That Is A Happy Person

Various online news sources carried a report by Finnish researchers regarding how the human body (overall) feels different emotional states. Study participants were asked to rate how, and which parts of the body were affected (or disaffected) by different emotions. These plus or minus indicators of feeling were then mapped unto a color chart (deep blue max minus feeling to light yellow max plus feeling). The composite of statistically arrived at color indicators were then projected unto silhouettes of a figure so that a primarily darkened figure would be neutral, and various colored combinations would appear under a heading like fear, anxiety, etc. One report focused attention on the bodily “feel” of love, which appears to have the greatest max plus concentration, primarily in the torso and head (with the feet appearing deep blue!). Happiness, shown positively lighting up the entire body, was unmentioned by any report.

It is with trepidation that one chooses to speak or write about happiness, let alone a happy person. Zhuangzi (also previously known as Chuang Tzu, etc.) appears to hold top honors when it comes to producing a justification of third person knowledge of this subject with his The Joy Of Fishes. Comparing Yo Yo Ma (in performance) with a fish definitely stretches reader imagination (as well as credibility). Yet Yo Yo Ma, performing in concert or solo, appears to be a very happy person. “That is a happy person” would be met by a totally different response than “He’s a great musician” or “That was an amazing performance.” To say “That is a happy person” is to point out two things – the person, and something about the person (that happiness gathers there). The first seems ordinary enough, but what makes for the second affirmation (something Zhuangzi so eloquently addresses)? “That is a happy person” now becomes something other than a statement of fact.

Although Wittgenstein reminds us that “nothing has so far been done when a thing has been named” (The Literary Wittgenstein, ed. John Gibson and Wofgang Huemer 2004, pg.19), many would still claim that Yo Yo Ma is a celebrity, on stage, performing (as an actor), or that he has been gifted with his talent, position, or even that he is recompensed handsomely. How so that it can be said “That is a happy person”?

Without addressing The Joy Of Fishes (but rather the joy of Shakespeare), Stanley Cavell writes, “My idea is that, in varying ways, each of these sensibilities is one whom Shakespeare’s posing of the skeptical problem of the existence of others takes the form of raising the possibility of praise, of finding an object worthy of praise, and proving oneself capable of it.” (Philosophy The Day After Tomorrow Stanley Cavell, 2005, pg. 37) For Cavell, skepticism involves not only the “stuff” out there (and whether I can know it, if it exists, etc.) but also the psyche – other people or minds. With Cavell, part of the utterance of praising or cursing is the acknowledgement of this other. But how does this differ from naming, that is, that what is said becomes simply a kind of title for the person praised or cursed? The “possibility”, “worth’ and capability are considered, along with false praise (idolatry or iconoclasm), primarily in terms of acknowledgement of the other. Little concern is given for the actual attribute of the praise. Maybe that lies with the false praise, but it would be difficult to imagine someone who has never known happiness to say “That is a happy person.” Unless “That person exists” is interpreted as a performative utterance of praise or cursing (acknowledging existence), it appears that what is attributed as praise worthy is likewise acknowledged as existing. Saying “that is a happy person” not only acknowledges the existence of the other, someone not me, but also that happiness gathers there. If praise (or cursing) acknowledges the existence of an other then it is equally as important to be able to elaborate the qualities or attributes in conjunction with that person (OK, for the Finnish researchers, emotions). That is, what goes to make that person a person. As Wittgenstein elaborates, nothing is accomplished by simply naming. Simply acknowledging lacks character, the character of what is acknowledged. Conjoining an attribute or quality with the designated person likewise acknowledges the existence of that attribute. “There is happiness.” Praise (or cursing) deals with skepticism in a twofold manner. Not only does it acknowledge the existence of the other, but also the existence of qualities and characteristics which we may not gather to ourselves (“possess”), may doubt, or perhaps are unsure of in our own reasoning (the everyday guise of skepticism). “That is a happy person” affirms not only the existence of the person, but of happiness.

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