First Installment

The Pursuit of Happyness Movie Review

(By: Dylan Fellmeth)

In The Pursuit of Happyness, directed by Gabrielle Muccino, Will Smith plays Chris Gardner. Based on a true story, Gardner is having financial troubles that he can’t seem to get himself out of. When Gardner was a few years younger, he spent his life savings on “bone deficiency scanners.” Thinking this was a wise investment, he believed he could make a fortune selling these machines. What he didn’t anticipate was that most doctors he wanted to sell them to believed they were an unnecessary luxury. After relentlessly trying to sell the rest of his products, Gardner was on the verge of bankruptcy. Because of the lack of income from him, his wife needed to work more in order to pay rent, which was also not working. The Gardner’s were late by two months on rent, with another month due shortly, and it seemed like things couldn’t get worse. A few days later, his wife left him.

Just before she leaves him, Chris passes Dean Witter Reynolds, a stock brokerage firm. While looking at the men in suits walking by, he narrates that all he could think about was how happy they all look. In essence, this was the start of his pursuit of happiness. He found a competitive internship opportunity at the firm. With this, one of twenty people would be picked to fill the opening. In order to be chosen, all the interns had to complete a six month training program in which they worked as brokers, learning the ropes of the industry and the company. Although they’re unpaid interns while the training is going on, the person picked for the position would start out making more money than Chris had ever made in his life.

Not only does Gardner have to prove himself as an intern, but he had to work hard to get to that point as well. In addition to applying, he would need to be asked back for an interview, and then the people interviewed are narrowed down to 20. After applying but before getting asked for the interview, he constantly was going back to the firm to ask if they had received the application, what they thought about him, and asked the boss multiple times to speak privately. After being brushed off multiple times, Chris does something slightly unconventional that pays off greatly. While standing outside the building, Jay Twistle, the big boss, is walking out and waves for a taxi. Clearly in a rush, he brushes Chris off yet again when asked to speak with him. Just before Jay gets into the taxi, Chris asks where he is going, then lies and says he’s headed that way as well and they could ride together.

In the car Mr. Twistle is fumbling with a Rubik’s cube. Earlier in the movie, we saw Chris working on one as well. He was very close to solving it on his own, but couldn’t seem to get the last layer. In the taxi, Twistle is having no success and seems to just be moving random sides with no actual knowledge of what the moves would do. When Chris sees this, he asks to see the cube, and asserts that he could solve it. Reluctant to give Chris the toy, he denies that anyone could solve it. After Chris insists he can, he is handed the cube. In an attempt to impress Twistle, he takes the cube and tries to solve it before getting to Twistle’s destination. As they pull up to the curb, Chris makes the final moves and completes the puzzle. This moment showed Mr. Twistle how determined, logically thinking, and spontaneous Chris is, and surely helped him to get the interview.

The night before Chris’s interview, he was arrested for unpaid parking tickets. Before being arrested, he was painting his apartment because of a deal he made with the landlord for being so behind on rent. Because the check he wrote had to be processed, he spent the night in jail, and would be let out at 9:30 the next morning. With his interview at 10:15, Chris had no time to change out of his painting clothes, and went dressed like that. Even though he was dressed far too casually for an interview for a stock broker position, he somehow pulled it off.

After getting past the cut and making it to one of the twenty intern spots, Chris had some work to do if he wanted to get the real job. Taking every opportunity to show how hard he works, he does everything he can in getting the numbers to beat the other participants. Because of his wife leaving, Chris had to take care of his kid, and needed to leave the office earlier than all the others in order to pick him up from daycare on time. This meant he would need to work extra hard in order to surpass his opposition. Not only that, but he seems to always have things setting him back from succeeding at this internship. One example in particular is when he called the CEO of another company and asked to meet with him. The CEO asked if he would be able to do it in 20 minutes, and he accepted the offer. When he was walking out, one of his bosses was walking in and asked him to move his car because he didn’t have the time to do it. Even though Chris didn’t have the time for it either, he had no choice but to obey the demands. He searched for a parking spot and couldn’t find one, so he had to park illegally. When he finally got to the CEO’s office, he asked the secretary and she told him that Chris just missed him. Not only that, but there was a ticket waiting under the windshield wipers when he got back. It seemed as though when he made the phone call to the CEO, things were going to work out well, but ended up being turned upside down.

This movie has many connections to philosophy on life and happiness. Towards the beginning of the movie, when Chris thinks about how happy all the people look working as stock brokers, he figures out what would make him happy. Wielenburg discusses three ways that humans can find meaning through ways other than religion. With “Richard Taylor’s way out,” it is stated that meaning can be found through doing activities that we enjoy. Chris Gardner seems to be doing that exactly. The stock broker position can symbolize Chris’s happiness he wants to achieve. He works so hard for the position because it is seemingly the only way he will be happy.

Often in the movie Chris’s internship is disrupted with his machines. He gets them stolen from him on multiple occasions, but they always seem to show up in some way at very inconvenient times, causing him to choose between letting go of his prior work and his new opportunity. These machines could be seen as the suffering in his life. Schopenhauer argued that life is full of suffering, and that happiness is only achieved in the absence of suffering. If the machines are symbolic of Chris’s suffering, this argument holds true. Chris is always trying to sell the rest of the machines, but can’t seem to do it. After selling the last one he has, he receives $250 and spends the night with his son in a hotel, rather than the homeless shelter they had been staying at for a little while. After the night in the hotel, Chris goes to work the next day and is offered the job. In a very obvious way, Chris couldn’t achieve true happiness until the suffering in his life was taken out.

Chris’s son, Christopher, is an innocent boy who is with his father most of the movie because of their financial situation. He’s always asking Chris things like “are we there yet?” or “where are we going now?” Christopher, in a sense, can almost be seen as Chris’s conscience. When asking about if they’re there yet, it can be interpreted as “have you reached happiness yet?” When looked at in this way, Christopher seems to be the equalizer in Chris’s stressful life. When he gets kicked out of the motel for not paying rent, Chris and his son had to sleep in a subway station for the night. He first is acting very upset about the issue, but then Christopher asks him where they’re going. Chris responds by angrily saying he doesn’t know, and then suddenly cheers up and begins to play imaginary games with him. He uses this imaginary land with dinosaurs and a ground made of lava to convince his son that they need to find a cave in order to hide. They go to the bathroom, find it is suitable enough to save them from the dinosaurs, and sleep overnight in the bathroom of the station.

In another example, Chris tells Christopher to never let anyone tell him he can’t do something. He says that people will say he can’t do things because they can’t do it, and that he shouldn’t take what they say seriously. This occurs just after Christopher threw a basketball because he was told he shouldn’t expect to make it big as a basketball player. Seeing the effect this had on his son, Chris follows with telling his son that, and it resolves the conflict. When Chris talks about following your dreams to his son, he is referring to internal meaning of life. Internal meaning is found when we do things that bring meaning to ourselves in some way. Christopher, although much younger, seems to be Chris’s guide in finding this internal happiness. When Chris begins to talk in a way that isn’t leading him to internal meaning, Christopher says or does something to lead him back to the path and realize what he really wants.

In this movie, there are many symbols of happiness, suffering, and meaning. Chris constantly has to choose between the suffering of his old life with the bone deficiency scanners, and his new life with Dean Witter Reynolds. He is relentlessly trying to achieve happiness through “Richard Taylor’s way out,” and find meaning through doing the thing he wants to do. In many ways, Chris’s drive to achieve internal meaning is guided by his son, in what his son does and in his reactions to his son. He eventually gets rid of the suffering in his life that Wielenberg describes, and achieves the meaning and happiness he had been living without.


Philosophy Quotes


(By: Tyler Roach)

  • “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” -Aristotle
  • “The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity.” -Leo Tolstoy
  • “You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.” –Albert Camus
  • “To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life.” -Robert Louis Stevenson
  • “It is difficult to find happiness within oneself, but it is impossible to find it anywhere else.” -Arthur Schopenhauer
  • “The greatest discovery of any generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitude.” –William James
  • “A life directed chiefly towards the fulfillment of personal desires sooner or later always leads to bitter disappointment.” –Albert Einstein
  • “If you can’t figure out your purpose, figure out your passion. Fo your passion will lead you right into your purpose.” -Bishop T.D. Jakes
  • “When you have a sense of your own identity and a vision of where you want to go in your life, you then have the basis for reaching out to the world and going after your dreams for a better life.” -Stedman Graham
  • “If you take away a person’s struggle, you take away their victory. It’s like pulling a caterpillar out of its cocoon before it’s time. It will never develop into a butterfly.” – Cameron C. Taylor


Bucket List Survey

(By: Tyler Roach)

What do people want out of their life? This is a question that we have spent much time discussing and is one of the major themes of our class. We were interested in what people wanted to accomplish before their death, so we conducted a survey of 23 Ohio State students, asking each to name the two of the top items on their bucket list. Their answers (listed below) were very fun and interesting to look at, as they contained a wide variety of diverse goals and activities. We received answers ranging from riding elephants in Africa to becoming the President of the United States, and all of the responses were worthwhile and significant in their own way. In analyzing the participants’ bucket list items, we were able to categorize the responses into three main goal categories: career, family-oriented, travelling/thrill seeking. The most popular category by far was the travelling and thrill-seeking category, as all but 2 of the 23 participants had at least one travel/thrill-related bucket list item. The prevalence of this category shows how much value we place on excitement and expanding our horizons in the limited time that we have. For most, it is simply not fulfilling enough to spend all of our time trapped in the same day to day routine and these types of activities help to break out of this monotonous habit. This philosophy is reminiscent of Richard Taylor’s way out, as he states that one can create meaning by living in a way that you most want to live. The travelling/thrilling activities aim to give internal meaning to someone’s life, and Taylor believes that a life that has internal meaning is one that is worthwhile in itself. It’s likely that the participants who replied with these types of answers see a definite link between living a happy life and living a meaningful life. The second most popular category was career-oriented goals. As expected, the responses included a wide variety of diverse goals and achievements. Many of the career goals were ones that were not only beneficial for the person achieving them, but also aimed to benefit mankind as a whole. People who gave these types of responses likely place more of an emphasis on finding meaning through helping or reducing the suffering of others. This way of thinking is similar to Peter Singer’s way out, where he states that one can find meaning through reducing the amount of suffering in the world. Not all of the career-oriented goals were directly aimed at decreasing the suffering of others, and this does not make them any less valuable than the ones that did. There is something to be said about having lifetime goals that take hard work and dedication to attain and the prevalence of these responses shows the value that people place on earning what have rather than having it given to them. Last, but not least, were family-oriented goals, which had a surprisingly low amount of responses. Bucket list items such as seeing your kids getting married or having a wife and kids shows the value that these participants placed on gaining meaning through those close to them. This is a selfless type of meaning similar to the view that Sharon Wolf has in her doomsday scenario. She believed that we could find meaning in caring for and loving those around us, and it appears that those with these types of responses share a similar view. All in all, this survey was captivating in that it gave us a look into what types of things and activities people place the most importance on. Everyone has a different perspective on what makes a life meaningful and worthwhile.

Aristotelian Argument Analysis

Deconstructing the Aristotelian Argument

The Meaning of Life

(By: Michael Kalmar)

Aristotle argues that all things, even humans have an ergon, or a functional purpose, and also an areté, an ability to excel at one’s ergon. Aristotle’s conclusion is that humanity’s ergon is Eudaimonia, a state of happiness in which a person has fulfilled their full potential or a long-term goal, their life for a specific example. Aristotle believes that this can be achieved through the exercising of one’s ability to reason and use language. He explains this through his understanding of the universe: how plants, animals, and humans all have their own place, and each fulfills their purpose through exercising their unique characteristics compared to those of a lesser being, with plants lesser than animals, animals lesser than humans, and humans lesser than gods. However, many problems with his argument exist.

Firstly, a problem arises with his identification of philosophy as the highest activity for a human to perform. The issue is that he supports the conclusion with the fact that the gods engage almost solely in the activity, and that is enough for proving its worth. However, he never defines the gods in the first place in his qualification of the world, and based on his rules for defining the rest of the world, the existence of the gods even becomes problematic. Unlike plants and animals or animals and man, the difference between man and god is almost non-existent. The only thing a god has above a human is power, and supposedly they do not require food, they don’t metabolize, and they don’t need to reproduce, though they can and do, not only with themselves but with humans as well. To Aristotle though, a human mingling with animals is wrong because they are inferior, but a human being inferior to gods doesn’t limit their intermingling, so maybe they aren’t as superior after all. Additionally, a human with great power would be no different from a god based on his definition, further discounting any conclusion he bases off of them.

Another issue arises in the system that he classifies the natural world with; the differentiation of animals and man are not as clear as he believes them to be. The ability to move and perceive are the traits Aristotle assigns to animals as their purpose defining abilities, and they are the highest traits they have. Aristotle does not believe that animals can communicate or reason like humans can. Although they cannot speak or understand their place in the world like we can, that does not mean they have no ability to do either thing. Research continues every day to prove whether or not other animals can be taught to reason, and signs points to the fact that they can, with apes and porpoises being most capable, but communication is where Aristotle’s definition really falls apart. Even when you move away from animals that we consider above others, a lack of communication skills fails to be seen. From the simplest creatures, like ants, to a more complex animal like an elephant, they are all able to send information to one another through some form of communication. However, this alone is not enough, because simple signaling is not what Aristotle was truly talking about, but individuals sharing feelings and thoughts unperceivable other ways. While less common in the animal kingdom, the ability is still present. Elephants, like domestic cats and dogs, will mourn the death of their families, but also share incredibly close family bonds, staying close to their families their whole lives. Again this proves nothing, it is still not the communication Aristotle talks about.

So while the final conclusion of his argument may be valid, and there is no way to disprove it, the construction of the argument should not convince anyone – the logic is flawed and outdated. The product of a more limited, less understanding time. An argument not fit to be made anymore.


Animals and their Emotions

(By: Rachel Streib)

Aristotle said that animals meaning of life is to develop rational capacities and movement. While this is true, animals also bring a little more to the table. According to Aristotle animals could not develop language or higher cognitive abilities – they only possess the capacity to move and perceive pain and pleasure. If this was true, then why are there so many cases of animals showing emotions and communicating with one another and even humans in some cases? Koko the gorilla is a perfect example. She has learned sign language in order to talk to her handlers. Through this form of communication her handlers can ask her questions and see her reaction to things on the everyday world. In this video, Koko demonstrates her ability to use sign language to urge mankind to stop killing the earth. She clearly has an understanding of what is going on and has her own response to them and has real emotions about some things. This second video shows Koko carrying for a kitten and then her reaction when she finds out the kitten died. People may argue that is plausible only because humans and gorillas are closely related. This may be true, but these emotions can also be seen in other animals as well. For instance, when an elephant in a herd dies the others will mourn that elephant’s death for days – even weeks. This process is similar to the ones humans go through when they lose a loved one. It also can be seen when dogs react to something that has happened to their owners.  There are tons of stories about dogs who lose their owner and show some sort of emotion. This video shows a dog laying on his owner’s grave. Domestic dogs give up their own life to protect their owner and even other human beings.

Animals not only show emotions in various ways, but form relationships with other animals and also humans. This can be seen in cows. As well as potentially finding their mate, they also have a best friend. When they are separated from their friend for too long they may become stressed out and feel very anxious. The same goes for the shark that led a castaway to a fishing boat, or the countless instances of infants being taken in by bears, wolves, and other large mammals, raising them as their own, and maintaining a close relationship with a species that cannot naturally communicate with it in the animalistic sense, but must utilize an ability normally considered out of its capability.

If Aristotle was actually right and animals could not experience grief, emotions, or caring for another being then these cases would make no sense. Animals truly do have higher order cognitive abilities and they prove it every day, thus proving Aristotle’s argument to be flawed and invalid.


The Movie Seven Pounds

(By: Tali Myers)

In the 2008 movie “Seven Pounds”, Will Smith plays the main character, Tim Thomas, who gets in a car crash killing his fiancée and six other people. Unable to live with what he did, he sets out to save the lives of seven strangers. He decides to pick people who are worthy and decides who he will donate his organs to after his planned suicide. In doing so, Tim donates a lung to his brother Ben and steals his identity as an IRS agent. He then uses his brother’s credentials to check the financial backgrounds of possible contenders. Tim interviews each person to see if they are “good” candidates. In six months, Tim donates part of his liver, a kidney, and bone marrow. In each case, Tim does not tell the person why he is doing what he is doing. He opts out of anesthesia for the procedures as a consequence of his desire for atonement. Since one of his first candidates, Holly, was a social worker for Child Protective Services, Ben goes back to her and asks of she knows anyone in the system that would benefit from help, but that is too proud to ask for it. Holly gives him a name of a woman and Ben goes to visit her. Tim ends up giving her the keys to his beach house to get her out of an abusive relationship and asks her not to try and contact him or tell anyone how she received the house. He also tells her to “live life abundantly.” The sixth candidate Tim meets with, Ezra, is a blind telemarketer who works for a meat company. Tim “harasses” this candidate at work to see how he deals with the situation and then later after observing him in a restaurant, decides he is a worthy candidate and will later give Ezra his eyes. One of his last candidates was Emily. She was self employed and made cards for different occasions. She was suffering from a congenital heart defect and rare blood type that only left her with weeks to live. After a while, Tim starts spending more time with Emily and doing chores for her since she could not. He finds himself falling in love with her, but tries to fight his affections for her, again seeking atonement for killing his fiancée. Tim spends a romantic evening with Emily, and after talking to Emily’s doctor on the way home, he finds out that Emily probably won’t make it to the time an organ is donated. After hearing this, Tim decides it is time to commit suicide. He goes to a motel, fills the bathtub with ice water and a jellyfish, calls 911 to report his own suicide and then gets in the bathtub. The jellyfish cause a quick but excruciatingly painful death. After his body is taken to the hospital, his corneas are donated to Ezra, which corrects his blindness, and his heart is donated to Emily. A while later, Ben finds letters Tim wrote that he is supposed to give to each person. In them, they explain why Tim did what he did. During the movie, one can see the guilt and grief Tim continually feels because of an accident he caused, carelessly taking the lives of innocent people. Tim tries to redeem himself and sacrificially gives himself to others.

Throughout the movie, there are several spiritual allusions referencing the Book of Genesis. It starts with the reoccurring theme of “seven.” There is the title of the movie, seven people killed in the car accident, seven recipients of Tim’s organs and the weight of his donated body parts, which was seven pounds. The number seven represents the number of completion or perfection in the Bible and that’s what Tim is working towards. He has to complete his “task” in order to feel worthy again, but he has to kill himself in order to do that. He feels fine with taking his life because a few years prior, he had taken the life of others and this is the only way to repay what he did.

The title of the movie comes from Shakespeare’s “pound of flesh” phrase from Merchant of Venice in 1596. This phrase means something owed that is ruthlessly required to be paid back. Tim decides he has to pay back to the lives of seven people since he took the lives of seven other people. Once this is done, all of his debts will be paid off. In doing so, Tim plays a judge in deciding if people are “good” enough and if they are worthy of living. When he finds one man that he thinks isn’t, he moves on to his next candidate. At the same time, he is also lying about his identity, harassing and stalking people, breaking the law, sleeping with a woman that isn’t his wife and then ultimately committing suicide. Although his is trying to be a “good” person himself, he is doing multiple things that are legally and morally wrong in a religious sense. With the many references to the Bible throughout the movie, one can infer that Tim is finding meaning in this life with the help of religion. He is finding forgiveness through Christ for sinning. Many people find meaning in life through religion because a supernatural being “tells” them what to do. In following these orders, they live a happy and meaningful life that they won’t look back on and question.

Although religious aspects are prominent in the movie, that is not the only way to discover the meaning of life in this movie. Using Scheffler’s Doomsday scenario and Wolf’s conjecture, one can parallel the ideas. Wolf believes that people still would still find meaning in their life even if they know they are going to die in a certain period of time. Knowing that time is limited would just bring people closer together and they would find comfort in each other. To an extent, this is what Tim does. Once he meets Emily, he starts falling in love with her. Although he was previously engaged, he finds another woman who he wants to be with before he gives his heart to her. Tim finds meaning in searching out candidates to donate his organs to just before he dies. So all though he knows he is going to die, he doesn’t think that his life is pointless or unimportant. However, just because he has a meaning to his life right before death, his life may not be as happy as he had expected.

Another way this movie ties into philosophy and finding the meaning of life is through the philosopher Aristotle. Aristotle questions if activities themselves can be intrinsically good. Tim donating his organs is an activity that would be considered intrinsically good; one just has to look past the means by which he gets to this point. In this case, Aristotle would say that there is an end beyond the activity, and this product is by nature better than the activity. In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle claims, “Every craft and every investigation, and likewise every action and decision, seems to aim at some good.” This statement has to give “good” a very broad definition, but nevertheless Tim’s actions would be considered good.

With just a simple movie, one can see how the meaning of life is not described by a simple explanation. It takes lots of thought and multiple aspects to evaluate meaning of anything, especially life. By looking at meaning from numerous aspects, people will be able to better develop the meaning they want for their live.