Volume 55, Issue 1, March 2015
Happiness: Overcoming the Skill Model
I argue that the theory of happiness now dominant among philosophers embraces a flawed, technicizing model that represents happiness as a set of mental states produced by actions and events. This view contrasts with Aristotle’s conception, according to which happiness is not produced by (but is tantamount to) long-term activity and incorporates (but is not reducible to) a set of mental states. I then go on to criticize the skill model of happiness on three main grounds. First, unlike the Aristotelian model, it necessarily instrumentalizes activity while setting no principled limit to the manipulation of human action and experience. Second, and again contra Aristotle, it privileges an efficient (rather than formal) conception of causation while obscuring the way in which happiness is inextricably grounded in its conditions, which in turn has various deleterious upshots. Third and finally, the skill model yields a highly questionable notion of happiness as measurable.