Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The uses and abuses of 'happiness' by William Davies (EB)

There are at least four ways in which the term ‘happiness’ can be used to augment public policy debate. No doubt these overlap in certain ways, but confusions and conflations between them are doing considerable harm to the quality of public debate in this area, which impacts upon the credibility of bodies such as Action for Happiness.

The first is philosophical, and harks back to Aristotle. A good life, Aristotle argued, is a virtuous and happy life. It is one that fulfils us as human beings, marking us out from other animals. Aristotelians are not necessarily averse to engaging in technical, economic debates, as Amartya Sen’s wonderfully expansive intellectual career has demonstrated. But nor is the ethical concept of happiness – something that surely concerns all of us – collapsible into statistical, economic or psychological questions of what is measurable or what precise actions will ‘deliver’ a pleasant chemical hit to the brain.

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