Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

The Problem of Happiness for the Human Prospect

Henry-York Steiner.

If we look at Aristotle's criteria for human happiness and pleasure in the light of EO Wilson et alia on the fundamentals of evolutionary theory and sociobiology, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the pursuit of happiness has baleful consequences for the human prospect. Good health (clean water, nutritious food, good shelter, sleep and clothing) beauty, unselfish friends and lovers, good government, sufficient freedom, sufficient, territory, children, wealth, and the status that goes with these goods cannot be had in a finite environment, by overwhelming numbers of people. Further, when resources are scarce, or withheld from the helpless by the powerful, virtue gives way to the necessities of life, and physical, emotional, and psychic violence become normal, with all of their attendant destruction and self-destruction.

It is a powerful paradox that those things that make us happy, and whose lack defines unhappiness, should also be, perhaps inevitably, the causes of so much present misery and the likely impossibility that human beings can achieve anything like a reasonably successful existence that is at all comparable to the past.


Henry-York Steiner  (United States)
Professor of English, Humanities and Honors
College of Arts and Letters
Eastern Washington University

I grew up in Portland, Oregon, served in the Korean War, and have loved my career as a teacher. I have three children, of whom I am very proud, I am a small boat sailor and a 35 year member of the National Ski Patrol, in which I have served as both a volunteer and professional, as well as holding many administrative and instructing titles.

  • Happiness
  • Sociobiology
  • Human Prospect
Person as Subject
  • Aristotle Eo Wilson

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)