Life Studies Blog (Old)

January 15, 2006

Sense of happiness and mood-brightening drug (Prozac etc) (by M)

The President's Council led by Leon Kass discusses the topic of "happy souls" in their report Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness (2003). This discussion constitutes, probably, the most significant part of this report. I am not sure who wrote this part. I presume that Kass himself wrote it, but other council members might have written or added something.

They talk about the drugs that can delete unpleasant memories, or can provide us with happy feelings. While the former drug has not been developed yet, the latter one already exists, namely, such "selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)" as Prozac, Paxil, etc.
Concerning memory-blunting drugs, Report concludes:

To have only happy memories would be a blessing—and a curse. Nothing would trouble us, but we would be probably be shallow people... In the end, to have only happy memories is not to be happy in a truly human way. It is simply to be free of misery—an understandable desire given the many troubles of life, but a low aspiration for those who seek a truly human happiness. (p.234)

And concerning mood-brightening drugs, Report distinguishes "the sense of feeling of well-being" from "well-being itself," and then concludes that acquiring the former does not necessarily lead to the latter, because these two are completely different from each other. Report admits that this kind of drug sometimes give depressed people the power and courage to live & survive, however:

While such drugs often make things better—they often help individuals achieve some measure of the happiness they desire—taking such drugs may also leave many of the same individuals wondering whether their newfound happiness is fully their own—and in this sense, fully real. ... It is even more pertinent, and more disquieting, should one come to feel happy for no good reason at all, or happy even when there remains much in one's life to be truly unhappy about. (p.255)

I think they have succeeded in pointing out an important philosophical question, that is, "What is the difference between 'the sense of happiness' and 'happiness itself'?" And they seem to conclude that happiness itself needs the (long and winding) "process" through which we can finally reach the state of happiness where we can enjoy the sense of happiness. Intuitively, I believe their idea is right, but I am not satisfied with their explanation in their report.

What if someone says, "I don't need any process. What I need is the sense of happiness, and that's all. Period," then what Kass would reply to that person? Is his answer, "You are a shallow person"?

I don't mean to offend Kass and his colleagues. What I want to do is to think about this important philosophical question more deeply. We need "philosophy of life."

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  • Dear Masahiro, you have a sense of importnat and interesting questions. drugs that influence our mental condition, are used in psychiatry, but uncommon for normal people. I see at all the use of happy making drugs sceptical. But I would not wonder when one would announce I have found the right drug for not ending and deep happiness and would make a lot of money with it. Is our life not becoming so artificial? That´s the question I ask myself, and is unhappiness not an experience that lead us to change our life to a better way? That´s also a question.
    And what is with forcing unhappy people of taking drugs that make them happy? Are we here not confronted with a deep ethical problem? a nice day I wish you, Harry

    By Blogger harrys zen, at 1:09 AM, January 27, 2006  

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