Thursday, January 28, 2010

Pride (In the Name of Happiness)

Alasdair MacAIntyre makes a very interesting point in an essay entitled "Is a Science of Comparative Politics Possible?" He cites a paper that contends that Italians "are less committed to and identified with the actions of their government than are Germans or Englishmen..." The evidence the authors present is survey answers as to how much "pride" the respondents have in the actions of their governments... to which the answer, it seems, is much less for Italians.

But, as MacIntyre notes, the words for "pride," although somewhat translatable, just do not mean the same things to Italians, Germans, and Englishmen. In particular, Italians are most fiercely proud of things that it would not even occur to the other folks to be proud of.

I think "happiness" surveys are largely worthless for the same reason -- happiness just does not mean the same thing across cultures. If you doubt this, think of what an ancient Greek would say about happiness -- "One does not know if a man was happy until he is dead."

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