Towards a Multi-Disciplinary Approach
Edited by Amitava Krishna Dutt and Benjamin Radcliff
Chapter 10: Politics and Happiness: An Empirical Ledger
Alexander C. Pacek Does politics affect human happiness, and do shifts in human happiness have explicit political consequences in turn? From the onset of intellectual history there has been no dearth of opinion in support of these interrelated questions. Aristotle made it abundantly clear that the development of moral character and virtue was the key to human happiness, and that the state had a paramount role to play in this development. For Aquinas, writing in the Summa Theologiae, the state was to pursue the enhancement of both spiritual and earthly happiness, stating ‘law must attend to the ordering of individual things in such a way as to secure the common happiness of all’. Thomas Jefferson famously wrote to the general Thaddeus Kosciusko that ‘The freedom and happiness of man . . . are the sole objects of all legitimate government.’ The Declaration of Independence’s author further remarked that ‘The only orthodox object . . . of government is to secure the greatest degree of happiness possible to the general mass of those associated with it.’ For Bentham, the state had an obligation to nurture happiness by not allowing people to suffer needlessly, by encouraging abundance and by ensuring a basic equality of means. While these debates continued for centuries, they remained debates. However the advent of a large and growing body of literature on the empirical study of human happiness shifted the discourse from presumption and speculation to scientific inquiry, aided by ever more sophisticated measurement tools (for extensive reviews, see, Diener et al., 1999; Veenhoven,...
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