Can Technology Make Us Happy?

Ethics, Spectator’s Happiness and the Value of Achievement
  • Andreas SpahnEmail author
Part of the Happiness Studies Book Series book series (HAPS)


The chapter introduces a distinction between a person-related and a circumstance directed type of happiness in order to investigate in which way modern technology can contribute to human happiness. This distinction is elaborated as the difference between ‘achiever’s happiness’ and ‘spectator’s happiness’. Looking at the ethical tradition, it is argued that moral philosophers have certain expectations about what should count as true happiness for human beings, who can act in accordance with moral values. The essay presents three arguments for the superiority of achiever’s happiness from a moral point of view. Looking at modern technology it is argued that we find both in an optimistic and a pessimistic evaluation of modern technology valuable insights into the role that technology can (and can not) play for the human striving for happiness. Finally persuasive technologies are presented as one type of recent technologies that promises to contribute to achiever’s happiness if developed while taking ethical requirements into account.


Modern technology and happiness Human happiness Happiness and contemporary society Spectator’s happiness and achiever’s happiness Ethical ideal of happiness 


  1. Adorno, T. (1979). Dialectic of enlightenment. (New ed). London: Verso.Google Scholar
  2. Anderson, J. (2010). Review: Nudge: improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein. Economics and Philosophy, 26(3), 369–375.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bacon, F. [1620] (2000). The new organon. repr In: L. Jardine & M. Silverthorne (Eds.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Baker, S., & Martinson, D. (2001). The TARES test: Five principles for ethical persuasion. Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 16(2&3), 148–175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Berdichevsky, D., & Neunschwander, E. (1999). Persuasive technologies—toward an ethics of persuasive technology. Communications of the ACM, 42(5), 51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bentham, J. [1789] (2007). An introduction to the principles of morals and legislation. In: Laurence JL (Ed.) New York: Hafner Publication Co. (reprinted Dover Publication: New York 2007).Google Scholar
  7. Bodley, J. (1975). Victims of progress. Menlo Park Calif: Cummings Publication Co.Google Scholar
  8. Brey, P., Briggle, A., & Spence, E. (2012). The good life in a technological age. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  9. Brickman, P., Coates, D., & Janoff-Bulman, R. (1978). Lottery winners and accident victims: Is happiness relative? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36(8), 917–927.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2008). Hedonia, Eudaimonia, and well-being: An introduction. Journal of Happiness Studies, 9(1), 1–11. doi: 10.1007/s10902-006-9018-1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Diener, Ed. (2000). Subjective well-being: The science of happiness and a proposal for a national index. American Psychologist, 55(1), 34–43. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dolan, P., Peasgood, T., & White, M. (2008). Do we really know what makes us happy? A review of the economic literature on the factors associated with subjective well-being. Journal of Economic Psychology, 29(1), 94–122. doi: 10.1016/j.joep.2007.09.001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Eid, M., & Larsen, R. J. (2008). The science of subjective well-being. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  14. Fischer, N. (1983). Tugend und Glückseligkeit. Zu ihrem Verhältnis bei Aristoteles und Kant. Kant-Studien, 74(1), 1–21. doi: 10.1515/kant.1983.74.1.1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Fogg, B. J. (2003). Persuasive technology: Using computers to change what we think and do. The Morgan Kaufmann Series in Interactive Technologies. Amsterdam; Boston: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers.Google Scholar
  16. Habermas, J. (1971). Knowledge and human interests. Boston: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  17. Habermas, Jürgen. (1987). Theory of communicative action: Lifeworld and system: A critique of functionalist reason. Boston: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  18. Haferkamp, H. (1992). Social change and modernity. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  19. Hausman, D. M., & Welch, B. (2010). Debate: To nudge or not to nudge. Journal of Political Philosophy, 18(1), 123–136. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9760.2009.00351.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Heidegger, M. (1977). The question concerning technology, and other essays (1st ed.). New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  21. Higgs, E., Light, A., & Strong, D. (2000). Technology and the good life?. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  22. Hösle, V. (1994). Philosophie der Ökologischen Krise: Moskauer Vorträge. Beck’sche Reihe, 432. München: Beck.Google Scholar
  23. Huta, V., & Ryan, R. M. (2010). Pursuing pleasure or virtue: The differential and overlapping well-being benefits of hedonic and eudaimonic motives. Journal of Happiness Studies, 11(6), 735–762. doi: 10.1007/s10902-009-9171-4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. James, W. (1985). The varieties of religious experience: a study in human nature. The Works of William James, Volume 13, Harvard University Press: Cambridge.Google Scholar
  25. Jonas, H. (1984). The Imperative of responsibility : In search of an ethics for the technological age. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  26. Karppinen, P., & Oinas-Kukkonen, HMill. (2013). Three approaches to ethical considerations in the design of behavior change support systems. In S. Berkovsky & J. Freyne (Eds), Persuasive Technology, 7822:87–98. Berlin, Heidelberg.
  27. Kort, Y. (2007). Persuasive technology: second international conference on persuasive technology, PERSUASIVE 2007, Palo Alto, CA, USA, April 26–27, 2007: Revised Selected Papers. Berlin; New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  28. Kroes, P., & Meijers, A. (Eds.). (2001). The empirical turn in the philosophy of technology (1st ed.). Amsterdam: JAI.Google Scholar
  29. Kurzweil, R. (2005). The singularity is near: When humans transcend biology. New York: Viking.Google Scholar
  30. Leonhardt, R. (1998). Glück als Vollendung des Menschseins: die beatitudo-Lehre des Thomas von Aquin im Horizont des Eudämonismus-Problems. Berlin; New York: W. de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  31. Marx, K. (1938). Capital. London: Allen & Unwin.Google Scholar
  32. McDermott, J. (1969). Technology: The opiate of the intellectuals. The New York Review of Books 13 (2).Google Scholar
  33. McMahon, D. M. (2006). Happiness: A history. New York: Grove Press.Google Scholar
  34. Mitcham, C. (1994). Thinking through technology: The path between engineering and philosophy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  35. Mill, J. S. [1863] (2012). Utilitarianism. In: J. Bentham & A. Ryan. Harmondsworth, New York: Penguin Books, (reprint: Middlesex, England).Google Scholar
  36. Peterson, M., & Spahn, A. (2011). Can technological artefacts be moral agents? Science and Engineering Ethics, 17(3), 411–424.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Pressnell, L. (1960). Studies in the industrial revolution, Presented to T.S. Ashton. London: University of London Athlone Press.Google Scholar
  38. Richardson, F. C. (2012). On psychology and virtue ethics. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, 32(1), 24–34. doi: 10.1037/a0026058.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Rousseau, J-J. (1750). The social contract and discourses. London: Everyman.Google Scholar
  40. Ryff, C. D. (1989). Happiness is everything, or is it? Explorations on the meaning of psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57(6), 1069–1081. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.57.6.1069.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Ryff, C. D., & Keyes, C. L. M. (1995). The structure of psychological well-being revisited. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69(4), 719–727. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.69.4.719.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Schwartz, B., & Sharpe, K. E. (2006). Practical wisdom: Aristotle meets positive psychology. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7(3), 377–395. doi: 10.1007/s10902-005-3651-y.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Sebnem, O, Salah, M. (2013). Measuring national well-being—what matters most to personal well-being? Office for National Statistics. May 30.
  44. Seligman, M. E. P. (2006). Learned optimism: How to change your mind and your life. New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  45. Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Authentic happiness: using the new positive psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfilment. Florence: Free Press.Google Scholar
  46. Smids, J. (2012). The voluntariness of persuasive technology. Persuasive Technology. Design for Health and Safety, In: M. Bang & E.L. Ragnemalm (Eds), 123–132. Lecture Notes in Computer Science 7284. Springer Berlin Heidelberg.
  47. Snow, C. P. (1959). The two cultures and the scientific revolution. The Rede Lecture, 1959. Cambridge.Google Scholar
  48. Spahn, A. (2010). Technology. 21st century anthropology: A reference handbook, H. Birx (Ed), 132–144. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.Google Scholar
  49. Spahn, A. (2011). Moralische maschinen? persuasive technik als herausforderung für rationalistische ethiken. E-Procedings Deutscher Kongress für Philosophie, 11–15. September 2011. München:
  50. Spahn, A. (2012). And lead us (not) into persuasion? persuasive technology and the ethics of communication. Science and Engineering Ethics, 18(4), 633–650.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Spence, E. H. (2011). Information, knowledge and wisdom: Groundwork for the normative evaluation of digital information and its relation to the good life. Ethics and Information Technology, 13(3), 261–275.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Thaler, R., & Sunstein, C. (2008). Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness. New Haven Conn.: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  53. Thompson, S. C. (2009). The role of personal control in adaptive functioning. In Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology, In: Shane J. L., Charles R.S., (Ed), 271–278. Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  54. Waterman, A. S., Seth, J. S., & Regina, C. (2008). The implications of two conceptions of happiness (Hedonic Enjoyment and Eudaimonia) for the Understanding of Intrinsic Motivation. Journal of Happiness Studies 9 (1) : 41–79. doi: 10.1007/s10902-006-9020-7.

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy and Ethics of Technology, IE&ISEindhoven University of TechnologyEindhovenThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations