The Happy Immoralist?

In this assignment cycle, we will extend the lessons on argumentation to consider strong evidence. It will be of particular interest to examine evidence in the context of beliefs and values, where often people believe without much supporting evidence. In terms of structure, we will continue to target matters of organization, and will delve more deeply into the psychological origins of theories of good paragraphs, and will consider what makes for great introductions and conclusions.


Required Reading (on Blackboard):

  • “Happiness and Immorality,” in Exploring Ethics: An Introductory Anthology, 83-89.
  • 2-3 scholarly sources of your own choosing
  • contemporary example (optional)



In the last assignment, we considered the morality of persuasion. When is it right to use coercive pressure on another person or group? In the process, we began to encounter questions about ethics, or what is right or ought to be done as a necessary component of such decisions.


In this assignment, we will consider questions about what ought to be done more directly. If, according to Aristotle, the greatest end we seek is happiness, how should we live in order to achieve it? What values will send us on the right path? Should we focus on the pleasures of the moment, for example, or act with careful regard to principles in the hope of more lasting rewards? Knowing that there are moral principles we can choose to follow, can we still be happy if we choose to ignore them, or if we mistakenly choose the wrong principles to live by? These questions will necessarily take us through questions of philosophical, psychological, and religious discussions of happiness, and you’re invited to narrow your consideration based on your own preferred approach.


Having read the assigned chapter, and consulted scholarly work related to your topic, please respond to the following prompt in an essay of approximately 5 double-spaced pages:


Can the immoral person be happy?


Further questions:

  1. Another way to ask this could be, is it only the principled person that can be happy? To answer this, it might be helpful to evaluate a question some of you encountered in the first essay, namely whether morality can be established as a universal rule or guide. If morality is culture-specific, for example, does it make any sense to say that any moral principle is true? If not, why would it make sense to follow principles at all? For more on this, see in the same collection Rachels, “The Challenge of Cultural Relativism,” pp. 54-66. Likewise, if people are naturally self-interested, why would it make sense to follow principles that aren’t in our best interests? For more on this, see in the same collection “Egoism and Moral Skepticism,” pp. 71-82.


  1. Another closely related question we began to encounter in the last assignment was, should right and wrong be judged by principles (Immanuel Kant’s view), or by results (utilitarian viewpoint—Bentham and Mill)? If you want to argue for immorality leading to happiness you could challenge the Kantian position for the primacy of principles. See in the same collection pp. 98-134.


  1. What have philosophers, psychologists, and religious figures said about happiness? The required essay provides a jumping-off place, but you’re encouraged to explore this through independent research. Do not attempt to cover all of these perspectives, rather choose what most appeals to you!


  1. As you consider why this question matters, you might wish to consider what contemporary culture has to say about such questions. Do contemporary examples reflect ancient views on happiness? You might wish to include an analysis of how a particular T.V. show, movie, story, video game, musical, etc. depicts its answer to this question.


Tentative schedule (refer to Blackboard for the most up-to-date information on assignments):


Feb. 24: WP-2 due. Introduce WP-3. Assign groups for presentations.

HW: Read the assigned source for your group, prepare notes/ideas for in-class presentation with your group on 3/3.


Feb. 27: Discussion of your source with your group. Paragraphing.

HW: Finalize Presentation for in-class delivery


Mar. 1: AWA-5 In-class presentations.

AWA-6 Reflection on in-class exercise. Write a brief paragraph (you’re welcome to use the They Say/I Say template or any other format that might be helpful) to respond to the ideas presented in class. Which ones best represent your own? Do they give a beginning sense as to how you might respond to the prompt?


Mar. 3: Introductions and Conclusions

HW: Read “Happiness and Immorality” (on Blackboard), taking careful notes. Identify a contemporary example that sheds light on the assignment question.


Mar. 6: Free writing and discussion of contemporary examples.

HW: craft a tentative thesis for this assignment.


Mar. 8: (Re)Orientation to library research

AWA-7: Define happiness in a well-conceived paragraph, using the assistance of your outside research. Continue outside research and note-taking. Revise your thesis for in-class review.


Mar. 10: Discussion of assignment. Critique of sample writing, including peer review of thesis statements.


[Mar. 20: Class canceled for conferences]


Mar. 22: Peer review in small groups


Mar. 24: Peer Review continued


Mar. 27: WP-3 due!

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