Course Information

Course Number

613A

Credits

0.5

Readings

This course is the 1st semester of a year-long course.


This Readings seminar explores research on happiness and decision making, and the implications for legal systems, legal rules and life choices. Pursuing and maximizing happiness have long been prominent legal ideas, from Bentham and Jefferson to today. New research is generating direct measures of happiness (or subjective well-being) and comparisons across countries, demographic groups, activities, rules, choices, and different versions of happiness. A growing body of research in psychology, neuroscience, economics and law is investigating how people make decisions, and whether our decisions improve our happiness. In this Readings seminar, we will explore this research and its implications. Why are some societies and some individuals happier than others? What role for legal systems, lawyers, and our own choices? How well can people envision and pursue their own future happiness? What social cues and mental heuristics prompt us to make the choices we make? If we have difficulty making good choices, can the law help?


This Readings seminar is open to up to 12 students. It meets for 7 sessions of 2 hours each, once per month, spread over the full academic year. For each session, we will read a book or a set of articles. Specific meeting dates and times will be arranged in consultation with the students; like other Readings seminars, it will typically meet in the evening, often at the professor's home. 1 credit (graded on a credit/no credit basis). It is a book group and discussion (no exam or paper). Note: This course does NOT fulfill the Ethics requirement.


Please note that course organization and content may vary substantially from semester to semester and descriptions are not necessarily professor specific. Please contact the instructor directly if you have particular course-related questions.

Sections/Instructors

Jonathan B. Wiener
Readings 613A.01
Fall 2014

Jonathan B. Wiener
Readings 613A.01
Fall 2013
E-mail ListSakai Site

Jonathan B. Wiener
Readings 613A.01
Fall 2012
E-mail ListSakai Site

Jonathan B. Wiener
Readings 613A.01
Fall 2011
E-mail ListBlackboard Site
Happiness, Decisions, & Future

Jonathan B. Wiener
Readings 613A.01
Fall 2010
E-mail List
Readings in Happiness, Decisions & the Future

Jonathan B. Wiener
Readings 613A.01
Fall 2009
E-mail ListBlackboard Site
Readings in Happiness, Decisions & the Future

Jonathan B. Wiener
Readings 613A.02
Spring 2009
Readings in Happiness, Decisions and the Future

This Readings seminar explores recent research on happiness and its implications for legal systems and rules. Bentham’s utilitarian theory of law holds that the objective of social policy and law is to ensure the greatest happiness for the greatest number. Modern law and economics often translated that goal into maximizing wealth or the monetary equivalent of utility, but new research is pointing to direct measures of happiness (or social well-being) rather than proxy measures such as money. Researchers are comparing expressed levels of happiness across countries (chiefly the US, Europe, developing countries, and others – including Bhutan, where the official national goal is to maximize Gross National Happiness), and across different legal rules and choices.

These studies raise fresh questions for law. In this Readings seminar, we will explore, among other topics: What does the happiness research show, regarding different countries, legal systems, and rules? Why are some societies happier than others? What are the roles of income, wealth, relative status, power, prestige, work, service, sports, family, children, personal relationships, community, and other factors? How can legal systems be designed to maximize happiness, and in particular which specific legal rules increase societal happiness? Legal rules addressed in the happiness literature so far include: tax law, securities law, family law, property law, federalism, election law, the treatment of mental illness, disabilities law, health & environmental regulation, and others. The happiness research and related work in behavioral economics, psychology and neuroscience calls into question our ability to imagine the future, and whether or when people are the best judges of their own future happiness. How do we imagine our future and decide which choices will make us happy in the future? Which contextual cues prompt us to make these choices? How (un)successful are we at envisioning or forecasting our own future happiness depending on different choices we face? If we have difficulty foreseeing what choices or states of the world will make us happy, how can legal institutions help us better understand our future selves and thereby better achieve happiness? Which legal institutions (e.g. courts, agencies, legislatures) are best at forecasting and pursuing future happiness?

This Readings seminar will be open to up to 10 students. It will meet for a total of 700 minutes (i.e. 6-7 sessions of 2 hours each) over the full year; the exact schedule is flexible and will be arranged in consultation with the students. Like other Readings seminars, it will typically meet in the evening at the professor's home, or occasionally at a field site relevant to the course material, with an emphasis on informal but inquisitive discussion. 1 credit. No exam or paper – just readings and discussion.

Jonathan B. Wiener
Readings 613A.02
Fall 2008
E-mail ListBlackboard Site
Readings on Happiness, Decisions and the Future

This Readings seminar explores recent research on happiness and its implications for legal systems and rules. Bentham’s utilitarian theory of law holds that the objective of social policy and law is to ensure the greatest happiness for the greatest number. Modern law and economics often translated that goal into maximizing wealth or the monetary equivalent of utility, but new research is pointing to direct measures of happiness (or social well-being) rather than proxy measures such as money. Researchers are comparing expressed levels of happiness across countries (chiefly the US, Europe, developing countries, and others – including Bhutan, where the official national goal is to maximize Gross National Happiness), and across different legal rules and choices.

1 Credit - Full-year course (.5 credits per semester)
Grading Basis: Credit/No Credit
No exam or paper