Taking the Morality Out of Happiness


In an important and widely discussed series of studies, Jonathan Phillips and colleagues have suggested that the ordinary concept of happiness has a substantial moral component. For in- stance, two persons who enjoy the same extent of positive emotions and are equally satisfied with their lives are judged as happy to different degrees if one is less moral than the other. Considering that the relation between morality and happiness or self-interest has been one of the central questions of moral philosophy since at least Plato, such a result would be of considerable philosophical interest. On closer examination of the original research and new studies, we suggest that the data point to a different conclusion: in the dominant folk understanding of happiness, morality has no fundamental role. Findings seeming to indicate a moralized concept are better explained, we suggest, by folk theories on which extreme moral turpitude indicates that an individual suffers from psychological dysfunction.

Author's Profile

Markus Kneer
University of Graz


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