July 19, 2006

Happiness is...

From Stanley Kurtz's review of "Artificial Happiness":
First, Dworkin takes a whack at the related issues of “New Age” medicine and the exercise craze. No, Dworkin is not against exercise, but he does have some striking things to say about obsessive exercise in search of a supposed “endorphin high.” Dworkin also takes on the theory of “psychoneuroimmunology” that lies behind much alternative medicine. In general, Dworkin casts doubt on the medical theories that link brain biology to a whole series of human problems (you’ve seen the ads on unhappiness and “neurotransmitters”).
Dworkin is very smart on the limits of happiness as a value, but he may set up too sharp a dichotomy between the quest for personal happiness and religion. Dworkin is ambivalent about religion, doubting much, yet also valuing a certain style of religion as a counterweight to a too-simple or too-exclusive emphasis on personal happiness. Yet happiness has long been a guiding theme in Christian theology, and its centrality in some strains of American theology is far less novel than Dworkin sometimes makes it seem. (See, for example, the index entries for “happiness” in E. Brooks Holifield’s Theology in America.)

At any rate, you can take Dworkin’s historical account and cultural critique in a number of different directions, not all of which agree with Dworkin himself. The point is that this extraordinary book introduces a whole new angle on our current cultural debates, and on that ultimate debate over the nature and meaning of human life.

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