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8: Love and Happiness

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  • In this chapter we will begin to study things that matter, things that are important. We have had brief passing encounters with ethical issues in prior chapters, but beginning with this chapter and for the remainder of this text we will be concerned with issues that are, at least broadly speaking, ethical. We will begin with the things that matter to us individually, the things we love. Of course, different people love different things, people, and activities, so our starting point has to do with things that are good in a highly subjective way. But after thinking some about the nature of love, we will turn our attention to the good life later in this chapter. It’s tempting to think that happiness and the good life are, like love, highly subjective. But notice that we can love, prefer, and pursue things that are also quite self-destructive. Between love and happiness it is quite possible for us to be at odds with ourselves. Indeed, this is the stuff of tragedy. So perhaps what will make us happy and lead to a flourishing life isn’t so subjective after all.

    In subsequent chapters we’ll examine the nature of morality generally, some theories of morally good action, and finally social justice. It might be tempting to think we move from the more to the less subjective in this sequence of topics. But subjectivity and objectivity are not the organizing principle I have in mind in taking things in this order. Rather, our own sphere of concern, what matters to us or what we love can be more narrowly focused on our subjective desires or it can encompass a broader realms beginning with our own well being and proceeding to concern for others, respect for persons generally, and ultimately concern for the various often nested communities we are part of, all the way from the homeowners association up to the biosphere. Maturing as a person likewise involves moving beyond the narcissistic self-centered sphere of concern we have as infants and towards an appropriately broader sphere of concern. Our introduction to ethics is organized around a view developing as a person towards moral maturity to be largely a matter of successively expanding our sphere of personal concern. We will take up topics in ethics roughly after the pattern of the developmental stages towards moral maturity.

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