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Is the fact that spraining my ankle is bad for my welfare something that exists independently of my feeling that spraining my ankle is bad for my welfare?

It certainly would seem to be. After all, if my ankle is sprained it gets in the way of doing things I need to do to take care of myself - whether I recognize this or not. Compare: it's pretty clearly bad for the welfare of an animal if it has a broken leg, even though the animal may not be able to understand this. Of course we can dream up one-off cases where having a sprained ankle might be good for your welfare. For example, having a sprained ankle might keep you out of pointless combat. But even in that sort of case, it's not a matter of my opinion. Generally speaking, not getting shot is better for your welfare than getting shot! There is a wrinkle, however. If someone who is neither crazy or confused wholeheartedly embraces preferences that go against what we normally take to be for one's welfare, it's not so clear that we can simply say that they are wrong. Sharon Street has interesting things to say on related matters. If you have access to a University library, you might find this...

In the bhuddist religion, the aim is obviously to become "enlightened" or as it could be redefined "a state of inner unwavering happiness" however along with being englightened one must take away his/her desires for material objects, relationships, negative emotions etc. So if ones family was to be brutally be tortured and killed, one would see it as a change of energy, and feel no pain. Assuming that this is the only way to be permanently happy, could it be considered that to become enlightened would be to deny being human, and so would become like a machine that does not care. Year 10 - Hale Highschool

It's a good question, but I think it may rest on a misunderstanding of Buddhism. None of the Buddhist teachers I know think that Buddhism is a path to not feeling pain. If even the most enlightened Buddhist puts her hand on a hot stove, it will hurt. If people we love are hurt, we will feel sad. Beware forms of Buddhism (or any other view of the world) that says otherwise. In the Buddhist tradition, there are stories of the Buddha repeatedly meeting Mara. In some of the stories, he invites Mara to tea. Many teachers would say that the point is to remind us: the Buddha was still a human being. He still could feel anger, pain and the like. The difference, the Buddhist would say, is that the Buddha had learned not to get attached to those things They didn't take him over and control him. Enlightenment and permanent happiness aren't the same thing, on my understanding. The enlightened person is one who's awake - who sees things for what they are. One of the facts about the way things are is that pain...

If philosophers are asked, "What makes people happy (eudaimonic)?", why do they sit around and speculate on what should make people happy, instead of walking out into the street and checking people out? "Hey, are you happy? If so, tell us why!"

You're making a perfectly good point: no one can figure out what will make people happy just by sitting in their armchair. But there are a lot of things we might mean by the word "happy" and if we just ask the person on the street if they're happy, we may not know what to make of the answer. There's a recent short essay by Gary Gutting in the New York Times' The Stone series that deals with some of the issues here. and for present purposes I don't have a lot to add. But at the least, we'd want to make a distinction between the passing state of our moods and the condition of our lives overall. Being annoyed of an afternoon doesn't mean that I'm not happy, full stop. And being in a good mood on another afternoon also doesn't mean I'm happy, full stop. To which we can add: part of what Aristotle and other philosophers want to know is what sorts of things make for a life worth living; the word "happiness" is at best a rough translation for "eudaimonia." There's another problem with just asking...

It is said that happiness comes from within - that no one can make you happy. However, some people do bring out the best in us (people we fall in love with) and others bring out the worst in us (people we dislike). So the statement that happiness comes from within is not entirely true. What is your opinion?

You're pretty clearly right. What's going on around us matters for our happiness, and though how we look at things makes a difference, it's not all. There may be some people (a fully enlightened being such as the Buddha supposedly was, perhaps?) who are able to maintain their equanimity in all circumstances, but for the rest of us, this would be a superhuman achievement. Moreover, it's not entirely obvious that it would be desirable to have that kind of detachment. That said, there's a point to the saying that no one can make you happy. Making others responsible for one's own happiness is not a mark of wisdom, and not likely to succeed.

As far as I am aware most if not all religions promise the possibility of eternal happiness in the next life. However the concept of eternal happiness is impossible to understand. How could we be happy without our negative emotions - don't we enjoy our negative emotions sometimes (watching a sad or scary film)? Aren't our negative emotions a release? People who are happy for extended periods, e.g. people in-love or people suffering from mania cannot keep up being happy because it is exhausting and also people in these states become irrational. So why do we buy into the concept of eternal happiness in the next life so easily?

It's a nice question, and one that' s been discussed before in various versions. You've put particular emphasis on the idea that without negative emotions, we couldn't really be happy. Let's suppose you're right. As your own way of putting things suggests, it doesn't follow that there couldn't be such a thing as eternal happiness. The reason is that the kind of happiness that's at issue isn't best thought of as an emotion or mood but as some more global feature of our lives. In fact, your own point is that negative states can be part of, well, our happiness . We could also spend a bit of time on whether "negative states" that we enjoy (the frisson of "horror" we pay good money for at the movies, for example) really are negative states. But let that pass. I think the partisan of eternal life would probably object to being tied to the word "happiness." Some talk, for example, of "eternal bliss." But whatever state that's meant to pick out, it may not be quite the same as the one we...

The consideration that harm is inherently related to the perception of the harmed (i.e., s/he who perceives that s/he has been harmed has been harmed) is widely accepted, and I even sometimes see philosophers on this site answering questions of ethics from this position. However, it seems to me that this way of viewing "harm" is too generally subjective. Are there widely accepted objective means for defining harm? What are they?

I wonder just how widely accepted this is. I suspect that most people, including panelists here, would agree that just because someone thinks they've been harmed, it doesn't mean that they actually were. In fact, it's perfectly possible that something someone takes to have harmed them actually did them good. (You might think your boss would be upset if he knew that you stood up to some obstreperous client. I know that he'd actually be pleased; he's been looking for an excuse to "fire" this client, you've provided it, and because I tell him what you did, you'll be in for a bonus at year's end.) There are a couple of cases that might seem to support the equation of thinking one has been harmed with actually being harmed, but I'm not sure they're what you had in mind. First, suppose I think I'm in pain. It's been widely held that I can't be mistaken about this. I might be mistaken about whether the pain signals some sort of organic damage, but if I think I have a headache, it's odd to say that I don...