Studies in Philosophy and Education

, Volume 32, Issue 5, pp 463–475 | Cite as

Happiness, Despair and Education

  • Peter Roberts


In today’s world we appear to place a premium on happiness. Happiness is often portrayed, directly or indirectly, as one of the key aims of education. To suggest that education is concerned with promoting unhappiness or even despair would, in many contexts, seem outlandish. This paper challenges these widely held views. Focusing on the work of the great Russian writer, Fyodor Dostoevsky, I argue that despair, the origins of which lie in our reflective consciousness, is a defining feature of human life. Education, I maintain, should not be seen as a flight from despair but as a process of deepening our understanding of suffering and its potentially pivotal role in our humanisation. In developing these ideas, I draw on Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death and Unamuno’s The Tragic Sense of Life in Men and Nations, among other sources.


Existentialism Despair Happiness Consciousness Dostoevsky Kierkegaard Unamuno 



An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 3rd Annual Bergen Educational Conversation, University of Bergen, 21–22 September 2011. I would like to thank other participants at this event for their helpful comments. I am especially grateful to Frédérique Brossard Børhaug and Herner Sæverot, who served as respondents to my paper. Further valuable feedback was received via the journal’s reviewing process.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of EducationUniversity of CanterburyChristchurchNew Zealand

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