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The Pursuit of Happiness

November 9, 2010

Throughout this course, we have studied what it takes to successfully govern the people. We have been taught theories, ideas, concepts, and methods presented by different philosophers in order to explain just what it means to provide structure and order for millions of people searching for “the good life”. The concept of the good life is simple enough in theory.  It is a life in which a person is free to live without fear of oppression or persecution.  Though never devout of hardship, it is a life that holds purpose, meaning, and ultimately brings happiness to those who pursue it.  But happiness is a subjective word.  Ask a million people how they define it and you will get a million different answers.  This being said, how does one create a government that protects and ensures the successful pursuit of happiness of all its citizens?  After doing some research I found Locke had a few thoughts on the subject, not in the reading we read as a class but in his essay “Concerning Human Understanding”.  Locke believed “the necessity of pursuing happiness” to be “the foundation of liberty” (Locke, 348).  He saw the freedom for the individual to choose what makes he or she happy as an essential part of any beaurocracy.  What a person chooses to pursue in search happiness becomes a determining factor in the degree of their liberty.  He said we must “not mistake imaginary for real happiness,” and this is “the necessary foundation of our liberty”(Locke, 348).  Meaning, there are things in life that appear to bring happiness, when in reality this happiness proves false. For example, should a person choose to pursue happiness in the form of drugs, their liberty may be negatively affected because this is not a form of true happiness.  Drugs provide an alternate reality and produce a false sense of contentment.  In actuality, drugs harm the user and thus cannot produce the consistent, true happiness Locke advises.  As a consequence, drug users may also face incarceration as a penalty for their misguided pursuit.  Liberty protects people from following false forms of happiness by limiting their freedom to do so. Liberty, as defined by Locke, is closely tied to the pursuit of happiness.  As stated above, an honest pursuit for real happiness provides the foundation of our liberty.  Without it we cannot be truly free.  As we see through various philosphers and authors, happiness may be one of the most complex concepts to grasp.  It is, however essential to the life of liberty we all seek.


  1. Cesar II Ruiz permalink
    November 10, 2010 12:27 AM

    It is good to see your interpretation on life and following happiness, while ackoledging that everyone has a different subjective view on it. I agree that it would be interesting to ask a mllion people what they thought, through seeing this grasp what the “pursuit of happiness” means for different people.
    It was creative to provide Locke’s view of the neccessity of pursuing happiness as the ignition for our liberty. If people didn’t have the right and urge to follow their own personal happiness, there couldn’t be liberty. People would be controlled and true “happiness” (overall concept) couldn’t thrive.

  2. hummberto permalink
    November 10, 2010 1:39 AM

    I really like your “pursuit of happiness” argument because it relates Socrates back to all the political theorists. I can see your train of thought concerning drugs and how they provide a false sense of happiness, but I don’t think it’s exactly what Locke had in mind. You can be prosecuted for doing drugs, which follows Locke’s thoughts about imaginary forms of happiness. However, I think that, just by thinking about Locke’s philosophies and revisiting your quote, that while drugs fits in nicely, Locke means many different things when he talks of “imaginary” happiness.
    I believe Locke is using it to keep people in line when it comes to “personal” happiness. What is to say that my happiness isn’t stealing or committing crimes. Locke’s introduction of the “imaginary” happiness urges readers to look deep into what really makes them happy, and not what may be a superficial goal. Locke won’t endorse people going out and doing whatever they want to find happiness. An educated reader can figure out what really makes him happy, and in Locke’s system, pursue it.
    Your pursuit of happiness does affect your degree of liberty. I can’t, legally do any of the above things I mentioned. Therefore, there is a restriction on my liberty here. My liberty is confined to causing negative externalities to others, showing how your pursuit of happiness can enlighten you on what your liberties are and aren’t in a societal situation.

  3. jmrusso permalink
    November 10, 2010 1:48 AM

    I particularly like this post due to the fact that it takes away the full aspects of politics and is able to apply it to all people and not just the upper class. I also like your feelings on the pursuit of happiness. I myself was also questioning what how this term would apply to the way that rulers rule their people. I began to question my pursuit of happiness and understand how everyone has a somewhat unique way that will give them ultimate liberty and essentially peace within themselves. Also I began to question the way the pursuit of happiness would either harm a society or benefit it as a whole

  4. jbrasspolsci permalink
    November 10, 2010 12:50 PM

    I agree with Locke when he says that happiness is the “foundation of liberty”, because an individual knows what makes them happy, therefore when that individual chooses what he or she wants to do they are bound to be happy. However, the problem with the concept of people choosing to do whatever makes them happy is not realistic and is why we have a set bureaucracy in place to keep order. For example, if robbing a bank is what makes an individual happy, and so that individual robs a bank, that may cause happiness for that individual but definitely cause harm to many others and cause distress. This can also be a related example to Locke’s saying we must “not mistake imaginary for real happiness,” because indeed robbing a bank can produce a false sense of contentment.
    Happiness is absolute one of the most complex concepts to grasp, because even though it has a dictionary definition, the word can have millions of variations when concerning everyone’s personal definition of happiness. Does happiness mean having a roof over your head? Does it mean getting straight A’s? Does it mean driving a Ferrari? Or maybe it means being in love? Happiness can be applied to so many different aspects of life; it is so hard to have on concrete definition for everyone to abide by. In the end, one fair accusation that was mentioned was that liberty is closely defined with the pursuit of happiness. Freedom allows options and opportunities, which then can potentially (key word potentially) allow freedom.

  5. jwalsky24 permalink
    November 10, 2010 9:21 PM

    I am not so sure it is a government’s responsibility to make your odds of being happy larger, nor do I think it should be required to provide its citizens with the means of doing so. There are rich people out there who are miserable, and there are people who clean toilets who couldn’t be happier.
    We also do not always know what makes us happy or whether or not our happiness is genuine. To say that the happiness that some people derive from smoking pot and watching South Park all day instead of getting a job is false I think contradicts with the notion that we define happiness for ourselves. Government exists to protect and foster liberty, but ought not to suggest ways in which to manifest that liberty. I think if you use your social security checks to buy beer and cigarettes, the government owes you a high five. Government should provide us with the supplies we need to conduct experiments in the field of joy, but not conduct those experiments for us.

  6. Jessie Altman permalink
    November 10, 2010 11:46 PM

    First of all, I really like how you brought up a new topic that hasn’t been discussed in class so far. In the Declaration of Independence, it states that every human has certain unalienable rights, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The government is supposed to then secure these rights. It is a vital component for each person to have the freedom to pursue happiness. This does not mean that the government is responsible for guaranteeing happiness for its citizens, but it needs to allow enough liberty for each citizen to do so.

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