Neuroexistentialism, Eudaimonics, and Positive Illusions

In Byron Kaldis (ed.), Mind and Society: Cognitive Science Meets the Philosophy of the Social Sciences. SYNTHESE Philosophy Library Studies in Epistemology, Logic, Methodology, & Philosophy of Science. Springer Science+Business (forthcoming)
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Abstract
There is a distinctive form of existential anxiety, neuroexistential anxiety, which derives from the way in which contemporary neuroscience provides copious amounts of evidence to underscore the Darwinian message—we are animals, nothing more. One response to this 21st century existentialism is to promote Eudaimonics, a version of ethical naturalism that is committed to promoting fruitful interaction between ethical inquiry and science, most notably psychology and neuroscience. We argue that philosophical reflection on human nature and social life reveals that while working to be and remain biologically fit, humans also seek meaning in a way that conforms to a pattern recognized by Plato. We argue that human beings should seek “the good,” “the true,” and “the beautiful”; moreover, the proper measure of human flourishing is the degree to which humans achieve these three, in a maximally harmonious way. One potential problem with this view, however, is that it might privilege the role of truth, such that if there is a conflict among these three, what is good or beautiful should yield to what is true. But this seems to conflict with evidence from neuroscience and psychology (e.g. the study of positive illusions) which suggests that people with a tendency to form and harbor certain false beliefs tend to more easily achieve eudaimonia than do those for whom truth takes precedence in all domains. We argue that this conflict is only apparent: the false beliefs in question are not literally beliefs; instead, they are an amalgam of belief and desire, an amalgam that we dub, tertullian beliefs (or, t-beliefs). Among other things, what is distinctive about t-beliefs is that they are able to change the world, in certain specific ways, such that, strictly speaking, it would be erroneous to say of them that they aim away from the truth. Paradoxically, it is because they seem to aim away from the truth, that they are sometimes able to succeed in changing the world so that it matches what we desire, or, what we t-believe.
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