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Happiness, Utility & Well-Being - PHI00122H

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  • Department: Philosophy
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Christian Piller
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25

Module summary

This module offers a philosophical investigation into the nature and significance of happiness and well-being. It also considers issues of happiness as they arise within psychology, sociology, and economics.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2024-25

Module aims

  • To learn about happiness and well-being and its role in ethics and practical reasoning
  • To improve the skills of philosophical reasoning and argument 
  • To engage constructively with the work of other students  
  • To develop the skill of presenting material to a group
  • To gain an interdisciplinary perspective on an issue 


Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module students should be able to:

  • assess different accounts of happiness and well-being
  • have a view about the role of happiness in one’s own life
  • evaluate the role of happiness in ethics and public policy
  • discuss the contributions of other disciplines to philosophical theories of happiness

Module content

In this module, we will look at the following questions. What is the nature of happiness? What role does it play in practical thinking and in ethics? How is it best to be pursued? What is its relationship to well-being? Should happiness be the measure of public policy decisions? Can happiness be measured in a way that allows for interpersonal comparisons and aggregative judgements? We will be looking at contemporary sources as well as the history of philosophy (Aristotle, Bentham, Kant) in our engagement with happiness. Issues of measurement will introduce the science of well-being and happiness and how it is practised in psychology and in economics. Please note that every student on this module will be required to give at least two 30-minute presentations.

Introductory Reading. Read the entries on ‘Happiness’ and on ‘Well-Being’ in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.



Task Length % of module mark
Essay (4000 words)
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Formative work: Each student will give a 30-minute presentation during Weeks 8 - 10, Autumn Term.

Summative work: Each student will submit a 4,000-word essay on Monday, Week 2, Spring Term.


Task Length % of module mark
Essay (4000 words)
N/A 100

Module feedback

  • Immediate feedback on student presentations in class. 

  • Written feedback given on the (formative) presentation given in Weeks 8 - 10. To be returned one week after the presentation.

  • Written feedback on the summative essay will be provided 4 weeks after the essay is submitted.

Indicative reading

  • Alexandrova, A., A Philosophy for the Science of Well-being, 2017

  • White, S., A Brief History of Happiness, 2005

  • Griffin, Well-being: Its Meaning, Measurement, and Moral Importance, 1986

  • Layard, R., 2005, Happiness: Lessons from a new science, New York: Penguin.

  • Seligman, M., 2002, Authentic Happiness, New York: Free Press.

  • Scanlon, What We Owe to Each Other, chapter on Well-being, 1998.

  • Cabanas, E. and Illouz, E., Manufacturing happy citizens: How the science and industry of happiness control our lives. John Wiley & Sons. 2019. 

  • Hausman, D. M., 2010, “Hedonism and Welfare Economics,” Economics and Philosophy, 26(3): 321–44.

  • Hawkins, J., 2008, “Well-Being, Autonomy, and the Horizon Problem,” Utilitas, 20(2): 1–27.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.