The Good in Happiness

In Tania Lombrozo, Shaun Nichols & Joshua Knobe (eds.), Oxford Studies in Experimental Philosophy, Volume 1. Oxford University Press. pp. 253–293 (2014)
Authors
Shen-yi Liao
University of Puget Sound
Jonathan Phillips
Harvard University
Abstract
There has been a long history of arguments over whether happiness is anything more than a particular set of psychological states. On one side, some philosophers have argued that there is not, endorsing a descriptive view of happiness. Affective scientists have also embraced this view and are reaching a near consensus on a definition of happiness as some combination of affect and life-satisfaction. On the other side, some philosophers have maintained an evaluative view of happiness, on which being happy involves living a life that is normatively good. Within the context of this debate we consider how people ordinarily understand happiness, and provide evidence that the ordinary understanding of happiness reflects aspects of both evaluative and descriptive views. Similar to evaluative views, normative judgments have a substantive role in the ordinary understanding of happiness. Yet, similar to descriptive views, the ordinary understanding is focused on the person’s psychological states and not the overall life they actually lived. Combining these two aspects, we argue that the ordinary understanding of happiness suggests a novel view on which happiness consists in experiencing positive psychological states when one ought to. This view, if right, has implications for both philosophical and psychological research on happiness.
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