Well, not on purpose.
The pursuit of unhappiness and happiness both encourage self-love to the detriment of love of others. Both happiness and, the acceptance, of unhappiness are gifts to orient us to further goodness. I think.
John Kienker, who is a fellow Claremont alum and the current managing editor of the CRB, wrote his dissertation on the original meaning of Jefferson’s words in the Declaration, “pursuit of happiness.” I don’t believe his dissertation has been published in book form yet, but you can get it electronically through Proquest by looking up this title: “A peculiar felicity of expression: The pursuit of happiness and the American founding.”
In Kienker’s opinion, the word “happiness” wasn’t meant by Jefferson in the way Locke defined it that you allude to. Here’s Kienker’s abstract:
“The traditional scholarly consensus holds that the Declaration of Independence owes much of its argument to the influence of John Locke’s social contract liberalism. And yet, a dominant view of the relation between the right to the pursuit of happiness and the rest of the document has yet to emerge. An extended treatment of this right has not been published for fifty years, and even the most sustained, thoughtful research too often relies on what one key interpreter has said on the subject–whether the phrase’s immediate author or a prominent political philosopher taken to be decisive.
This study considers how the right to the pursuit of happiness was understood as part of American public thought at the time the country was founded. It looks for clues within the Declaration itself and from a wide range of public and private statements made by the document’s signers and other citizens, from the American Revolution to the early years of the republic. I conclude with some thoughts on what the pursuit of happiness means for the character of American politics, both at the time of the founding and today.
In organizing my study, I have taken Thomas Jefferson on his own testimony when discussing the Declaration, that the argument contained there was not some private eccentricity but “an expression of the American mind.” I probe whether the historical record with regard to the pursuit of happiness bears out Jefferson’s description. Although I readily admit that there are important distinctions to be made in the political thought of the founding era’s most prominent men–differences that quickly multiply as more names are included–this study has purposely emphasized what these men held in common. This approach is not only appropriate when considering questions of political ends rather than means, but only in this way can we find a definition of the right to the pursuit of happiness that may be regarded as widely accepted at the time, and that may be considered truly authoritative for the American political tradition.”
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So, CJ, Kienker’s methodology sounds worthwhile, but… …what is his conclusion? What is the right to pursue happiness? (Both in the Dec acc. to TJ’s mind, and in the larger American mind he appealed to?)
I always tell students it’s a way for the Dec to say that there are many legitimate pursuits (indeed all that don’t harm or non-consensually limit others are legitimate) besides the acquisition of property. The right to hold and acquire property is also a right, of course, one of the others the three fundamental ones are “among.” But education, art, religion, friendship, love, and odd things like Whitman’s loafing blade-of-grass contemplation, all of these we have a right to pursue, whether they are wise activities for us or not.
I.e., please show us that Kienker’s dissertation is not all about demonstrating that the true meaning of the right to pursue happiness is never really grasped, but can only be got at in the very act of perpetually pursuing the meaning of the pursuit of happiness!
If I understand Kienker’s work correctly Carl, he shows that in the thought of pretty much all the Founders (including TJ), discussions of happiness are closely related to discussions of virtue. It is significant that TJ decided to say “happiness” instead of “property,” which is what Locke had written in 2nd Treatise. These facts rule out some overly Hobbesian/Lockean interpretations of what “pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration mean, but it’s hard to say positively exactly what the words meant to them- whether they saw “happiness” in an Aristotelian sense of eudaimonia, a Christian sense of righteousness, etc. Kienker says however that no Fouding Father fully explored or defined what he meant by happiness; he writes,
“None of them seems to have wrestled with these ideas to the fullest extent.” (p310). So maybe “pursuit of happiness” could be interpreted in a “built it better than they knew” direction.
BTW, in the Declaration TJ uses the word “happiness” again in the same paragraph as “pursuit of happiness,” which suggests that he did think SOME definite conception of what happiness is exists, not just a completely open-ended “pursuit of happiness” concept.
I agree with the not-fully-thought-through.
I do not agree that we should pursue unhappiness, in fact, I believe that we should pursue God and enjoy Him in the process.
It would not make much of Him if His children were walking around unhappy, depressed, and joyless all the time. There is definitely a time for sorrow and grief, but we must (as believers) find our ultimate satisfaction in God, and be full of gratitude and joy for what He has done for us on the Cross.
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