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ssrn-id799166 - THE EVOLUTION OF EUPATHICS THE HISTORICAL...

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THE EVOLUTION OF EUPATHICS: THE HISTORICAL ROOTS OF SUBJECTIVE MEASURES OF WELL-BEING Erik Angner, Ph.D. * University of Alabama at Birmingham DRAFT VERSION – PLEASE DO NOT QUOTE Final version published in The International Journal of Wellbeing 1(1):4-41, available at http://www.internationaljournalofwellbeing.org/index.php/ijow/article/view/2/71 Date: 23 January 2011 Word Count: 21433 * Contact information: Erik Angner, Dept. of Philosophy and Dept. of Marketing, Industrial Distribution, and Economics, Humanities Building 414A, University of Alabama at Birmingham, 1530 3rd Avenue South, Birmingham, AL 35294-1260, USA. Phone: +1-205-934-4805. Fax: +1-205-975-6610. Email: [email protected] . This paper is based on Angner (2005). I am grateful to those, too numerous to name, who have offered feedback on earlier drafts. All errors remain my own. Unless otherwise noted, all italics in original.
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1 THE EVOLUTION OF EUPATHICS: THE HISTORICAL ROOTS OF SUBJECTIVE MEASURES OF WELL-BEING Abstract . This paper traces the historical roots of subjective measures of well-being, that is, measures designed to represent happiness, satisfaction, or other “positive” or desirable mental states. While it is often suggested that these measures are a modern invention, I argue that they have a long and rich history that conforms to Theodore M. Porter’s general account of measurement in social and behavioral science. Subjective measures emerged in marital success studies, educational psychology, and personality psychology in the 1920’s and 30’s, and were further shaped by the epidemiology of mental health, gerontology, and the social indicator movement in the 1960’s and 70’s. Consistent with Porter’s account, these measures emerged in applied rather than theoretical branches of social and behavioral science, and they did so not as a result of physics envy, but rather as a result of a moral impulse to improve society; quantification was intended to make up for perceived deficiencies in unaided human judgment; and radical disagreements about the nature of well-being did not impede efforts to measure it – indeed, in time, there was considerably more agreement about how to measure well-being than about how to define it. Keywords: Eupathics, Happiness, Measurement, Satisfaction, Well-Being 1 Introduction It is often suggested that subjective measures of well-being – measures designed to represent happiness, satisfaction, or other “positive” or desirable mental states – are a relatively new invention. Bruno S. Frey and Alois Stutzer (2000), for example, write: “Recently, great progress has been achieved in economics: happiness has been seriously measured, and many of its determinants have been identified” (Frey & Stutzer, 2000, p. 145). Two years later, the same authors note that economists traditionally have given little attention to questions of happiness, and add: “In the past few years the situation has changed: A number of economists see an advantage in measuring
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2 subjective well-being as expressed by individuals themselves” (Frey & Stutzer, 2002, p. vii). Similarly,
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