Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Faith and Aristotle

I popped along to a seminar on conceptions of mental wellbeing and eudaimonia, this morning, put together by Karen Newbiggin (Institute for Philosophy, Diversity and Mental Health), Dave Littlewood (Philosophy) and Mahmood Chandia (Islamic Studies), all now part of ISCRI (the International School for Communities, Rights and Inclusion) at Uclan.

Karen Newbiggin presented an overview of her scoping exercise on empirical findings concerning conceptions of mental health in Scotland amongst Chinese and Pakistani ethnic populations. These included the use of ‘happiness’ by the Chinese, informed by either Confucianism or Taosim, and the notion of a ‘peaceful mind’ informed by Islam.

Dave Littlewood presented an overview of Aristotle (pictured, apparently) on eudaimonia, suggesting that one aspect of his discussion that hadn’t been sufficiently developed in recent commentary and which might be most useful for contemporary work on mental wellbeing was the social dimension of flourishing.

Mahmood Chandia discussed the differing views of physical and mental health deriving from Islam and the connection between mental wellbeing and a self-conception framed in faith-related terms.

Whilst Mahmood’s presentation had the authority of personal commitment and Dave’s had the characteristic doubt of a professional philosopher, I had assumed that I would ‘read’ the former as an account of actors’ categories and the latter as a potential, at least, discussion of analysts’ categories. That is, following Karen’s overview, I assumed that Mahmood would provide a further description of a conception of wellbeing framed within a particular (religious faith based) community whilst an Aristotelian account might enable us more broadly to think what wellbeing might be or mean.

Perhaps the actual result is obvious. Although Aristotle says some entirely reasonable things – still!, after two millennia – that simple reasonableness now seems entirely suspicious. On whose authority is that kind of plain speaking philosophy put forward (by contrast with the philosophy which- in the title of Kuusela’s recent book – rejects dogmatism)? I realise that, these days, I simply do not believe in Aristotle.