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PUBLIC POLICY AND THE CONDITIONAL VALUE OF HAPPINESS

  • Jan-Willem van der Rijt (a1)

Abstract

This paper examines the increasingly popular view that new insights from the science of subjective well-being (SSWB) should play a prominent role in the determination of public policy. Though there are instrumental reasons for caring about societal happiness too, these political aspirations of the SSWB appear to be mostly intrinsically motivated. As the intrinsic value of happiness is endorsed across the political–philosophical spectrum, there is some initial plausibility to the expectation that it should not be too difficult to develop intrinsically motivated policies that can count on widespread support. This paper argues, however, that intrinsically motivated policies based on SSWB findings will always be highly controversial. This is because, although happiness is widely held to be intrinsically valuable, it is usually not deemed unconditionally valuable. By exploring the policy implications of three different views of this conditionality – happiness as a fitting response to the state of the world, authenticity, and merit – it is shown that different views of the conditionality of the intrinsic value of happiness have widely diverging policy implications, which greatly undermines the political aspirations of the SSWB.

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