Subjective Well-Being and Desire Satisfaction

Philosophical Papers 39 (1):1-28 (2011)
Abstract
There is a large literature in empirical psychology studying what psychologists call 'subjective well-being'. Only limited attention has been given to these results by philosophers who study what we call 'well-being'. In this paper, I assess the relevance of the empirical results to one philosophical theory of well-being, the desire satisfaction theory. According to the desire satisfaction theory, an individual's well-being is enhanced when her desires are satisfied. The empirical results, however, show that many of our desires are disappointed in the sense that the satisfaction of those desires does not make us any happier. So I develop an argument against the desire theory of well-being on the basis of these empirical results. I then provide a defense of the desire theory based on a careful examination of the measures of subjective well-being used by psychologists. I conclude that the empirical results do not threaten the desire theory of well-being
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