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Who Is the Happy Warrior? Philosophy Poses Questions to Psychology
Author(s): Martha C. Nussbaum
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Who Is the Happy Warrior? Philosophy Poses
Questions to Psychology
Martha C. Nussbaum
Psychology has recently focused attention on subjective states of pleasure, satisfaction, and
what is called “happiness.” The suggestion has been made in some quarters that a study of
these subjective states has important implications for public policy. Sometimes, as in the
case of Martin Seligman’s “positive psychology” movement, attempts are made to link the
empirical findings and the related normative judgments directly to the descriptive and nor-
mative insights of ancient Greek ethics and modern virtue ethics. At other times, as with
Daniel Kahneman’s work, the connection to Aristotle and other ancient Greek thinkers is only
indirect, and the connection to British Utilitarianism is paramount; nonetheless, judgments
are made that could be illuminated by an examination of the rich philosophical tradition that
runs from Aristotle through to John Stuart Mill’s criticisms of Bentham.
Who is the happy Warrior? Who is he
That every man in arms should wish to be?
[Wordsworth, “Character of the Happy Warrior,” 1807]
Man does not strive after happiness; only the Englishman does
that. [Nietzsche, “Maxims and Arrows,” 1889]
Psychology has recently focused attention on subjective states of plea-
sure, satisfaction, and what is called “happiness.” The suggestion has
been made in some quarters that a study of these subjective states has
important implications for public policy. Sometimes, as in the case of
MARTHA NUSSBAUM is the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics,
Law School, Philosophy Department, and Divinity School, the University of Chicago. I am
grateful to Eric Posner for guidance, comments, and suggestions, to all the participants in
the happiness conference for their helpful input, and to an anonymous referee for the
S82 / T H E J O U R N A L O F L E G A L S T U D I E S / V O L U M E 3 7 ( 2 ) / J U N E 2 0 0 8
Martin Seligman’s “positive psychology” movement, attempts are made
to link the empirical findings and the related normative judgments di-
rectly to the descriptive and normative insights of ancient Greek ethics
and modern virtue ethics. At other times, as with Daniel Kahneman’s
work, the connection to Aristotle and other ancient Greek thinkers is
only indirect, and the connection to British Utilitarianism is paramount;
nonetheless, judgments are made that could be illuminated by an ex-
amination of the rich philosophical tradition that runs from Aristotle
through to John Stuart Mill’s criticisms of Bentham.
The aim of my paper is to confront this increasingly influential move-
ment within psychology with a range of questions from the side of
philosophy. Often these questions have a very long history in the dis-
cipline, going back at least to Aristotle; the more thoughtful Utilitarians,
above all Mill, also studied them in depth. Some of these questions are
conceptual; others are normative. After going through quite a number
of them, I will attempt to correct some misunderstandings, within this
psychological literature, of my own “objective-list” conception and the
role I think it ought to play in public policy. And I will say what I think
some appropriate roles for subjective-state analysis inpublicpolicymight
1. CONCEPTUAL ISSUES
1.1. What Is Pleasure?
Psychologists often talk about pleasure, and also about subjects’ hedonic
state. Too rarely, however, do they ask some very obvious questions
about it that greatly affect any research program involving the concept.
Two central questions are, is pleasure a single thing, varying only in
intensity or duration, or is it plural, containing qualitative differences?
And is it a sensation, or is it something more like a way of attending
to the world, or even a way of being active?
Jeremy Bentham famously held that pleasure was a single sensation,
varying only along the quantitative dimensions of intensity and duration
(see my discussion in Nussbaum 2004b). Modern psychology follows
Bentham. Indeed, Kahnemann explicitly traces his own conception of
“hedonic flow” to Bentham (see, for example, Kahneman and Krueger
2006, p. 4). And yet, is Bentham correct? Does his account correctly
capture the complexity of our experience of pleasures of many sorts?
We speak of pleasure as a type of experience, but we also refer to ac-
H A P P Y WA R R I O R / S83
tivities as “my pleasures,” saying things like, “My greatest pleasures are
listening to Mahler and eating steak.” We also use verbal locutions, such
as “enjoying” and “taking delight in.” (The ancient Greeks used such
verbal locutions much more frequently than they used the noun.) Such
ways of talking raise two questions: Is pleasure a sensation at all, if such
very different experiences count as pleasures? And is it single? Could
there be any one thing that both eating a steak and listening to Mahler’s
Tenth, that harrowing confrontation with grief and emptiness, have in
These questions were subtly discussed by Plato, Aristotle, and a whole
line of subsequent philosophers.1Bentham simply ignores them. As Mill
writes in his great essay “On Bentham,” “Bentham failed in deriving
light from other minds.” For him, pleasure simply must be a single
homogeneous sensation, containing no qualitative differences. The only
variations in pleasure are quantitative. Pleasures can vary in intensity,
duration, certainty or uncertainty, propinquicy or remoteness, and, fi-
nally, in causal properties (tendency to produce more pleasure, and so
on). The apparent fact that pleasures differ in quality, that the pleasure
of steak eating is quite different from the pleasure of listeningtoMahler’s
Tenth, bothered Bentham not at all; he does not discuss such examples.
Perhaps the reason for this problem is that Bentham’s deepest concern
is with pain and suffering, and it is somewhat more plausible to think
of pain as a unitary sensation varying only in intensity and duration.
Even here, however, qualitative differences seem crucial: the pain of a
headache is very different from the pain of losing a loved one to death.
As Mill says, Bentham’s view expresses “the empiricism of one who has
had little experience”—either external, he adds, or internal, through the
Nor was Bentham worried about interpersonal comparisons, a prob-
lem on which economists in the Utilitarian tradition have spent great
labor, and one that any program to use subjective satisfaction for public
policy must face. For Bentham there was no such problem. When we
move from one person to many people, we just add a new dimension
of quantity. Right action is ultimately defined as that which produces
the greatest pleasure for the greatest number. Moreover, Bentham sees
no problem in extending the comparison class to the entire world of
1. For one good philosophical overview, see Gosling and Taylor (1982); see also the
excellent treatment in Taylor (1976). An admirable general philosophical discussion is
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sentient animals. One of the most attractive aspects of his thought is its
great compassion for the suffering of animals, which he took to be
unproblematically comparable to human suffering.2This attractive as-
pect, however, is marred by his failure even to consider whether animal
pains and pleasures are qualitatively different, in at least some respects,
from human pains and pleasures.
What is appealing about Bentham’s program is its focus on urgent
needs of sentient beings for relief from suffering and its determination
to take all suffering of all sentient beings into account. But Bentham
cannot be said to have developed anything like a convincing account of
pleasure and pain, far less of happiness. Because of his attachment to a
strident simplicity, the view remains a sketch crying out for adequate
Modern philosophers starting off from the Greco-Roman tradition
have noticed that already in that tradition there is a widespread sense
that Bentham’s sort of answer will not do. A proto-Benthamite answer
is familiar, in views of hedonists such as Eudoxus3and the title character
in Plato’s Philebus who represented Eudoxus’s position. But there is an
equally widespread sense among the Greek thinkers that this view will
not do. The young interlocutor Protarchus, in the Philebus, is quickly
brought by Socrates to reject it: he sees that the sources of pleasure color
the pleasure itself, and that the pleasure of philosophizing is just not the
same qualitatively as the pleasure of eating and sex. (The name “Phi-
lebus” means “lover of young men,” and the character is represented
as using his unitary view of pleasure to seduce attractive youths.)4
Aristotle takes up where the Philebus left off. Throughout his work
he insists on the tremendous importance of qualitative distinctions
among the diverse constituent parts of human life; he later suggests that
these distinctions affect the proper analysis of the concept of pleasure.
Notoriously, however, he offers two very different conceptions of plea-
sure, one in book VII and one in book X of the Nicomachean Ethics.
The first identifies pleasure with unimpeded activity (not so odd if we
remember that we speak of “my pleasures” and “enjoyments”). The
2. He denied that animals suffered at the very thought of death, and thus he argued
that the painless killing of an animal is sometimes permitted.
3. No writings of Eudoxus survive; we know his views through Aristotle’s character-
ization of them in Nicomachean Ethics 1172b9 ff. and by reports of later doxographers;
he is usually taken to be the inspiration for the title character in Plato’s Philebus.
4. In the Greek world, this would not mark him as depraved, only as greedy: he is the
Greek equivalent of a womanizer.
H A P P Y WA R R I O R / S85
second, and probably better, account holds that pleasure is something
that comes along with, supervenes on, activity, “like the bloom on the
cheek of youth.” In other words, it is so closely linked to the relevant
activities that it cannot be pursued on its own, any more than bloom
can be adequately cultivated by cosmetics. To get that bloom you have
to pursue health. Similarly, one gets the pleasure associated with an
activity by doing that activity in a certain way, apparently a way that
is not impeded or is complete. It would seem that what Aristotle has in
mind is that pleasure is a kind of awareness of one’s own activity, varying
in quality with the activity to which it is so closely linked. In any case,
pleasure is not a single thing, varying only in intensity and duration (the
Eudoxan position). It contains qualitative differences, related to the dif-
ferences of the activities to which it attaches.
J. S. Mill follows Aristotle. In a crucial discussion in Utilitarianism,
he insists that “[n]either pains nor pleasures are homogenous.” There
are differences “in kind, apart from the question of intensity,” that are
evident to any competent judge. We cannot avoid recognizing qualitative
differences, particularly between “higher” and “lower” pleasures. How,
then, to judge between them? Like Plato in Republic book IX, Mill refers
the choice to a competent judge who has experienced both alternatives.
This famous passage shows Mill thinking of pleasures as very like
activities (with Aristotle in Book VII) or, with Aristotle in Book X, as
experiences so closely linked to activities that they cannot be pursued
apart from them. In a later text, he counts music, virtue, and health as
major pleasures. Elsewhere he shows that he has not left sensation utterly
out of account: he refers to “which of two modes of existence is the
most grateful to the feelings.” Clearly, however, the unity of the Ben-
thamite calculus has been thrown out, to be replaced by a variegated
conception, involving both sensation and activity, and prominently in-
cluding qualitative distinctions. It is for this reason that philosophers
today typically find Mill more subtle and conceptually satisfactory than
Modern philosophical discussion of pleasure follows Aristotle and
Mill. In one of the best recent accounts, J. C. B. Gosling’s (1969) book
Pleasure and Desire, Gosling investigates three different views of what
pleasure is: the sensation view (Bentham/Eudoxus), the activity view
(Aristotle’s first account), and what he calls the “adverbial” view (plea-
sure is a particular way of being active, a view closely related to Aris-
totle’s second account). Uneasily, with much uncertainty, he opts, with
Aristotle, for the adverbial view.
H A P P Y WA R R I O R / S109
So often that demand such sacrifice;
More skilful in self-knowledge, even more pure,
As tempted more; more able to endure,
As more exposed to suffering and distress;
Thence, also, more alive to tenderness.
—’Tis he whose law is reason; who depends
Upon that law as on the best of friends;
Whence, in a state where men are tempted still
To evil for a guard against worse ill,
And what in quality or act is best
Doth seldom on a right foundation rest,
He labours good on good to fix, and owes
To virtue every triumph that he knows:
—Who, if he rise to station of command,
Rises by open means; and there will stand
On honourable terms, or else retire,
And in himself possess his own desire;
Who comprehends his trust, and to the same
Keeps faithful with a singleness of aim;
And therefore does not stoop, nor lie in wait
For wealth, or honours, or for worldly state;
Whom they must follow; on whose head must fall,
Like showers of manna, if they come at all:
Whose powers shed round him in the common strife,
Or mild concerns of ordinary life,
A constant influence, a peculiar grade;
But who, if he be called upon to face
Some awful moment to which Heaven has joined
Great issues, good or bad for human kind,
Is happy as a Lover; and attired
With sudden brightness, like a Man inspired;
And, through the heat of conflict, keeps the law
In calmness made, and sees what he foresaw;
Or is an unexpected call succeed,
Come when it will, is equal to the need:
—He who though thus endued as with a sense
And faculty for storm and turbulence,
Is yet a Soul whose master-bias leans
To homefelt pleasures and to gentle scenes;
Sweet images! Which, wheresoe’er he be,
Are at his heart; and such fidelity
It is his darling passion to approve;
More brave for this, that he hath much to love;—
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’Tis, finally, the Man, who, lifted high,
Conspicuous object in a Nation’s eye,
Or left unthought-of in obscurity,—
Who, with a toward or untoward lot,
Prosperous or adverse, to his wish or not—
Plays, in the many games of life, that one
Where what he most doth value must be won:
Whom neither shape nor danger can dismay,
Nor thought of tender happiness betray;
Who, not content that former worth stand fast,
Looks forward, persevering to the last,
From well to better, daily self-surpast:
Who, whether praise of him must walk the earth
For ever, and to noble deeds give birth,
Or he must fall, to sleep without his fame,
And leave a dead unprofitable name—
Finds comfort in himself and in his cause;
And, while the mortal mist is gathering, draws
His breath in confidence of Heaven’s applause;
This is the happy Warrior; this is he
That every Man in arms should wish to be.
APPENDIX B: THE CENTRAL HUMAN CAPABILITIES
dying prematurely, or before one’s life is so reduced as to be not worth living.
2. Bodily Health.
Being able to have good health, including reproductive
health; to be adequately nourished; to have adequate shelter.
3. Bodily Integrity.
Being able to move freely from place to place; to be secure
against violent assault, including sexual assault and domestic violence; having
opportunities for sexual satisfaction and for choice in matters of reproduction.
4. Senses, Imagination, and Thought.
ine, think, and reason—and to do these things in a “truly human” way, a way
informed and cultivated by an adequate education, including, but by no means
limited to, literacy and basic mathematical and scientific training. Being able
to use imagination and thought in connection with experiencing and producing
works and events of one’s own choice, religious, literary, musical, and so forth.
Being able to use one’s mind in ways protected by guarantees of freedom of
expression with respect to both political and artistic speech and freedom of
religious exercise. Being able to have pleasurable experiences and to avoid
Being able to have attachments to things and people outside our-
selves; to love those who love and care for us, to grieve at their absence; in
Being able to live to the end of a human life of normal length; not
Being able to use the senses, to imag-
H A P P Y WA R R I O R / S111
general, to love, to grieve, to experience longing, gratitude, and justified anger.
Not having one’s emotional development blighted by fear and anxiety. (Sup-
porting this capability means supporting forms of human association that can
be shown to be crucial in their development.)
6. Practical Reason.
Being able to form a conception of the goodandtoengage
in critical reflection about the planning of one’s life. (This entails protection
for the liberty of conscience and religious observance.)
A. Being able to live with and toward others, to recognize and show concern
for other human beings, to engage in various forms of social interaction;
to be able to imagine the situation of another. (Protecting this capability
means protecting institutions that constitute and nourish such forms of
affiliation and also protecting the freedom of assembly and political speech.)
B. Having the social bases of self-respect and nonhumiliation; being able to
be treated as a dignified being whose worth is equal to that of others. This
entails provisions of nondiscrimination on the basis of race, sex, sexual
orientation, ethnicity, caste, religion, national origin.
8. Other Species.
Being able to live with concern for and in relation to animals,
plants, and the world of nature.
Being able to laugh, to play, to enjoy recreational activities.
10. Control over One’s Environment.
Being able to participate effectively in political choices that
govern one’s life; having the right of political participation, protections of
free speech and association.
Being able to hold property (both land and movable goods),
and having property rights on an equal basis with others; having the right
to seek employment on an equal basis with others; having the freedom from
unwarranted search and seizure. In work, being able to work as a human
being, exercising practicalreason,andenteringintomeaningfulrelationships
of mutual recognition with other workers.
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