu
Sep 17th 2019 (Volume 23, Issue 38)

The meaning of life is an everlasting question searched by both philosophers since Ancient times and recently psychologists and great many people throughout our times. Alan Goldman in this intuitive book tackles the meaning of life through its connection with pleasure, happiness and well-being. Pleasure and happiness has been in the agenda of most philosophers and psychologist written on well-being and meaning of life, because since Ancient times these concepts have been conceptualized as having strong ties to what a good life consists of.

Alan Goldman in Life's Values Pleasure, Happiness, Well-Being, and Meaning sets to explore if pleasure, happiness, and meaning are what we seek in life and what we ought to seek. He tackles on the question that being in a state of happiness, or being pleased about something is the same as being what happiness or pleasure is. But, by contrast, well-being is the all-inclusive category of personal value, what by definition we must, if rational, be motivated to pursue. Therefore, throughout this book, he tries to clarify the complex relations between these four categories by providing an analysis to indicate why and how we are motivated to pursue the states in question.

Accordingly, the book is divided into four main chapters, each one is devoted to one category, namely pleasure, happiness, well-being and meaning in life. These chapters are combined under the common theme that he mainly pursues throughout the book, which is the search for what has ultimate subjective value and what we must rationally be motivated to pursue. For this reason, he provides in each chapter a session on motivation and value.

In the first chapter on pleasure, he distinguishes three irreducible types or senses of pleasure, namely sensory, intentional and a hybrid pleasure, in his words, between the other two more common kinds. This third type of pleasure is akin to sensational pleasure as an overall good feeling, but differs from it by having no specific bodily location and also akin to intentional pleasure as having an object, but differs from it by being the most rarely experienced. He states that this third kind of pleasure is what philosophers had in mind in thinking of pleasure as a unitary phenomenon and in identifying it with happiness. But he argues against happiness being a feeling, as it includes a judgment, usually implicit, that one's life is going well.

He begins the chapter on happiness by distinguishing two common accounts of happiness in the philosophical literature as a judgment of satisfaction with one's life or as a balance of positive over negative feelings or emotional states. He aims to incorporate the sound features of these accounts by arguing that happiness in its primary sense is an emotion having a multi-component structure, including physical symptoms, judgment, sensation, and behavioral-dispositional components, similar to other emotions, and secondarily an attitude, mood, or temperament. He states that this account of happiness as an emotion places the value of happiness and its place in our motivations in proper perspective. But in his view happiness, like pleasure, is not the whole of well-being, while it is at once a source, an effect, and a partial constituent of well-being.

The chapter on well-being, is a defense of what he calls, a desire satisfaction account, against hedonism (identifying wellbeing with a balance of pleasure), perfectionism (identifying well-being with the full development of human capacities), and objective list accounts (specifying objective sources of well-being). In his account well-being is the all-inclusive category of personal value or welfare. Equating well-being with happiness or pleasure focuses on sources of well-being instead of revealing what it is. Since on the account he defends, wellbeing is getting what a person rationally desires. He states that "in pursuing our rational aims, we are pursuing the good life for us" (p. 72). He rests his account on a tight link between well-being and our motivation to pursue it.

Goldman begins the final chapter on meaning in life noting other philosophers, such as Susan Wolf, also recognize that meaning in life is distinct from pleasure and happiness and that we must seek the meaning of meaningful lives elsewhere than in pleasure, happiness, or well-being. But he states that these philosophers speak instead of individuals' meaningful lives, or of meaning in life, meaning within lives that might or might not be instantiated in individual lives. But when they switch to this individual perspective, what they posit as meaning is not what older philosophers meant, which was closely related to meaning in its more common forms. They instead tend to equate meaning in life with value or importance, that is, they change the subject.

To remedy the confusion about the meaning in life he proposes proposing an account of meaning in life that has everything in common with meaning in its ordinary sense. He argues that lives are meaningful when filled with meaningful events, and that events in lives are meaningful in their ordinary way by fitting into broader coherent narratives. Meaning in this sense is always a three-term relation: something means something else to someone. Lives are meaningful when events within them bear such relations, partly temporal and causal, partly interpretive. Events bear such relations when they cohere within intelligible narratives.

At the end of the chapter of the meaning in life, with so nicely intertwined arguments he shows us that pleasure, happiness, and meaning are all typical sources or components of well-being, but only because they are rationally desired by us, given the way we are. To clarify his throughout analysis of well-being and meaning in life in terms of the satisfaction of rational desires he also offers an appendix on the nature of desire.

This is a wonderful book and really better than any self-help book written elsewhere, because he shows us in a most imaginative way that we don't need to have any eschatological narrative into which our lives jointly fit and which gives them common purpose and meaning; all we need to do is to focus in the meaningful events that filled our lives to find meaning in our lives.  This book is a valuable handbook for any lay person who wants to find a meaning in his/her life, and has not found the clue for how to pursue it elsewhere. It is also a useful tool for students and scholars especially in philosophy and psychology. I believe it will be a very useful tool for classroom discussions from any introductory course in psychology and philosophy to ethics, metaphysics, psychological and philosophical counseling,

 

 © 2019 Kamuran Elbeyoğlu

 

Kamuran Elbeyoğlu (Prof. Dr.), Toros University, School of Business Administration and Social Sciences, Department of Psychology, Yenisehir, 33140 Mersin, Turkey.


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