Significantly irrelevant happiness

October 7, 2009 § 2 Comments

In the blue corn questions ~ I am not much of a hedonist, nor do I believe universal teleological systems very useful, but I try to keep an open mind ~ I find …

Does our system work for the greatest happiness of the greatest number?

And Will Wilkinson wrote in “The Greatest Happiness of the Greatest Number

Suppose the population is evenly divided between blue people and green people. Green people are usually just a little bit happy (say, averaging 3 on a scale of +10 to -10. [I’m going to use averages here, for convenience sake. The example doesn’t create a difference between average and total utility.]) But blue people are either extremely happy (+10) or almost not happy at all (1), depending on how happy green people are. If green people are not happy at all (< +1), then blue people are elated (+10), otherwise, barely happy (1). The “greatest happiness” principle then says that we want a world in which green people are not at all happy. That’s a world with an average of 5 on our scale. The “greatest number” principle seems to say we want a world in which everyone is at least a little happy. That’s the world with an average of 2 on our scale.

If, on the basis of statistical data, we want to draw conclusions about sizes of impact of happiness differences in population groups, we can perhaps use a significance test to be more relevant. What are the p-values in this mind experiment?

Also, I’m wondering if “happiness” is really a zero-sum game?


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