Defining Happiness

Utilitarians believe that we should maximize happiness and minimize unhappiness. Sometimes “happiness” is replaced with some other word or phrase, like “pleasure”, “utility”, “living standards”, and so on, but the claim is generally the same. Critics of utilitarianism often accuse utilitarians of being imprecise in their conception of happiness. If happiness is what matters, what makes people happy in the first place? Some utilitarians seem to smuggle in very peculiar conceptions of happiness without justifying or substantiating them. As someone with utilitarian leanings, I think the critics are owed a more comprehensive response than they’ve received, so that’s what I set out to do today.

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