Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Hedonism and Happiness in Theory and Practice

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posted on 2021-11-12, 13:50 authored by Weijers, Daniel Michael

In this thesis, I investigate several different questions about happiness and hedonism in theory and practice and offer several arguments and theories. In addition to making progress in these happiness-related areas of inquiry, this thesis aims to demonstrate the complexity and variety of happiness-related problems and the broad range of real-world problems that considerations of happiness can help to resolve. Furthermore, nearly every chapter of this thesis demonstrates how interdisciplinary analyses can bring new movement to problems that have become insulated within one academic discipline. This thesis is divided into two main parts. Chapters 1 through 5 constitute Part 1, and Chapters 6 through 8 constitute Part 2. Part 1 of this thesis is focused on theory and questions about what we should believe. In particular, Part 1 is concerned with Prudential Hedonism, a theory of what is good for a person, which claims (roughly) that a preponderance of pleasure over pain (sometimes referred to as happiness) is what is ultimately good for people. After providing a broad overview of hedonism, and especially Prudential Hedonism, in Chapter 1, the remainder of Part 1 focuses on one main question from philosophical debates about well-being: does the experience machine thought experiment give us good reason to believe that internalist accounts of Prudential Hedonism are all false? The main conclusion that I argue for in Part 1 is that no, the experience machine thought experiment does not gives us good reason to believe that internalist accounts of Prudential Hedonism are all false. Part 2 of this thesis is focused on practice, and particularly on how considerations of happiness can inform certain practices and help us to understand what we should do in certain circumstances. Unlike Part 1, which has a smooth narrative flow from chapter to chapter, Part 2 contains three relatively unrelated chapters, each of which investigates a different question without relying on the conclusions of any previous chapters. Chapter 6 argues that an optimistic view about scientific and technological progress allows for two interesting new theories for the meaning of life debate, and discusses what people with certain kinds of belief might want to do to achieve true meaning in life. One of these theories posits that causing there to be infinite happiness can be a way to achieve a truly meaningful life. Chapter 7 demonstrates how considerations of human happiness can justify why a particular set of distributive principles are the fairest way to apportion the burdens associated with adapting to, and mitigating, the potentially devastating effects of rapid climactic change. Based on these considerations, Chapter 7 includes fairly specific policy recommendations about what governments should do about climate change. This thesis also includes a Postscript for Policymakers. Compared to Chapters 2 to 7, the Postscript for Policymakers takes a much higher-level approach; it seeks to provide general answers to two very broad questions. Given its broader scope and different intended audience, the Postscript for Policymakers does not include in-depth discussion of all likely objections. The two questions addressed in the Postscript for Policymakers are: should policymakers use findings from the science of happiness to guide their policy decisions, and how can they best do this? The Postscript for Policymakers concludes that findings from the science of happiness should be used to guide policymaking (with several qualifications), and it provides recommendations for how best to do this.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


Agar, Nick; Das, Ramon