Economics and Philosophy



Daniel M. Hausmana1

a1 University of Wisconsin-Madison


This essay criticizes the proposal recently defended by a number of prominent economists that welfare economics be redirected away from the satisfaction of people's preferences and toward making people happy instead. Although information about happiness may sometimes be of use, the notion of happiness is sufficiently ambiguous and the objections to identifying welfare with happiness are sufficiently serious that welfare economists are better off using preference satisfaction as a measure of welfare. The essay also examines and criticizes the position associated with Daniel Kahneman and a number of co-authors that takes welfare to be ‘objective happiness’ – that is, the sum of momentary pleasures.

Daniel M. Hausman is the Herbert A. Simon Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and one of the founding editors of this journal. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and author of a number of works at the boundaries between economics and philosophy. He is currently working on a book on preferences.


This paper originated as a comment on Paul Dolan's and Daniel Kahneman's essay, ‘Interpretations of Utility and their Implications for the Valuation of Health’ (2008) and has undergone extensive revisions prompted by detailed and helpful comments by anonymous reviewers and extremely useful criticisms from Harry Brighouse, Paul Dolan, Marc Fleurbaey, Daniel Kahneman, Philippe Mongin, David Myatt, Russ Shafer-Landau, Robert Streiffer and Bertil Tungodden. I am also indebted for their comments and questions to audiences at Nanjing Normal University and Shanghai College of Economics and Finance. Any remaining errors are mine.