What does happy mean? does the word have any sense?
After Wittgenstein, it is widely held that terms for inner states have their meanings determined by
conditions for use. Use changes. According to my dictionary happiness is an adjective synonymous
with lucky and prosperous etc., but my dictionary is ancient. It could have come to mean the state a
person is when they are lucky and prosperous. But what about "money doesn't bring happiness"? The
definition seems no longer true at all.
We seem to know perfectly well when we're happy, but it is not always clear how it differs from
contentment, pleasure or joy. So how do we know and what are we going on? It seems there is a
need for a sense. This need not distinguish happiness from joyousness if we cannot clarify the
difference in definitional terms, where I understand this as necessary and sufficient conditions for
usage. All we really have are senses.
The Fregean notion of sense is a description, a mode of presentation, or something we need to grasp
if we are to use a term or have a belief about a thing. A sense can be true or false of its object. If a
sense is taken to be a way of getting at what something is then the sense of happiness could be any
condition of use of the term, such as buoyant behaviour. We don't have to know everything. We don't
have to know what happiness feels like, for instance, to have beliefs about it. Yet awareness of the
feeling itself is a sense, or a way of getting at what happiness is.
Wittgenstein didn't think that the model of sense and reference applied to emotions because emotion
terms don't designate or refer to inner states. If the term for a feeling has a sense, there is no
implication that the term refers to an inner state. Where sense picks out a complex state, rather than
designates an object, the notion of reference doesn't apply.
As I said, a sense can be true or false of its object. It is a belief we can be wrong about. Once I
looked up "serious" in a dictionary since I wasn't sure what it was or whether I was serious. On
reading the definition I still wasn't sure. Someone said, "Why couldn't see the seriousness in yourself
as you crossed the room to get the dictionary?", and then I could see it. I thought that you can see
things in yourself and know when they apply without understanding or knowing the definition.
Definitions falsify which is why they give rise to counterexamples.
But then I thought, was that really seriousness? Could it have been self-concern? Wittgenstein said it
is not significant to ask whether or not we are in pain, which is a sensation, but this isn't true of states
or attitudes such as happiness or seriousness. We can have a false belief. To know the state we are
in we need a good grasp of a sense. But a complete set of senses amounts to a definition and that is
too much to ask.