Book Review

Happiness and Virtue Ethics in Business

by Alejo Jose G. Sison
Cambridge University Press
ISBN 978-1-107-04463-0

Book coverThere is certainly a close link between health and happiness but this excellent work demonstrates the harmony between human happiness and healthy economics. Those who work in health care will have an interest in what has come to be known as modern happiness studies and there are plenty of such studies here.

The author does not doubt that absolute poverty can lead to much misery. What he is saying is that once we have reached a certain wealth threshold, a market economy characterised by an almost infinite variety of choices may not lead to happiness. This has implications in health care where it is taken for granted that the offering of choices leads to patient satisfaction.

Indeed certain objects of desire may do us harm and so detract from long term happiness. The author examines the nature of addictions in his discussion. There may be a deleterious effect of too many choices on our own happiness because they produce an escalation of expectations which become difficult to fulfil.

One of the features of an affluent society is the avoidance of whatever smacks of being too challenging. We do not freely choose a course of excellence with all the risks that this entails. And yet, modern happiness research informs us that in work as well as in leisure the key factor for personal satisfaction is that the activity is freely chosen and has a certain "intrinsic motivation" which causes us to become fully engrossed.

In order to examine all of this further, the author turns to Aristotelian virtue ethics. This asks what genuine happiness is, rather than focusing on utilitarian preference satisfactions. The real question is what preferences ought a person of virtuous character have? With Aristotle, it is argued that we are both rational and social creatures. Our values must take into account our need for community. Unlike positional goods, happiness exists only when shared by everyone. It is impossible to achieve happiness for oneself without contributing to the happiness of others.

There are detailed studies throughout the book in the fields of economics and psychology that demonstrate that happiness is the ultimate value proposition for business. But it is not only in business that we need to cultivate the virtues and so we have another excellent work which moves us away from the prevailing utilitarian ethics towards virtue ethics.