It is sometimes easy to overlook mankind’s inalienable right to pursue Happiness when Life and Liberty seem so much more important. Today one’s right to Happiness seems to be a privilege with all that is going on in Japan, in the States, and world in general. Indeed even Liberty seems a luxury when your Life is in danger, but I’ve just recognized that pursuing Happiness is in fact the pursuit of Life, Liberty, and so much more.
Not sure about you, but the right to pursue happiness has always been a little vague to me. Happiness means different things to so many people. So maybe this right is more misunderstood than forgotten. Happiness, to me, used to be the standard; state of peace, tranquility, comfort, joy, and all the related synonyms we could all come up with. But this is not the definition that Jefferson was thinking of when he wrote the Declaration of Independence, his was much more profound.
Jefferson took his meaning of Happiness and the right to pursue it from two leading Scottish philosophers of the period, Francis Hutcheson and David Hume. Jefferson understood Happiness to be the Free Will to be Charitable and Self-Interested at the same time. To understand what seems to be opposing interests we have to know a little bit more about Hutcheson and Hume.
Francis Hutcheson was to be a Presbyterian minister, but fell into the wrong crowd while attending the University of Glasgow. Hutcheson was running with the so-called Moderates who made up most of the Scottish Enlightenment. What was his biggest disagreement with the Presbyterian faith of the period? That morals were innate in man and not bestowed by God. You see at the time Presbyterians believed that God had predestined one to Hell or Heaven before birth and that one’s morals were a reflection of this. Hutcheson disagreed and said that every person had morals and predestination made no sense. He also saw Happiness basically as synonymous with Virtue and it came from making others Happy through altruism.
David Hume had a different idea. He argued, quite competently, that Happiness came from the greed or self-interest in mankind. He agreed that altruism existed, just that it existed as a form of self-interest, not self-sacrifice. Ayn Rand held this belief. He went on further to suggest the need for government came from the need to curb man’s greed that would otherwise throw civilization into anarchy.
While the two held nearly opposite understandings of Happiness (Hutcheson went so far as to try to prevent university appointments for Hume) they both understood and described the opposing Altruism and Self-Interest as Free Will. Without Free Will one could not be truly be Charitable. Forced Charity is at best servitude, and at worst bondage. Will is one’s own independent faculty of choice, so Self-Interest can only come from Free Will. Once will is coerced or forced in any manner it is no longer Free.
So this idea of Happiness, actually having the Free Will to be both charitable and self-interested, opened up a whole new understanding for me. We must be Free to Pursue (chase) Happiness for others and ourselves. If we are coerced, then it is no longer a free will pursuit nor is it for our own Happiness. If is coerced or forced it is no longer an inalienable right, but rather servitude.
Look around you today and see if our government is forcing charity (welfare, etc) or if it is protecting and encouraging charity from free will (volunteering, donations, etc). Folks the Right to Pursue our own Charity and Self-Interest is at the heart of Living and being Free (Liberty) to do it. If you like Jefferson’s understanding of the Pursuit of Happiness, and everybody else’s who could read or be read to at the time, then please forward this onto your friends and colleagues.
It is time for an American Enlightenment on Happiness and system of government that will cultivate it perpetually.
The End is FAR
Steve A Morris