The Evolution of Eupathics: The Historical Roots of Subjective Measures of Well-Being
George Mason University - Department of Philosophy; George Mason University - Department of Economics; George Mason University - School of Public Policy
January 23, 2011
International Journal of Wellbeing, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 4-41, 2011
This paper traces the historical roots of subjective measures of well-being, that is, measures designed to represent happiness, satisfaction, or other “positive” or desirable mental states. While it is often suggested that these measures are a modern invention, I argue that they have a long and rich history that conforms to Theodore M. Porter’s general account of measurement in social and behavioral science. Subjective measures emerged in marital success studies, educational psychology, and personality psychology in the 1920’s and 30’s, and were further shaped by the epidemiology of mental health, gerontology, and the social indicator movement in the 1960’s and 70’s. Consistent with Porter’s account, these measures emerged in applied rather than theoretical branches of social and behavioral science, and they did so not as a result of physics envy, but rather as a result of a moral impulse to improve society; quantification was intended to make up for perceived deficiencies in unaided human judgment; and radical disagreements about the nature of well-being did not impede efforts to measure it – indeed, in time, there was considerably more agreement about how to measure well-being than about how to define it.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 68
Keywords: Measurement, Subjective Well-Being (SWB), Positive Psychology, History, Porter
JEL Classification: A13, B20, D60, H00, I31
Date posted: September 15, 2005 ; Last revised: February 13, 2011
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