Happiness, Philosophy and Science
Philosophy was the origin of most scientific disciplines. Aristotle was in some sense an astronomer, a physicist, a biologist, a psychologist and a political scientist. As various philosophical subdiscplines found ways of treating their topics with full empirical rigor, they gradually separated themselves from philosophy, which increasingly became a purely armchair enterprise, working not from controlled experiments but from common-sense experiences and conceptual analysis.
In recent years, however, the sciences — in particular, psychology and the social sciences — have begun to return to their origin, combining data and hypotheses with conceptual and normative considerations that are essentially philosophical. An excellent example of this return is the new psychological science of happiness, represented, for example, by the fundamental work of Edward Diener.
The empirical basis of this discipline is a vast amount of data suggesting correlations (or lack thereof) between happiness and various genetic, social, economic, and personal factors. Some of the results are old news: wealth, beauty, and pleasure, for example, have little effect on happiness. But there are some surprises: serious illness typically does not make us much less happy, marriage in the long run is not a major source of either happiness or unhappiness.
The new research has both raised hopes and provoked skepticism. Psychologists such as Sonja Lyubomirsky have developed a new genre of self-help books, purporting to replace the intuitions and anecdotes of traditional advisors with scientific programs for making people happy. At the same time, there are serious methodological challenges, questioning, for example, the use of individuals’ self-reports of how happy they are and the effort to objectify and even quantify so subjective and elusive a quality as happiness.
To read the fully story: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/31/happiness-philosophy-and-science/