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Title page for ETD etd-01232015-101307

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Ahern, Patrick Joseph
Author's Email Address patrick.j.ahern@vanderbilt.edu
URN etd-01232015-101307
Title Echoing Demystified Aspirations: Human Flourishing and the Dialectic of Happiness
Degree PhD
Department Philosophy
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Idit Dobbs-Weinstein Committee Chair
Andrew Cutrofello Committee Member
Gregg Horowitz Committee Member
Jose Medina Committee Member
  • Walter Benjamin
  • Spinoza
  • Marx
  • Hobbes
  • Adorno
  • Happiness
Date of Defense 2014-12-09
Availability unrestricted

Echoing Demystified Aspirations:

Human Flourishing and the Dialectic of Happiness

Patrick Joseph Ahern

Dissertation under the direction of Idit Dobbs-Weinstein

The question of the possibility or even the concern for human happiness has proven to be a point of contention for political thinkers confronting the ideological injunction to “be happy” in the face of material conditions that stifle the capacity for human flourishing. It can be argued that the appeal to human happiness as a political norm occludes as much as it may reveal, and that the cult of happiness is the domain of the internalized oppressor, severing the avenues of self-reflection, social critique, or political praxis. In the writings of Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin, a dialectical notion of happiness emerges that critiques naïve conceptions of happiness that depend upon redemptive flight or accommodation. A historical approach to political theorizing, through the lens of the concern for human flourishing is enacted through a careful critical engagement with three political theorists (Hobbes, Spinoza, and Marx) that attempt to construct a politics dedicated to human flourishing while informed by human beings in their practical social activity. The notions of happiness for each of these thinkers is addressed and critiqued in the context of the broader aspirations of their respective political theories. Hobbes’s reversion to the idolatry of the Leviathan, Spinoza’s attempt to form a theory of the organization of social institutions informed by a defense of radical democracy, and Marx’s attempt to perform a critique of ideology and the modern state while constructing a revolutionary politics illuminate the challenges that confront the development of a praxis that is resistant to accommodation while not relinquishing the constructive capacity to transform and organize a world in which the promise of happiness could be realized. In this dissertation, I argue that the dialectic of happiness as presented by Adorno and Benjamin, in its affinity with embodied and historical experience, forms the negative relief upon which the demand for human happiness can find expression. In providing an accounting of the manner in which attempts to realize happiness have failed, this dissertation elucidates what is left for the critical idea of happiness.

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