Paper: Public reasoning about the good life

by Massimo Pigliucci

[Part of an occasional series presenting academic papers I have published but that may be of general interest. Full list with links here.]

We all want to live a “good life,” yet relatively few people pause to critically ponder what that might mean in the first place. This is interesting because it implies that we tend not to think too much about the very thing that is arguably the most important for us.

A common way to frame the question is: what makes us happy? Everyone agrees that they want to be happy, and entire industries – from movies to cosmetics, from exercise to diets – are geared toward making us happy, or at the very least selling us a particular conception of happiness. Indeed, a moment’s reflection will convince us that while it is sensible to ask why we want to pursue this or that project in life, it doesn’t make much sense to ask why we want to be happy. Happiness is taken to be the ultimate goal, something that has value in and of itself.

The problem with happiness, though, is twofold: first, the word is rather amorphous and means different things in different contexts and to different people. Second, when researchers have tried to measure happiness, adopting one operational definition or another, they have discovered that (i) people in many countries haven’t gotten happier over the span of the past several decades, and (ii) most people don’t seem to be aware of what would actually make them happy and instead pursue a number of other things that, empirically speaking, don’t. …

[From: A Companion to Public Philosophy, edited by Lee McIntyre, Nancy McHugh, and Ian Olasov, Wiley Blackwell, 2022. You can ask for a free reprint by using this Contact Form.]

Published by Massimo

Massimo is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. He blogs at and He is the author of How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life.

5 thoughts on “Paper: Public reasoning about the good life

  1. Hi Massimo,
    I enjoyed your article in ‘A Companion…’ and was pleased to find that book.

    One thing it does not mean, for instance, is that we should run naked in the forest and hug trees, although there is nothing inherently wrong with that!

    You should try it. You will quickly find out what is wrong with doing that. You will discover why the hairless ‘Naked Ape’ was confined to a small part of East Africa until they invented clothing!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Not only is this highly rewarding work, but it clearly shows
    something that my university administrators seem incapable of comprehending: that there is
    an unquenchable thirst for philosophy out there.

    Agreed. There is an unquenchable thirst for philosophy, but in a minority of people. It is the size of that minority that is in question. I believe there is a sizeable latent thirst that can be awakened with the right stimulus and I am impressed by the work you do in this regard.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Similar dynamics and challenges present themselves in the online versions of these philosophy cafes that I have been running with increasing frequency since the beginning of the 2020 pandemic.

    This seems to be a most promising idea. Is there any possibility that I could participate?

    Liked by 1 person

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