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Well-Being

Edited by Stephen M. Campbell (University of Pennsylvania)
About this topic
Summary The topic of well-being (welfare, self-interest, the good life) concerns how well an individual is doing or faring and, more broadly, how well one's life goes for her. Things that positively impact your well-being are good for you, benefit you, are in your self-interest, or have prudential value for you; things that negatively impact your well-being are bad for you or have prudential disvalue for you. The philosophical literature on well-being is primarily devoted to assessing theories of well-being, which purport to identify what ultimately makes us better or worse off. The distinction between subjective and objective theories marks a notable divide in the literature. Proponents of subjective theories--e.g. desire-fulfillment and, arguably, hedonistic theories--maintain that something is good (or bad) for you only if you have, or under idealized conditions would have, some specified favorable (or unfavorable) attitude toward it. Proponents of objective theories, such as "objective list" and perfectionist theories, deny this.
Key works Influential early works in the contemporary well-being literature include Parfit 1984, Appendix I; Griffin 1986; and Sumner 1996. The most popular subjective theories are hedonistic theories (Feldman 2004), desire-fulfillment theories (Railton 1986), and "hybrid" theories that include a subjective and objective component (Adams 1999, Ch. 3; Kagan 2009). The most popular objective theories are "objective list" theories that posit a plurality of basic goods (see Finnis 1980, Nussbaum 2001, and Hurka 2010) and perfectionist theories that identify well-being with the "perfection" or development of one's nature (Kraut 2007; cf. Hurka 1996).
Introductions For a general introduction to the well-being literature, see Parfit 1984, Appendix I; Sumner 1996, Ch. 1; Heathwood 2010; and Crisp 2013Velleman 1991 is an influential treatment of the relationship between synchronic and diachronic well-being. Hanser 2008 provides a helpful survey of competing theories of harm. 
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  1. John O'Neill (2001). Chekov and the Egalitarian. Ratio 14 (2):165–170.
    What is it for a situation to be worse or better for someone? This paper considers an answer to that question which draws on a distinction implicit in a work of Chekhov between a happy and a worthwhile life. It examines the implications of that answer for recent debates about equality, outlining the virtues of a virtues-based egalitarianism.
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The Concept of Well-Being
  1. Anna Alexandrova (2013). Doing Well in the Circumstances. Journal of Moral Philosophy 10 (3):307-328.
    Judgments of well-being across different circumstances and spheres of life exhibit a staggering diversity. Depending on the situation, we use different standards of well-being and even treat it as being constituted by different things. This is true of scientific studies as well as of everyday life. How should we interpret this diversity? I consider three ways of doing so: first, denying the legitimacy of this diversity, second, treating well-being as semantically invariant but differentially realizable, and, third, adopting contextualist semantics for (...)
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  2. Richard J. Arneson (2004). Stephen Darwall, Welfare and Rational Care:Welfare and Rational Care. Ethics 114 (4):815-819.
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  3. John Bigelow, John Campbell & Robert Pargetter (1990). Death and Well-Being. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 71 (2):119-40.
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  4. E. J. Bond (1988). `Good' and `Good For': A Reply to Hurka. Mind 97 (386):279-280.
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  5. Talbot Brewer (2009). Is Welfare an Independent Good? Social Philosophy and Policy 26 (1):96-125.
    In recent years, philosophical inquiry into individual welfare has blossomed into something of a cottage industry, and this literature has provided the conceptual foundations for an equally voluminous literature on aggregate social welfare. In this essay, I argue that substantial portions of both bodies of literature ought to be viewed as philosophical manifestations of a characteristically modern illusion—the illusion, in particular, that there is a special kind of goodness that is irreducibly person-relative. Theories that are built upon this idea suffer (...)
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  6. Talbot Brewer (2009). The Retrieval of Ethics. Oxford University Press.
    Talbot Brewer offers a new approach to ethical theory, founded on a far-reaching reconsideration of the nature and sources of human agency.
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  7. Stephen M. Campbell (2013). An Analysis of Prudential Value. Utilitas 25 (03):334-54.
    This essay introduces and defends a new analysis of prudential value. According to this analysis, what it is for something to be good for you is for that thing to contribute to the appeal or desirability of being in your position. I argue that this proposal fits well with our ways of talking about prudential value and well-being; enables promising analyses of the related concepts of luck, selfishness, self-sacrifice, and paternalism; preserves the relationship between prudential value and the attitudes of (...)
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  8. Samuel Clark (2011). Love, Poetry, and the Good Life: Mill's Autobiography and Perfectionist Ethics. Inquiry 53 (6):565-578.
    I argue for a perfectionist reading of Mill’s account of the good life, by using the failures of development recorded in his Autobiography as a way to understand his official account of happiness in Utilitarianism. This work offers both a new perspective on Mill’s thought, and a distinctive account of the role of aesthetic and emotional capacities in the most choiceworthy human life. I consider the philosophical purposes of autobiography, Mill’s disagreements with Bentham, and the nature of competent judges and (...)
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  9. Christian Coons (2012). Toni Rønnow-Rasmussen, Personal Value. [REVIEW] Ethics 123 (1):183-188.
  10. Garrett Michael Cullity, Welfare and Rational Care. By Stephen Darwall.
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  11. S. Darwall (2006). Précis of Welfare and Rational Care. Philosophical Studies 130 (3):579 - 584.
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  12. Stephen Darwall (2006). Reply to Griffin, Raz, and Wolf. Utilitas 18 (4):434-444.
  13. Stephen L. Darwall (2002). Welfare and Rational Care. Princeton University Press.
    "This book proposes a new view on a central topic in contemporary ethics.
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  14. Jon Elster & John E. Roemer (eds.) (1991). Interpersonal Comparisons of Well-Being. Cambridge University Press.
    In this volume a diverse group of economists, philosophers, political scientists, and psychologists address the problems, principles, and practices involved in comparing the well-being of different individuals. A series of questions lie at the heart of this investigation: What is the relevant concept of well-being for the purposes of comparison? How could the comparisons be carried out for policy purposes? How are such comparisons made now? How do the difficulties involved in these comparisons affect the status of utilitarian theories? This (...)
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  15. Fred Feldman, What is the Rational Care Theory of Welfare? A Comment on Stephen Darwall's Welfare and Rational Care.
    When we speak of a “good life” there are several different things we might mean. We might mean a morally good life. We might mean a life good for others, or good for the world in general. We might mean a life good in itself for the one who lives it. This last may also be described as the life high in individual welfare.
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  16. Fred Feldman (2010). What is This Thing Called Happiness? Oxford University Press.
    Some puzzles about happiness -- Pt. I. Some things that happiness isn't. Sensory hedonism about happiness -- Kahneman's "objective happiness" -- Subjective local preferentism about happiness -- Whole life satisfaction concepts of happiness -- Pt. II. What happiness is. What is this thing called happiness? -- Attitudinal hedonism about happiness -- Eudaimonism -- The problem of inauthentic happiness -- Disgusting happiness -- Our authority over our own happiness -- Pt. III. Implications for the empirical study of happiness. Measuring happiness -- (...)
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  17. Fred Feldman (2006). What is the Rational Care Theory of Welfare? [REVIEW] Philosophical Studies 130 (3):585 - 601.
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  18. Guy Fletcher (2012). Resisting Buck-Passing Accounts of Prudential Value. Philosophical Studies 157 (1):77-91.
    This paper aims to cast doubt upon a certain way of analysing prudential value (or good for ), namely in the manner of a ‘buck-passing’ analysis. It begins by explaining why we should be interested in analyses of good for and the nature of buck-passing analyses generally (§I). It moves on to considering and rejecting two sets of buck-passing analyses. The first are analyses that are likely to be suggested by those attracted to the idea of analysing good for in (...)
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  19. Guy Fletcher (2012). The Locative Analysis of Good For Formulated and Defended. Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy (JESP) 6 (1).
    THE STRUCTURE OF THIS PAPER IS AS FOLLOWS. I begin §1 by dealing with preliminary issues such as the different relations expressed by the “good for” locution. I then (§2) outline the Locative Analysis of good for and explain its main elements before moving on to (§3) outlining and discussing the positive features of the view. In the subsequent sections I show how the Locative Analysis can respond to objections from, or inspired by, Sumner (§4-5), Regan (§6), and Schroeder and (...)
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  20. Guy Fletcher (2009). Rejecting Well-Being Invariabilism. Philosophical Papers 38 (1):21-34.
    This paper is an attempt to undermine a basic assumption of theories of well-being, one that I call well-being invariabilism. I argue that much of what makes existing theories of well-being inadequate stems from the invariabilist assumption. After distinguishing and explaining well-being invariabilism and well-being variabilism, I show that the most widely-held theories of well-being—hedonism, desire-satisfaction, and pluralist objective-list theories—presuppose invariabilism and that a large class of the objections to them arise because of it. My aim is to show that (...)
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  21. James Griffin (2006). Darwall on Welfare as Rational Care. Utilitas 18 (4):427-433.
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  22. Matthew Hanser (2011). Still More on the Metaphysics of Harm. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 82 (2):459-469.
  23. Matthew Hanser (2008). The Metaphysics of Harm. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 77 (2):421-450.
  24. Chris Heathwood (2008). Fitting Attitudes and Welfare. Oxford Studies in Metaethics 3:47-73.
    The purpose of this paper is to present a new argument against so-called fitting attitude analyses of intrinsic value, according to which, roughly, for something to be intrinsically good is for there to be reasons to want it for its own sake. The argument is indirect. First, I submit that advocates of a fitting-attitude analysis of value should, for the sake of theoretical unity, also endorse a fitting-attitude analysis of a closely related but distinct concept: the concept of intrinsic value (...)
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  25. Chris Heathwood (2003). Review of Stephen Darwall, Welfare and Rational Care. [REVIEW] Australasian Journal of Philosophy 81 (4):615-617.
  26. Ori J. Herstein (2013). Why 'Nonexistent People' Do Not Have Zero Wellbeing but No Wellbeing at All. Journal of Applied Philosophy 30 (2):136-145.
    Some believe that the harm or benefit of existence is assessed by comparing a person's actual state of wellbeing with the level of wellbeing they would have had had they never existed. This approach relies on ascribing a state or level of wellbeing to ‘nonexistent people’, which seems a peculiar practice: how can we attribute wellbeing to a ‘nonexistent person'? To explain away this oddity, some have argued that because no properties of wellbeing can be attributed to ‘nonexistent people’ such (...)
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  27. B. Hooker (2005). Review: Welfare and Rational Care. [REVIEW] Mind 114 (454):409-413.
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  28. Thomas Hurka (1987). `Good' and `Good For'. Mind 96 (381):71-73.
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  29. Aaron Jarden & Dan Weijers (2011). Wipe That Smile Off Your Face. The Philosophers' Magazine 52 (52):53-58.
    There are enigmas of defining happiness and of discerning what it is that really makes a life go well for someone – topics that positive psychologists have not adequately addressed to date. And this is despite the fact that Ed Diener sees positive psychology as “the endeavour by scientists to answer the classic question posed by philosophers: What is the good life?” What is rarely mentioned by positive psychologists is that, depending on how the specific happiness questions are worded, they (...)
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  30. Jens Johansson (2009). Fitting Attitudes, Welfare, and Time. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 12 (3):247 - 256.
    Chris Heathwood has recently put forward a novel and ingenious argument against the view that intrinsic value is analyzable in terms of fitting attitudes. According to Heathwood, this view holds water only if the related but distinct concept of welfare—intrinsic value for a person —can be analyzed in terms of fitting attitudes too. Moreover, he argues against such an analysis of welfare by appealing to the rationality of our bias towards the future. In this paper, I argue that so long (...)
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  31. Antti Kauppinen (2009). Working Hard and Kicking Back: The Case for Diachronic Perfectionism. Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy:1-10.
    Dan Haybron has argued by counterexample that perfectionism fails as a theory of well-being. I respond by articulating two different versions of diachronic perfectionism, which takes into account the level of development and exercise of essential human capacities over the course of an entire lifetime.
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  32. Richard Kim, What Is This Thing Called Well-Being.
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  33. Richard Kraut (2011). Review of Thomas Hurka, The Best Things in Life: A Guide to What Really Matters. [REVIEW] Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2011 (1).
  34. Richard Kraut (2007). What is Good and Why: The Ethics of Well-Being. Harvard University Press.
    In search of good -- A Socratic question -- Flourishing and well-being -- Mind and value -- Utilitarianism -- Rawls and the priority of the right -- Right, wrong, should -- The elimination of moral rightness -- Rules and good -- Categorical imperatives -- Conflicting interests -- Whose good? The egoist's answer -- Whose good? The utilitarian's answer - Self-denial, self-love, universal concern -- Pain, self-love, and altruism -- Agent-neutrality and agent-relativity -- Good, conation, and pleasure -- "Good" and "good (...)
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  35. Timothy Macklem & John Gardner (2006). Value, Interest, and Well-Being. Utilitas 18 (4):362-382.
    In this article we consider and cast doubt on two doctrines given prominence and prestige by the utilitarian tradition in ethics. According to the interest theory of value, value is realized only in the advancement of people's interests. According to the well-being theory of interests, people's interests are advanced only in the augmentation of their well-being. We argue that it is possible to resist these doctrines without abandoning the value-humanist doctrine that the value of anything has to be explained in (...)
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  36. Michelle Mason (2007). Richard Kraut, What is Good and Why: The Ethics of Well-Being. [REVIEW] Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2007 (11).
  37. Patrick Maynard (2000). &Quot;what Will Surprise You Most&Quot;: Self-Regulating Systems and Problems of Correct Use in Plato's Republic. Journal of the History of Philosophy 38 (1):1-26.
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  38. Thaddeus Metz (2014). Life Worth Living. In Alex Michalos (ed.), Encyclopedia of Quality of Life and Well-being Research. Springer. 3602-05.
    In this encyclopedia entry, I seek to distinguish the concept of a worthwhile life from related ones such as a happy or meaningful life, to draw key distinctions that arise in discussion of worthwhileness (e.g., between life worth starting and life worth continuing), and to discuss some of the contemporary debates among ethicists about when a life is indeed worth living and when it's not.
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  39. Thaddeus Metz (2014). Meaning as a Distinct and Fundamental Value: Reply to Kershnar. Science, Religion and Culture 1 (2):101-106.
    In this article, I reply to a critical notice of my book, Meaning in Life: An Analytic Study, that Stephen Kershnar has published elsewhere in this issue of Science, Religion & Culture. Beyond expounding the central conclusions of the book, Kershnar advances two major criticisms of it, namely, first, that I did not provide enough evidence that meaning in life is a genuine value-theoretic category as something distinct from and competing with, say, objective well-being, and, second, that, even if there (...)
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  40. Jonas Olson (2006). Welfare and Rational Care, by Stephen Darwall. Princeton University Press, 2002, Xi + 135 Pages. [REVIEW] Economics and Philosophy 22 (1):171-177.
  41. Joseph Raz (2006). Darwall on Rational Care. Utilitas 18 (4):400-414.
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  42. Joseph Raz (2004). The Role of Well‐Being. Philosophical Perspectives 18 (1):269–294.
    "Well-being" signifies the good life, the life which is good for the person whose life it is. I have argued that well-being consists in a wholehearted and successful pursuit of valuable relationships and goals. This view, a little modified, is defended , but the main aim of the article is to consider the role of well-being in practical thought. In particular I will examine a suggestion which says that when we care about people, and when we ought to care about (...)
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  43. Donald Regan (2004). Why Am I My Brother's Keeper? In R. Jay Wallace, Samuel Scheffler & Michael Smith (eds.), Reason and Value: Themes from the Philosophy of Joseph Raz. Clarendon Press.
  44. Raffaele Rodogno (2008). On the Importance of Well-Being. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 11 (2):197 - 212.
    Many among philosophers and non-philosophers would claim that well-being is important in moral theory because it is important to the individual whose well-being it is. The exact meaning of this claim, however, is in need of clarification. Having provided that, I will present a charge against it. This charge can be found in the recent work of both Joseph Raz and Thomas Scanlon. According to the latter the concept of well-being plays an unimportant role in an agent’s deliberation. As (...)
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  45. Connie S. Rosati (2009). Relational Good and the Multiplicity Problem. Philosophical Issues 19 (1):205-234.
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  46. Connie S. Rosati (2008). Objectivism and Relational Good. Social Philosophy and Policy 25 (1):314-349.
    In his critique of egoism as a doctrine of ends, G. E. Moore famously challenges the idea that something can be someone. Donald Regan has recently revived and developed the Moorean challenge, making explicit its implications for the very idea of individual welfare. If the Moorean is right, there is no distinct, normative property good for, and so no plausible objectivism about ethics could be welfarist. In this essay, I undertake to address the Moorean challenge, clarifying our theoretical alternatives so (...)
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  47. Connie S. Rosati (2006). Review: Darwall on Welfare and Rational Care. [REVIEW] Philosophical Studies 130 (3):619 - 635.
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  48. Connie S. Rosati (1996). Internalism and the Good for a Person. Ethics 106 (2):297-326.
    Proponents of numerous recent theories of a person's good hold that a plausible account of the good for a person must satisfy existence internalism. Yet little direct defense has been given for this position. I argue that the principal intuition behind internalism supports a stronger version of the thesis than it might appear--one that effects a "double link" to motivation. I then identify and develop the main arguments that have been or might be given in support of internalism about a (...)
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  49. Connie S. Rosati (1995). Persons, Perspectives, and Full Information Accounts of the Good. Ethics 105 (2):296-325.
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