Happiness, Pleasure, and Judgment: The Contextual Theory and Its Applications

Happiness, Pleasure, and Judgment: The Contextual Theory and Its Applications

Happiness, Pleasure, and Judgment: The Contextual Theory and Its Applications

Happiness, Pleasure, and Judgment: The Contextual Theory and Its Applications

Excerpt

The term happiness refers here to the measure of overall hedonic balance, a theoretical average across all pleasures and pains. This sounds like hedonism; but it is not the psychological hedonism that says we act only for our own pleasure, nor is it the ethical hedonism that says we ought to promote pleasure. Rather, this version of hedonism is simply an attempt to define happiness descriptively and suggest how it can be measured.

What then is pleasure? Although we all know when we are experiencing pleasure or pain, others can assess our hedonic experiences only by inference, often from what we tell them. At the heart of the contextual theory of happiness is the assumption that pleasantness is a judgment for which the underlying dimension represents degrees of preference.

It appears useful to try to understand pleasure as a dimensional judgment because we already know a great deal about how such judgments are formed. My range-frequency theory of judgment was originally developed to explain the category ratings people make of simple perceptual stimuli, with an ultimate concern for the pleasantness of what they are experiencing. Category ratings are the overt expression of internal judgments, as when we say that a particular experience is "very pleasant." The research on the pleasantness of winning different amounts of money or imagining different life situations can be explained using the same principles of judgment that explain ratings of simple perceptual stimuli, like lifted weights or sizes of squares.

The orienting assumption of the contextual theory of happiness is that pleasure, like any other dimensional judgment, is always relative. In this respect, the theory partakes of the Gestalt approach which holds that perceptual experiences are determined by relationships between different physical parts of the perceptual . . .

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