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Happiness as Achievement Author(s): Julia Annas Reviewed work(s): Source: Daedalus, Vol. 133, No.

2, On Happiness (Spring, 2004), pp. 44-51 Published by: The MIT Press on behalf of American Academy of Arts & Sciences Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20027912 . Accessed: 08/01/2013 05:25
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Julia Annas
as achievement


JLen years about theory,

a book called TheMorality ofHappiness

the structure I received of ancient an email ethical me informing

ago, shortly

after publishing

about ment

conceptualization are now fairly well

that I had been added to a bibliography

of Happiness. I explored this site with interest, only to find that this was not a research program to be part of. that I felt myself discus The website assumes, without is "subjective," that sion, that happiness or it is enjoyment and that it pleasure, Philos should be studied "empirically." to "oper ophy is then derided for failing and to produce ationalize" happiness of it. (Philosophy has amea com 88 in entries the ger bibliography, to the for social 2,927 sciences.) pared studies are lauded for their Empirical measures the web of happiness, while site claims that "preliminary questions "measures" Julia Annas, a Fellow of theAmerican Academy since 1992, isRegents Professor of Philosophy at theUniversity of Arizona. She is the author of numerous articles and of eight books on ancient Morality philosophy and ethics, including uThe of Happiness' (1993) and uPlatonic Ethics, Old and New" (1999). She iswriting a book on virtue

of "happiness researchers" called the World Database

on a website

The website, however, inite air of disappointment. No sound on of it ad body knowledge happiness, In has been the achieved. mits, pres yet ent state of research, we can claim only that "there are obviously several univer sal requirements for a happy life (such as food and possibly meaning)." (and some psychologists, Philosophers

and measure " solved. gives off a def

too) will find it unsurprising that if you

rush to look for empirical measures of an unanalyzed 'subjective' phenomenon, the result will be confusion and banali ty.1 After all, what is it that the social sci entists on the World Database of Happi ness are actually Here is the measuring? really Is it simply amat something subjective? a positive ter of pleasure, feeling? We can at least it is that not, and that hope we can come to conclusions better than the claim happy
i For an


of the problem.

Is happiness

that what anyone needs to be is food and possibly meaning.

amusing example, see <http "one ://news. where solved of the

bbc.co.Uk/2/hi/health/2630869.stm>, to have claim "scientists" greatest

? 2004 by the American & Sciences 44 D


of Arts

mankind" mysteries by actu plaguing us a mathematical :P + (5 x formula ally giving = P = where E) + (3 x H) happiness, personal E = existence, and H = higher characteristics, order needs. You compute formula your by answering four questions.

dalus Spring 2004

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For many years I have taught, dis on ancient ethical cussed, and written are those whose basic theories, concepts this of happiness and virtue. During interest in these the time, philosophical ories has grown rapidly and has in turn a crop of modern Virtue eth produced are ics' theories, a fair number of which eudaimonist that is, theories which take happiness and virtue to be basic are now concepts. Philosophers taking more virtue and happiness seriously than they had for some time, and realiz of clarifying and ing the importance our of these deepening understanding studies. before rushing into empirical (Judging concern this by recent publications, some areas is shared in of psy

we are talk we talk about feelings I wake about ; up feeling hap ing episodes py but am depressed by the time I get to a lunchtime. work, never mind Getting or smiley-face feeling from good deeds bad deeds lasts only as long as the deeds do. And this kind of happiness does not when matter to us all that much once we start to think in a serious way about our lives. As we bring up our children, what we aim for is not that they have episodes of smiley-face feeling, but that their lives we : come to think of go well as wholes as the way a life as awhole happiness goes well, and see that episodes of hap are not what we build our lives piness

Happiness as achievement

chology.) As a result, one of the best places to is the seek understanding of happiness ancient of ethical theories and of study theories which share their concerns. For these recog eudaimonist nize, and build on, some of our thoughts over about happiness that have become whelmed the kind of consideration by in the claim that happiness that emerges is obviously subjective. Given the sys results of the tematically disappointing database ously it is time to look seri approach, at our alternatives. those modern

This point can produce a variety of responses. One is to say that when we are our lives as wholes, we thinking of or should think in terms of flourishing or welfare rather than well-being happi ness. These terms may be useful in some to avoid misunderstand circumstances we should not ing, but yield talk of hap to its without further discussion piness most Inmy expe reveals that we rience, rapidly over our lives as do talk about happiness or at least over wholes, long stretches of them. We should not, then, restrict talk discussion at the start to contexts of of happiness short-term feeling. The point that these are the contexts which first occur to many people when are asked about indicates they happiness that our notion of happiness has indeed been by the notion of smiley faces, feeling good, and pleasant epi sodes. Doubtless this is the source of some of the researcher's empirical prob lems in trying to measure it. For ifwe affected trivial contexts of use.

it is asked what happiness When is, a first answer may well be that it is some kind of feeling. Being happy is easily tak - as en to be Iwake when feeling happy - a in the morning kind of smiley-face up us rap This line of feeling. thought takes can be to I the idea that idly happy doing any old thing. Some people feel happy when helping old ladies across streets ; others feel happy when torturing pup comes down to whatever pies :happiness you happen to like. But this line of thought for long. It is immediately cannot obvious stay up that

the happiness of lives in try to measure terms of smiley-face the results feelings, I have seen a survey will be grotesque. that asks people to measure the happi ness of their lives by assigning

it a face





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Julia Annas on happiness

from a spectrum with a very smiley face at one end and a very frowny face at the other. Suppose that you have just won the Nobel Prize ; this surely merits the also that you in a car crash ; the frowniest face. this surely warrants are no co is how There So, you? happy herent answer unless you are supposed to combine these points by picking the smiliest have indifferent face in the middle ! face. But suppose just lost your family

on which each of us is the authori thing am I I think I am, since I am if ty. happy want. I For who could be a what getting better authority than I am on the issue of I am getting what Iwant? whether Per is desire haps the idea that happiness satisfaction does justice to the initial thought without that it is something subjective the obvious problems of the interpretation. have


Why might we be dissatisfied with

to hold she wants that is

this result? We would 1^0, even if episodes first come to mind, we do think, centrally, of living happy lives. And this is because we think of our lives as wholes when we are thinking of how to live, what kind of people we are to aspire to be. At this point, another characteristical and more reasonable sound lymodern, come to in. Surely having ing, idea tends a to do with life has happy something what rather than being want, you getting and deprived of what you frustrated want? ; the happy whose desires be the person person are fulfilled. The term for philosopher's will We all have desires

anyone getting what he or the nature happy, whatever would thus lose Happiness as an idea that could serve

of the desire. any purchase to rank or

Bill ; Mandela, judge lives Nelson if they are all get Gates, and Madonna, ting what they want, are all happy, so about their any comparative judgments lives cannot involve the idea of happi ness. We accept this, thinking that might there must be something else about lives can be compared perhaps well or some other kind of value on being which the agent is not necessarily the which best authority. ac One thing the desire-satisfaction count disables us from doing ismaking

this is the 'desire-satisfaction' account, more to ideas which appeals thoughtful than our initial ones. a one of happy life be want? what you getting People, after all, can live in lives many different happy about happiness Why wouldn't ways. We feel that there is something in trying to build any particular wrong content into our notion of happiness such that only people living certain of life could be happy. The idea is desire-satisfaction that happiness on the content seems neutral suitably to the of happy lives, allowing happiness intellectual and the incurious alike as as they are getting what they desire. long as to think of happiness It is possible to ifwe are prepared desire-satisfaction - in think of happiness the spirit of the - as some that it is subjective suggestion kinds
46 D dalus

about the happiness of people judgments whose desires are in obvious ways defec some desires are based tive. Notoriously, on or rea radically faulty information are unresponsive Some desires soning. to the agent's reasoning powers because or obsession. of the force of addiction At a deeper level, some desires are themselves deformed by social pres sures. Girls who desire less for them than for their brothers, poor peo see who desire for self-betterment ple as these are just two of unimaginable kinds of desires that are open to many ex criticism, despite being honestly to in the and modification open pressed reason and information, of because light of they spring from the internalization selves



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ideas that deny the agents themselves proper respect. Once again, the idea that happiness can absorb these is desire-satisfaction their faults, at the points cost of shrinking happiness to some am I where authoritative. only thing that I am happy if I Suppose, however, I am happy if I am think I am, because I and I am the author what want, getting on whether am I ity getting what Iwant. Ifwe take this point seriously, we can see that we have not for really moved con ward from the smiley-face-feeling is still ception of happiness. Happiness a state I am in that I report on :get just ting what Iwant, rather than feeling a state, a state of good, but still namely desires fulfilled. having my iJoth faction the smiley-face and desire-satis accounts of happiness, despite and even deny

The other perspective opens up as soon as we ask of any action, am Why I doing am I it.Why ? A of number getting up different kinds of answers suggest them one kind selves, but we readily recognize that is purposive :I get up in order to get to

Happiness as achievement

am I my classes. Why going to my In order to major classes? in Spanish. am I in In order Why majoring Spanish? to get a job as a translator. The answers collected by this question will not all be on the same level of a generality. Taking course is a its that gets particular goal salience from some more general goal, career. Our such as having a satisfying are in this way nested. goals One feature of this way of thinking clear is its capacity to that soon becomes as concurrent I cannot aims have unify. to be a great ballet dancer the ambition to be a lieutenant in and the ambition ; I have to find a way to se aims coherently. As this these quence me what my of way thinking reveals to aims are, I realize that they are con of consisten strained by considerations the Marines and energy. cy, available time, resources, come from the fact These constraints that my aims are the aims I have in the or self to live. Confused me to aims force get clear undermining er about my priorities and to sort out claims on my time and competing energy. So thinking about the way one action only life I have for the sake of another leads into life in about my seamlessly thinking a nonlinear way, one we can call global. I not into may leap right away thinking of a as con start I life whole ; my by might units smaller sidering circumscribing various phases of my life, such as my twenties or my life at university. But when large aims, typically associated come in, with careers or self-fulfillment, I have whole to move to thinking of my life as a - a whole given in terms of my D dalus Spring 2004 47 is done

popularity, especially turn out to con among social scientists, flict with two other surprisingly deep convictions and far-reaching about convictions the meaning of happiness, in which emerge readily simple discus sion. These are the thought that happi ness has an essential connection with as a life whole and the my thought that happiness is an achievement on my

their current

should I even bother thinking Why It can seem, about my life as awhole? from amodern of like an ex view, point to cautious do thing pruden cessively tial in the way that people are prudential who save and buy life insurance. But it is and it is some actually rather different, we all do all the time, since there thing are two perspectives which we take on our lives. which is the linear perspective, from we think of our lives as proceed one action ing through time, being fol lowed by another as we slowly get older. One

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Julia Annas on happiness

goals and the way they fit together all rather than as mere duration


through time. This way of thinking, we should no tice, strikingly refutes the initial sup of a timid, over-prudent way position of thinking about my life. Such a per come from assuming spective would that I already know, at least in outline, inmy life, and re what will happen we are to this spond cautiously. What is an concerned with here, by contrast, of about my exploratory way thinking life in which my plans are shaping and actively organizing what pen in it. is going to hap

see that we have made after all; for once we recognize, progress even if at an indeterminate level, that we have a final end, questions and problems now occupy about happiness exactly the the with proper right place. Coming up of our overall goal in living specification will make us happy. But before this is we need to know what helpful for us, is. happiness Is it pleasure ? We now know that the V Ve to this question must rec a that ognize happiness specifies not transient feeling, but our final end in a sense for us of the aims way that makes we pursue. Am I studying Spanish, ulti to We can see right get pleasure ? mately, answer if that the is to be yes, then away to has in away be pleasure explicated right sense of its role as an aim I in studying Spanish as one way to shape my life. If this can be done, itwill turn out to have little to do with itwill turn out to be smiley-face feeling; that makes could have a blander, We kind of pleasure. Epicurean are on the right track, then, in in the search for for looking happiness answer

can now

I recognize this perspective Suppose and realize that what faces me is not just a series of actions trailing into the fu a but the task of form ture, task, namely a as in and by the way whole ing my life I act. I then have, even if in a vague and muddled of my life way, a conception as awhole and of the overall way my en deavors are shaping it my telos as the ancients put it. ? Aristo this get us to happiness tle famously said that everybody agrees that our telos is happiness. We, however, do not so readily come to this conclu sion. Some respond at this point by de Does is our overarching nying that happiness aim in life. Others accept Aristotle's it by taking but trivialize point verbally, to be whatever you want, happiness just from discussions of expelling concern with the for serious happiness mation of our lives. thereby Aristotle to note that It is important, however, at once goes on to add that that our final or overarching agreement end is happiness does not settle any thing,

the best way to live, the best way to our telos. Once we follow understand can see through this train of thought, we and desire why the smiley-face-feeling accounts were so hopeless. satisfaction The are issues about issues that matter the living of our lives, not about feelings or desires. Once this is clear, we can avoid verbal disputes about whether or happiness properly applies to feelings to lives as awhole. We talk in terms of

both; but the issues about happiness that concern us most are those that are once we think about our formulated lives in a global as well as a linear way. JL'o we actually think about happiness a lot of our dis in this way? Certainly course implies it.When Iwonder

since people disagree as to what is. Some think it is pleasure, happiness others virtue ;unreflective people think or status. it ismoney

48 D




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the lottery will make whether winning me is the point in this really happy, it mind whether ; I am not wondering will produce smiley-face me what Iwant. Discussion and debate lives also makes feeling or give

and we do think of this issue as one discussed And in terms of values look this does not

to be

and ideals.

Happiness as achievement

any of the many is understood. Is happiness


in 'subjective' in which that term

about others' clear to us that we are

about what happiness disputing really is, and that this is a point about our lives and the ways these have been shaped. Two people may dispute whether their or not when life ruined her she colleague as a accor lost her job result of acting in whistle dance with her values. (She blew the on corrupt practices, say.) One onlooker may say that she has ruined her

an achievement, really though, in the way suggested? Suppose we agree that I aim at happiness by spec ifying my aims in life overall, and agree, that this is something for which are so accounts available, competing on my and choice direction requiring itself aptly to be part. Still, is happiness as amatter I of of the direction thought further,

give my life?
are used to theories that take hap - a one, of piness to be a state positive course. On this view, shared by conse of all kinds, aiming to be quentialists We into happy just is aiming to get myself some state. In principle, this positive body else could do the work for me, it is hard and if the work is laborious to see why Iwould insist on doing it myself. But could happiness about mention inmyself? be a state of my to that I first Kurt

for happiness ;now she is un prospects all and her training and am employable, bition will go to waste. The other may say that she would never have been hap py had she not acted as she did; had she failed to live up to her values, her life would This have been infected by hypocrisy. is a dispute about happiness that could not be settled by reports about her or desire-satisfaction. It is a sub feelings stantive dispute about what we are seek it re ing overall in life, and resolving our val substantive discussion of quires ues and priorities. not Why does this sort of discourse more to the minds spring prominently of social scientists when they embark on happiness It seems to be research? at least as prominent in the way people as are think and talk about happiness It about does not, of thoughts feelings. that con course, fit into the framework as ceives of happiness and subjective us to doubt the this should lead perhaps that we have a well-ground assumption ed idea of 'subjective' happiness and that is the proper place to that assumption start our investigation of happiness. For, as we have seen, we do think of happi ness as or not, to be achieved, something a life of one kind or another ; by living

self that I (or if I am lucky, others) bring

Here it is relevant a discussion with students

I have had many times, but which a borrowed former student, from

in his business the students business school stu class, mostly dents, what they thought a happy life consisted of. All mentioned material a a nice house, like things large salary, an SUV, and so on. Well, he said, sup that pose you find in the mail tomorrow an unknown has left you lots benefactor Kurt asked ethics so that these material of money, things are now yours for the Would this having. make you happy? Overwhelmingly they said no (and this is uniformly what I have found also). What this little thought experiment shows is that itwas not really the materi D dalus Spring 2004 49

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Julia Annas on happiness

al things, the stuff, that they imagined would make their lives happy. Rather, a as one in they thought of happy life which they earned the money, made of their lives so that these something were an appropriate reward for things their effort, Just having


final objection isworth mention : as it is the of that idea ing happiness is unrealistically achievement high We see all around who

minded. us, it is claimed, as think do of happiness people some kind of and who state, positive seem not to care it is greatly whether their own efforts which produce this state for them, or those of others. If this is a common too idealistic achievement? To this the right response is, I think, that low expectations should not auto lead us to lower our ideals. matically for a num People have low expectations ber of reasons social con prominently, ditions that have discouraged them from ones. someone If does not having higher as think of himself much control having over the shape his life can take, it is nat ural that he should not readily think of as he can achieve, something happiness and he may rest content with the notion is a state that others can that happiness as well bestow. But this just example as achieve does not show that happiness ment is a hopelessly ideal notion. As I it does not take a lot of have indicated, to find it. reflection To show that eudaimonism is the right re form for ethical theory to take would more argument can I than quire provide here, but I hope to have shown at least as achieve that the notion of happiness ment which forms the center of such is already a part of our reflective theories

and achievement. ambition, the stuff was not all they

enough example, we is it yet powerful when surprisingly take it seriously. How many people really them think that stuff alone will make they obtain it? happy, regardless That you could be made happy by mon ey or an SUV, regardless of how you got them? The thought extends readily to things that have been taken to be measures in nu of happiness objective merous studies. Am Imade happy by beauti intelligent, being strong, healthy, an or at income above the ful? By having average in my society? By having a rea sonably high status inmy society? Once to us we bear in mind the importance other not just of having these things but of one kind of life rather having them in we can see that these ques than another, as cannot tions sensibly be thought of or no answers. They open the having yes discussion rather than tell us what we need to know to close it. are not so far as we might think from the ancient thought that happiness even is an achievement, given the fact that our thoughts have got confused by So we the association of how


is amundane

is it not way of thinking, as to think of happiness

of happiness with feel ings. We do have the thought that hap comes from living in some ways piness and not others, that it is not something that others can give you, either by giving you stuff or by getting you into a partic ular state. Too often these reflections have been ignored by the social sciences, to regret, and this has been something and the source of much of the disap state of happiness studies in pointing
that area. SO D dalus 2004

it isworth redirect to what we actually think about happiness. We are faced with the point that we do think of happi ness as an achievement in the way we live our lives :one subject to dispute and that we will need theories disagreement to clarify, never mind settle. And even has this much shows us that philosophy

In the meantime, ing our attention


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to contribute

than social


Happiness as achievement

the study has allowed, both in refocusing on the proper data and in giving it fruit ful direction. are fun as reward stickers Smiley faces in children's books, but they are no help in serious thought about happy lives. It to is a pity that we need philosophers out. point this





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