Subjective well-being: when, and why, it matters

Arts and Law, Research, Students
Wednesday 15th May 2013 (12:00-14:00)
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Professor Erik Angner (George Mason University, US)

Subjective Well-Being: When, and Why, It Matters

This seminar is co-hosted by the Department of Economics


The purpose of this talk is to give a principled answer to the question of under what conditions measures of happiness or life satisfaction, understood as subjectively experienced mental states, can serve as proxies for well-being. According to a widely held view, measures of happiness and life satisfaction represent well-being because happiness and life satisfaction are constitutive of well-being. This position, however, is untenable. Efforts to address this question in terms of Amartya Sen’s capability approach have been similarly unsuccessful. Instead, I argue, happiness and life satisfaction matter because, and insofar as, people want to be happy and/or satisfied; consequently, measures of happiness and life satisfaction can serve as measures of well-being whenever happiness is sufficiently correlated with or causally efficacious in bringing about greater preference satisfaction. While this position entails a less expansive view of the uses of happiness and life satisfaction measures, I maintain that if their proponents were to take this line, many of the objections to their enterprise can be met.