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Jonathan Phillips and Joshua Knobe: The Ordinary Concept of Happiness

Consider a father who looks at his beloved daughter and thinks, ‘What I want most in life is just for you to be happy.’ In thinking this thought, the father makes use of a concept that is deeply important but also very difficult to adequately characterize – the ordinary concept of happiness. Our aim is to understand how this concept works.

One obvious view would be that the ordinary concept of happiness is just a matter of having certain psychological states. For example, it might be thought that the ordinary concept of happiness is a matter of feeling good, experiencing satisfaction with one’s life, and not experiencing negative affective states, such as pain, lonelinessor despair. On this view, when the father thinks that what he wants most in life is for his daughter to be happy, what he means is simply that what he wants is for her to have certain kinds of psychological states.


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Eden Lin: Subjective List Theories

How well a person’s life is going (i.e., how high it is in welfare or well-being) is determined by how good or bad for that person the things that are happening in her life are. Theories of well-being purport to tell us what it takes for a person’s life to go well by identifying the basic goods and bads: the kinds that are good or bad for a person in the most fundamental way. In the philosophical literature on well-being, there is a standard menu of theories: hedonism, desire satisfactionism, perfectionism, the happiness theory, hybrid theories, and objective list theories. In “The Subjective List Theory of Well-Being” (Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 2016), I argue that this menu should be expanded to include a neglected type of theory: subjective list theories. I also introduce a particular theory of this type, and I argue that it is superior to some existing theories. In this post, I will give an abbreviated version of the argument from that paper.


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Dan Haybron: Not Well-Being, But a Good Life

I came to philosophy motivated by a long-standing sense that there is something profoundly wrong with the way we live, a sentiment well expressed in a gorgeous 1982 film, Koyaanisqatsi, Hopi for “life out of balance” or “crazy life.” I had experienced ways of living that made sense to me and ways, depicted in the film, that did not. I wanted better to understand this worry. It was surprising, then, that my first ethics course persuaded me that it was probably not worth taking another. The readings sometimes claimed to be talking about the good life, but for the most part they just talked about this or that fragment of a good life: being morally good or being happy, for instance. The fragments made sense, but seemed simplistic and never really added up to anything very compelling. At least, I could never connect them with my original unease at contemporary living. Though not religious, I found more of relevance in religious studies classes, especially on East Asian thought. A later course on MacIntyre brought a deeper appreciation of Aristotle’s insights. But nothing quite hit the mark.

Part of what draws so many students to ancient philosophy, including non-Western thought, is that it seems clearly to address our fundamental concern to lead good lives. What we get from Aristotle and the Stoics, for instance, are comprehensive visions of the sorts of lives we should want. For Aristotle, a good life is a full and active life involving many sorts of excellence, not just moral virtue. It is a deeply pleasant and meaningful life, and includes some element of fortune in things like health and wealth. This is what we should aim at, for ourselves and our children, and the measure by which we should assess our lives in our deathbed reckonings. In broad outline, it is an attractive and reasonably commonsensical picture of the good life. (more…)

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Connie S. Rosati: What is Good for a Person

When we talk about what is good for a person, our talk may invoke different notions of a person’s good.  No one of these notions has normative priority over the others; rather, each does important normative work.  Arguably, some disputes among welfare theorists may be due to a failure to distinguish these notions.  For purposes of illustration, I will focus on two of them here, though as will I explain, there are no doubt others.

Sometimes our talk about what is good for a person concerns the good for an individual considered as a member of a distinct biological kind.  Just as we might talk about what is good for blue jays or Labrador retrievers, we might talk about what is good for human beings, H.  So when we describe some welfare object, O, as good for a person, P, we treat as P’s good whatever is good for H.  For example, the good for human beings might include proper nutrition, the exercise and development of their capacities, pleasure or enjoyment, and both autonomy and interconnection.


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Katja Vogt: A Well-Lived Human Life

When theorizers assess how people are doing, they often speak in terms of happiness or in terms of well-being. Neither of these appears ideal to me. In my work, I talk of a well-lived human life. This notion is inspired by ancient ethics and meets three criteria.

First, it is possible for someone to lead a good life even though, at certain moments, the person is not happy. Indeed, it may be impossible to be continually happy. At the same time, a life that is entirely without positive moods, feelings, emotions, and so on, does not seem to be a life that on the whole we would want—and as I argue in a moment, this matters. In aiming to lead a good life, we plausibly aim to live in ways that include positive experiences. (more…)

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Carol Graham: Why are black poor Americans more optimistic than white ones?

America has seen a dramatic increase in the number of so-called “deaths of despair”. Caused by opioid addiction, alcohol or drug overdose and suicide, these deaths have hit middle-aged white people without a college education particularly hard. The trend is extensive enough to have driven up the overall mortality rate, with the U.S. in the unusual position of being a rich country where life expectancy is falling rather than going up.


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By In Happiness Comments Off on New PEA Soup Series on Happiness and Wellbeing

New PEA Soup Series on Happiness and Wellbeing

Nicole Hassoun is initiating an exciting new continuing feature at PEA Soup: A series of posts on happiness and wellbeing. This blog series will be a part of the Minimally Good Life Project with is under the auspices of the Happiness & Well-Being Initiative (happinessandwellbeing.org) based at Saint Louis University. It hopes to explore such questions as: what is happiness, and how does happiness differ from well-being? And what does it mean to have a good life and how do we strive towards that goal? This series will involve regular posts on the topic of happiness from experts in and out of philosophy. She has lined up an amazing group of philosophers, including Connie Rosati, Dan Haybrun, Dick Arenson, Josh Knobe, Gwen Bradford, Rosa Terlazzo, Eden Lin, and herself. She also has a truly exciting lineup of academics outside of philosophy doing important work on the subject. The first post will be by Carol Graham, Leo Pasvolsky Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, on February 1.

Upcoming schedule of events:

Carol Graham- February 1

Katja Vogt- February 15th

Connie Rosati- February 22nd

Dan Haybron- March 1st

Eden Lin- March 8th

Richard Arnesson- March 15th

Josh Knobe and Jonathan Phillips- March 22nd

Rosa Terlazzo- April 12th

Lorraine Besser- May 3rd

Gwen Bradford- May 10th

Nicole Hassoun–TBD

David Sobel- TBD

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