Happiness and Liberty in San Diego

On a sunny Saturday in mid November, eight Libertas Scholars traveled to the University of San Diego to hear professors of philosophy, political economy, economics, and business talk about happiness. Sophomores Emma Gobbell and Chloe Herdrich, juniors Jake Yonally, Josh Guinto, Evan Kilpper, Pedro Cruz, and Maggie Coffin, and senior Evan Boger, joined over 100 college students (the Providence students were the only high school students attending) to explore connections between markets, philosophy (particularly Aristotle) and eudaimonism…or, happiness.

Dr. Derek Yonai explained how business education focuses too much on techniques and tools and too little on the soul of business, which is one of the reasons why public perceptions of business people are so negative. (According to TV shows, you are 21 times more likely to be killed by a businessman than the mob). Dr. Yonai showed how having high levels of economic freedom correlates to greater levels of well-being, as people use their creativity and talents to improve the lives of others. 

Students explored the connections between Happiness, Freedom, and Virtue from an Aristotelian and Kantian perspective from Westmont grad Dr. Mark LeBar, who teaches philosophy at Florida State University. Virtue, LeBar explained, doesn’t just happen; it’s a matter of character, formed by good moral education and good habits, and expands when each of us has equal, voluntary obligations to each other—in other words, when we are free.

Dr. Dan Haybron, from Saint Louis University, talked about nudges, soft paternalism, and what he called a proper “Lifestyle Infrastructure” that, even unconsciously, helps us be less anxious and happier. He encouraged policies that suit, rather than undermine, citizens’ values rather than ones that manage specific behaviors, such as taxes on soda.

Students particularly enjoyed the keynote address from Professor Diedre McCloskey, whose talk, “Liberty Makes Us Very Rich, and Pretty Good” was captivating. McCloskey’s 1300 page trilogy on bourgeois virtues (she’s written 30 books) was just finished, and she walked students through her major themes: that the world’s “Great Enrichment” came largely from treating people equally, which led to what Adam Smith called “The Liberal Plan” of social equality, economic liberty, and the rule of law. She reminded us that “policy” and “police” share the same root. Professor McCloskey also chatted to the students about a host of subjects during the concluding social hour, and cheered on the fact that they were going to a private school and reading challenging works as part of their curriculum.

The conference was hosted by the Institute for Humane Studies, and the organizers were thrilled that Providence students were there and plan to connect with us in the future.