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  1. Happiness is caused by a judgement that one has gained some quantity of value. Judgement requires that one be in focus to make that judgment. Focus is volitional.
  2. Values are selected by the individual.

Let apply this to the statement of "John made Mary happy."

In this case, an event occurs in the external world caused by John (e.g., John gives Mary a bundle of flowers). Mary has to choose to both a) be in focus and be aware of such flowers and b) value flowers in order for c) for the feeling of happiness to arise. So is it valid to say "John made Mary happy"?

asked Aug 30 '13 at 10:39

Humbug's gravatar image


edited Aug 30 '13 at 10:40

The premises listed in this question evidently attempt to identify a context for the relation between happiness and causality. One premise, in particular, states:

Judgement [as in value judgment] requires that one be in focus to make that judgment.

This is too narrow. There is an entire additional aspect of human consciousness that is highly relevant to happiness: emotions and the subconscious (including sense of life). Happiness is an emotional state, and emotions proceed from value judgments; but the value judgments that produce emotional responses do not necessarily have to be consciously reached anew every time if one has previously reached them in similar situations in the past and has automatized such value judgments through repetition over time. Man's consciousness includes an automatizing mechanism as well as a directly volitional conceptual faculty. For further insight into the nature of emotions and related attributes of human consciousness, refer to the topic of "Emotions" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon, along with the topics of "Subconscious," "Automatization," "Sense of Life," "Psycho-Epistemology," "Happiness," and other related topics listed in the cross references. Here is a sampling from the topic of "Emotions" (originally from PWNI), although the complete set of excerpts in that topic is far more extensive:

Your subconscious is like a computer -- more complex a computer than men can build -- and its main function is the integration of your ideas. Who programs it? Your conscious mind. If you default, if you don't reach any firm convictions, your subconscious is programmed by chance -- and you deliver yourself into the power of ideas you do not know you have accepted. But one way or the other, our computer gives you print-outs, daily and hourly, in the form of emotions -- which are lightning-like estimates of the things around you, calculated according to your values.

The identification that some object or person "makes one happy" simply refers to the role of that object or person as part of the total causal sequence leading to an emotional state of happiness. The term "make" isn't necessarily the same as "cause," and the object or person at the root of an instance of happiness isn't necessarily sufficient by itself for complete causation, though it's certainly essential.

Update: Contributory Causes and Evasion

In the comments, the questioner asks if an object or person who makes someone happy is a contributory cause but not a sufficient cause. As far as I know, Objectivism doesn't say. Objectivism, to my knowledge, uses the term "cause" only in the context of an action being performed by an entity. On this view, the cause of a person's happiness is the person himself. The action (mental) is happiness; the entity that is acting is the happy person. This is not necessarily how "causation" is used in more conventional usages, and I am not convinced that all discussions of "contributory" versus "sufficient" causation in conventional usages are necessarily invalid usages of the concept of causation, as long as the entity that is acting, and the nature of the entity, are properly recognized and included in the analysis.

The questioner also asks about a wife who is happy to receive flowers from a husband who beats her. If she is evading all or part of the context involving her husband, then she is not in full focus. Her happiness is actually out of focus. Trying to respond to the flowers while dropping the wider context of where they are coming from is not a state of mental focus.

On the other hand, is she necessarily evading? Perhaps she has long been deeply hopeful that her husband would change for the better, and maybe she sees the concrete action of giving her flowers as a sign that he intends to treat her better from that point on. If so, the context of receiving flowers from him could be a very gratifying sign, assuming it's not part of a repeated pattern of offering false hope. If it is, and she ignores it (blanks it out), she's not in focus.

answered Sep 01 '13 at 13:10

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

edited Sep 02 '13 at 02:38

Would it be valid to say that the object or person at the root of an instance of happiness is a contributory and not a sufficient cause (which I think is the default assumption when the term "make" is used)?

(Sep 01 '13 at 16:23) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

Also, it's true that there is previous automatization in the sub-consciousness. However, does this completely eliminates focus from the equation? Take for example a wife receiving flowers from a husband who regularly beats her. Isn't it valid to say that for her to feel happiness, she would have to:

  1. Focus on her perception and identify the object as flowers?
  2. Evade the fact that the flowers are coming from a man who regularly beats her?
(Sep 01 '13 at 16:26) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

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Asked: Aug 30 '13 at 10:39

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Last updated: Sep 02 '13 at 02:38