Tenets, implications and tenability of three theories

Ruut Veenhoven

Published in: Dutt, A. K. & Radcliff, B. (eds.) ‘Happiness, Economics and Politics: Towards a multi-disciplinary approach’, Edward Elger Publishers, 2009, Cheltenham UK, ISBN 978 1 84844 093 7, Chapter 3, page 45-69

Utilitarian moral philosophy holds that we should aim at greater happiness for a greater number. Yet two theories about how we assess how happy we are imply that there is not much value in happiness and that happiness cannot de raised lastingly. These two theories are: (1) ‘Set-point’ theory, which holds that we are mentally programmed for a certain degree of happiness, and (2) ‘Comparison’ theory holding that happiness results from a rational mental calculus involving comparison with standard of the good life. An alternative mental theory that fit better with utilitarian creed is the (3) ‘Affect’ theory that happiness depends on unreasoned emotional experience, which reflects gratification of needs.
These theories are described, their theoretical plausibility is discussed and the empirical support evaluated. It is concluded that the first two theories fall short as a general explanation. Happiness seems to be inferred from how we feel in the first place. Hence there is no reality ground for rejecting the greatest happiness principle as a moral lead.

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