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Liberal Iranian
Liberal as in Liberty and Freedom. Iranian as in Cyrus and Ferdowsi.
Sunday, May 13, 2007
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Cato Unbound had a lively round of discussions on "happiness" in April. A major focus of the debate was how and to what extent the emerging "science of happiness" must influence public policy. However, I think a very basic question was left untouched. As McMahon writes in the lead essay all attempts at defining and designing a rout to "objective happiness" have so far failed. I go as far as to say that such an "objective happiness" does not even exist. Happiness is, in essense, subjective. What way is there, for instance, to know if someone is happy other than to ask them? All surveys of happiness basically do the same. There is no way of "calculating" how happy someone is from other data.

Here is the question: why should we as a society allow a subjective quality affect the objective realm of public policy? In answer, a central argument is that happiness is a fundamental value or even the end of life. However, to declare, objectively, that a subjective perception is the end of or a great value in life is at best presumptuous. It is contradictory.

My answer is that we should not. Only an objective end related to happiness, such as the pursuit of happiness, can be thought of as a collective value and allowed to shape public policy. Ultimately all such objective ends are tied to individual freedoms and hence contained in it. Of course, precedent historical situations might necessitate a bigger weight be given to some such ends in public institutions as, for instance, the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence, but even that would not make any sense in the absence of an even more weight given to freedom.

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