The Ordinary Concept of Happiness (and Others Like It)

Emotion Review 71 (3):929-937 (2011)
Consider people’s ordinary concept of belief. This concept seems to pick out a particular psychological state. Indeed, one natural view would be that the concept of belief works much like the concepts one finds in cognitive science – not quite as rigorous or precise, perhaps, but still the same basic type of notion. But now suppose we turn to other concepts that people ordinarily use to understand the mind. Suppose we consider the concept happiness. Or the concept love. How are these concepts to be understood? One obvious hypothesis would be that they are best understood as being more or less like the concept of belief. Maybe these concepts, too, pick out a particular mental state and thereby enable people to predict, explain and understand others’ behavior. We will argue that this hypothesis is mistaken. Instead, we suggest that the different concepts people use to understand the mind are fundamentally different from each other. Some of these concepts do indeed serve simply to pick out a particular mental state, but others allow a role for evaluative judgments. So, for example, our claim will be that when people are wondering whether a given agent is truly ‘happy’ or ‘in love,’ they are not merely trying to figure out whether this agent has a particular sort of mental state. They are also concerned in a central way with evaluating the agent herself. In short, our aim is to point to a striking sort of difference between the different concepts that people use to pick out psychological attitudes. We will be..
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DOI 10.1177/1754073911402385
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