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Since every person's needs, desires, and definitions of happiness are different, does that mean that these things are subjective? For example, being single and getting a big house and fancy car will make person A happy, whereas living in a modest house with a wife and kids would make person B happy. Since different things will make different people happy, isn't happiness subjective, i.e. varying from person to person?

asked Dec 27 '12 at 18:42

user890's gravatar image


retagged Jan 14 '13 at 17:18

dream_weaver's gravatar image

dream_weaver ♦

It is not proper to say that happiness is subjective. Different things will make different people break out in hives, but breaking out in hives is not subjective.

(Dec 27 '12 at 21:57) anthony anthony's gravatar image

But happiness is an emotional event, not a physical condition as hives is. What I'm trying to get at is the definition of "subjective". To me subjective means "unique to each subject/person." The idea of "subjective well-being" arises from this definition: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subjective_well-being

What would "subjective happiness" mean to an Objectivist?

(Jan 13 '13 at 23:15) user890 user890's gravatar image

I wouldn't suggest learning about philosophical subjects (or, really, much of anything) from Wikipedia.

(Jan 14 '13 at 07:41) anthony anthony's gravatar image
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The questioner describes "subjective" as follows (in a comment):

To me subjective means "unique to each subject/person."

In philosophy, including Objectivism, "subjective" tends to be used in a significantly different sense, but one which arguably reduces to the above formulation with the addition of a fundamentally Kantian perspective on the nature of mind. The Glossary of Objectivist Definitions (by Ayn Rand, with additional entries by Leonard Peikoff and Harry Binswanger, edited by Allison Kunze and Jean Moroney) offers the following definition:

The subjective means the arbitrary, the irrational, the blindly emotional.

(Excerpted from Ayn Rand's article, "Art and Moral Treason," p. 150 in The Romantic Manifesto.)

In contrast (from the Glossary):

To be "objective" in one's conceptual activities is volitionally to adhere to reality by following certain rules of method, a method based on facts and appropriate to man's form of cognition.

(Excerpted from OPAR, p. 117.)

Galt's Speech (pp. 130-216 in the Signet paperback edition of FNI) describes happiness as follows:

Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one's values.... [FNI p. 137]

Happiness is not to be achieved at the command of emotional whims. Happiness is not the satisfaction of whatever irrational wishes you might blindly attempt to indulge. Happiness is a state of non-contradictory joy—a joy without penalty or guilt, a joy that does not clash with any of your values and does not work for your own destruction, not the joy of escaping from your mind, but of using your mind's fullest power, not the joy of faking reality, but of achieving values that are real, not the joy of a drunkard, but of a producer. Happiness is possible only to a rational man, the man who desires nothing but rational goals, seeks nothing but rational values and finds his joy in nothing but rational actions. [FNI pp. 147-148]

Note that happiness, in this description, certainly varies from person to person, since each person's specific values, mental capacities, and goals will vary, even among people who are all fundamentally rational. What is objective about happiness is not its specific form, but what it depends on, what makes it possible. There are aspects of happiness that are common to all rational people, despite innumerable details that will likely be different. The differences do not make happiness subjective, in the philosophical sense of being arbitrary, irrational or blindly emotional.

As for those who may try to find happiness in irrational actions, Ayn Rand observes:

... the emotional state of all those irrationalists cannot be properly designated as happiness or even as pleasure: it is merely a moment's relief from their chronic state of terror.

(VOS Chap. 1, p. 31 in the Signet paperback edition.)

To be truly happy, one must first be living efficaciously, and that depends on rationality and its corollaries.

answered Jan 16 '13 at 02:28

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

Subjective means dependent only on the subject.

So, if happiness were subjective, it would mean that a person could be happy in any way he pleased -- that there are no limits to a person's ability to become happy, just by, well, choosing to be happy.

Or, perhaps, granting that choosing to be happy isn't effective (it's just pretending, really), perhaps, again presuming happiness is subjective, a person can become happy by choosing whatever he wishes to make him happy -- so, for instance, a thief chooses to steal, and he feels happy when he gets home with his new loot. Of course, though, beneath his superficial feeling of happiness, there's a fear that he will get caught.

The point is, happiness depends on more than just the choices of the person who wants to be happy. True human happiness has specific requirements -- requirements which must be learned if one is to become truly happy, and the way to become happy is by meeting those requirements.

To say that happiness is subjective is to claim that the requirements of happiness are purely a matter of personal choice. But in fact, they are not. You cannot choose to be really happy as a thief -- you can only pretend to be.

Granted, the requirements of human happiness are general principles -- not hard concretes. Each person needs different kinds of things in order to be happy: one might choose a career as a construction worker, and another would choose a career as an engineer or an artist. But both need productive careers in order to be happy.

To say that happiness is subjective is to claim that there's no way to be mistaken in one's pursuit of happiness. No matter what you pursue, it will make you happy. But we all know that this is false. Many people get caught up in the wrong pursuits -- workaholics, and priests, and thieves, and federal regulators come to mind. All these people will tell you they are happy, but that's because once a person commits to a way of life, it's very hard for them to admit that the choice was a mistake.

Happiness is not subjective. Yes, it IS personal -- everyone has different preferences, but those specific preferences fill, for each individual, needs which every person, qua person has. If those needs are denied because of a poor choice, unhappiness results, and grows the longer the person remains committed to the wrong choice.

Many people spend a lot of time being unhappy. If happiness were subjective, this simply would not be the case. The reason people stay unhappy is that they fear correcting a mistake. They grow used to their unhappiness. They become resigned.

answered Jan 21 '13 at 15:16

John%20Paquette's gravatar image

John Paquette ♦

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Asked: Dec 27 '12 at 18:42

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Last updated: Jan 21 '13 at 15:16