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What is happiness? NMSU students to discuss concept with public

Philosophy students at New Mexico State University want to talk to you about the nature of happiness. For two hours next week, students from philosophy professor Mark Walker's happiness class will emulate Socrates and interact with the public from the campus' first-ever "happiness booth." The student stand will be open from 1:30-3:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 2, next to Corbett Center Student Union.

A man standing near a stone entryway in the desert
NMSU students will launch a 'happiness booth' on the campus of New Mexico State University on April 2. At the booth near Corbett Center, they will discuss the philosophy of happiness with the public as part of philosophy professor Mark Walker's course titled "Should we want to be happy?" Walker received a $25,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to develop the course. (Courtesy photo)

"We will be dressed in togas and sandals as though we are ancient Athenians, stopping people and politely attempting to engage them in a philosophical discussion," said Jamie Bronstein, professor of history in the College of Arts and Sciences and a student in Walker's class.

The course was created thanks to a $25,000 grant awarded to Walker from the National Endowment for the Humanities Enduring Questions program. The booth will serve as a teaching tool for the special topics class "Should we want to be happy?"

"Students in the class have been studying various theories of what constitutes happiness and 'the good life' for humans," Bronstein said. "We read Plato's dialogue 'Philebus,' and had an opportunity to see how Plato's Socrates developed understanding of concepts like happiness by interacting with the Athenian public."

Bronstein said the goal of the project is for students to learn from "doing philosophy" in a public space. The entire class will participate, asking questions like "Is happiness the most important facet of 'the good life' for humans?"

While Walker's students will discuss the Socrates-like experience in class, they will not keep the data.

His philosophy class is offered in the College of Arts and Sciences as "Philosophy 361: Special Topics," and will be available again in either fall 2013 or spring 2014.

Walker also teaches courses in ethics, social and political philosophy, informal logic, philosophy of science and the ethics of genetic engineering, artificial intelligence and nanotechnology. He is the author of "Happy-People-Pills For All," a new book that explores the future of advanced pharamacological agents that can mimic the natural wellbeing of those who enjoy a happy state.

For more information about the course, contact Walker at mwalker@nmsu.edu.