Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Happy thoughts

A few months ago, I referred to Charles Kenny's fascinating paper 'Were People in the Past Poor and Miserable?'.
Kenny recently dropped me a line to say that he's just had a book published expanding on many of the themes of that paper.

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Utility: Happiness in philosophical and economic thought is co-authored by Charles and his father, the noted philosopher Anthony Kenny. Charles' own blog summarises the book:
Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Utility relates age-old philosophical discussions of the nature of a worth-while life to the recent growth of interest among economists in criteria for quality of life. Reflection on the philosophical tradition suggests that there are three key elements in the notion of a good life: welfare, contentment, and dignity. Welfare is capable of objective measurement in terms of such elements as food intake, disease level, expectation of life and so on. Contentment is also measurable, to a more controversial degree, by means of questionnaires eliciting self-ascriptions of subjective well being. Dignity is the most difficult of all the elements of well-being to determine and quantify, but it is related to measures of civil rights, economic and gender equality and measures of the quality of employment. The book discusses what philosophers and economists have had to say about the nature and causes of welfare, dignity and contentment. On the basis of this analysis we draw conclusions for national and international policies.

The blog includes a detailed precis for each chapter, with plenty of links to other work on the subject. There's also an equally detailed introduction to Kenny's other new book (busy chap!), Overselling the Web? Development and the Internet, which touches on everything from the implications of Microsoft's increasingly bloated Word software for developing economies to the infamous Nigerian email scams as a source of economic convergence, while debunking many of the sillier claims about ICT revolutionising the lives of the global poor. Kenny, it's probably safe to say, isn't a big fan of Thomas Friedman.



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