Happiness and Politics

Happiness and Politics

Over the last two decades, happiness has become an active field of research for psychologists, economists and philosophers, despite the fact that concerns for happiness are not new. For centuries, thinkers have been trying to define happiness and identify its determinants. Some assimilate happiness to mental dispositions involving the presence of pleasure and the absence of displeasure (hedonia), while others view ‘authentic happiness’ (Martin Seligman) as ultimately bound to more substantial individual accomplishment (eudaimonia). In economics, the predominant view on welfare is preference satisfaction.

Some moral and political theorists have even gone beyond the epistemic dimension for endorsing either hedonism or eudaimonism as theories about what to value in life. Even if these approaches may diverge about the conception of happiness they are rooted on, they nonetheless share the idea that happiness is a moral good and, as such, institutions should promote happiness.

For sure, happiness as a political ideal is an old idea, already present in the antique world and later revitalized in the American Declaration of Independence, which counted ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ among the unalienable individual rights (1776) or in the First article of the 1793 French Constitution (‘the goal of society is collective happiness’). However, part of the change lies in accumulating evidence of the loose link between happiness and material growth, renewed debates in psychology on the difference between hedonia and eudaimonia and the rising interest from decision makers for happiness broadly understood (including hedonia, life satisfaction or subjective well-being).

This is the intellectual landscape of Happiness and Politics workshop: to review the foundations and implications of the idea of happiness as a political goal. The workshop will host papers that discuss the assertion that individuals’ happiness is or is not the responsibility of public institutions. Furthermore, the questions of how to promote happiness, with which policy tools, under which conditions and to which extent will be explored.

Hereafter are some examples of themes that are particularly welcome (even if the list is not exclusive).

– Diverse conceptions of happiness (hedonia, life-satisfaction, subjective well-being, and eudaimonia, etc.) and their political implications

– Happiness and anti-capitalist discourses (e.g., the anti-growth movement)

– Individual preferences, subjective well-being and paternalism

– Economic and well-being indexes (e.g., Gross National Happiness Index or the Bhutan experience)

– Contemporary politics of happiness: theory and practices

– The history of the relations between happiness and politics (e.g., in the utilitarian tradition)

Papers will be pre-circulated in advance. Each paper will be attributed to a discussant. Each paper will be attributed 55 minutes for allowing substantial exchanges. The format will be 20-25 minutes presentation for each paper followed by commentaries during 10 minutes by the discussant and exchanges with the attendants during 20-25 minutes. For the time being don’t intend to invite guest speakers.

Panel Convenors:

Karsten Klint Jensen (Copenhagen)

Email: kkj@foi.ku.dk

Xavier Landes (Copenhagen)

Email: xavier.landes@gmail.com

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