Acton Book Club: Happiness Hypothesis

Nathanael Yellis By Nathanael Yellis • Last Updated May 18, 2021

I'm participating in a virtual book club organized by my alma mater, the Acton School of Business. I'm excited for the discussion and the titles we'll cover: Acton's ongoing reading list has broadened my horizons already.

The first book we read was The Happiness Hypothesis. I just finished it and typed out my thoughts for the Acton blog entry kicking off the discussion. I'll link to the discussion when it starts up, but here's what I wrote:

This book captured exactly why I was uncomfortable with Acton's 'behavioral economics' discussions. The author assumes that science is the ultimate arbiter of truth.

This book brings the wisdom of the ancients (philosophy) to contemporary science, and judges philosophy with the ultimate of scientific tests: correlative studies. Some cool ideas emerged about why the ancients may have been right; but what I saw emerge was far more troubling.The author assumes we can then connect the 'is' to some set of 'oughts' and then have a set of parameters along which to live.

The conclusion of this book is that there are a whole bunch of factors we should consider, then we set ourselves somewhere in the middle and wait for happiness to happen. If we accept this, science is our ultimate truth. Everything starts with science's best answer about what is.

I think a lot truth can be best understood through science. But when we are talking about the inner part of human beings, the soul, I think science has limits.

I'd rather identify ends to pursue and actively work towards them. But science can't help: it only covers what is, not what should be. I'm fine with considering philosophy in light of psychology (social science), but our conception of truth should be firmly rooted in the former.

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