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Summary While much of the philosophical literature on well-being is concerned with debating substantive theories or accounts of what the good life consists in (e.g. desire-fulfillment, hedonist, perfectionist, objective list theories), philosophers have also sought to get clarity on the very concept of well-being. Some have proposed analyses of well-being and the related notion of harm. Others have tried to get clear on the relationship between synchronic well-being (well-being at a time) and diachronic well-being (well-being over time). Still others have raised doubts about the coherence of the well-being concept or rejected the idea that there is a single concept or property of well-being.
Key works The most widely discussed analysis of well-being is Stephen Darwall's rational care analysis, which is presented and defended in his book Welfare and Rational Care. Other analyses of well-being are found in Rosati 2006Kraut 2007Zimmerman 2009Tenenbaum 2010, Fletcher 2012, and Campbell 2013. Hanser 2008 provides a helpful survey of leading accounts of harm. Bigelow et al 1990 and Velleman 1991 explore the relationship between synchronic and diachronic well-being. Moore 1903 and Regan 2004 challenge the intelligibility of the well-being concept. Kagan 1994, Scanlon 1998 (Ch. 3), and Campbell 2016 challenge the presumption that there is a single concept or property of well-being under discussion in the philosophical literature. Alexandrova 2013 challenges the unity of well-being across various disciplines.
Introductions For an introduction to the philosophical concept of well-being, see Rodogno 2015, Campbell 2016, Sumner 1996 (Ch. 1), Darwall 2002 (Ch. 1-2), and Feldman 2004 (Ch. 1). For an introduction to well-being in the sciences, see Alexandrova 2015
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  1. What Is This Thing Called Well-Being.Richard Kim - manuscript
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  2. Welfare, Meaning, and Worth.Aaron Smuts - manuscript
    The central thesis of this book is that there is more to what makes a life worth living than welfare. I argue that the notion of worth captures matters of importance that no plausible theory of welfare can account for. Worth is best thought of as a higher-level kind of value. I defend an objective list theory (OLT) of worth¬—lives worth living are net high in various objective goods. Not only do I defend an list of some of the goods, (...)
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  3. Structuring Wellbeing.Christopher Frugé - forthcoming - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.
    Many questions about wellbeing involve metaphysical dependence. Does wellbeing depend on minds? Is wellbeing determined by distinct sorts of things? Is it determined differently for different subjects? However, we should distinguish two axes of dependence. First, there are the grounds that generate value. Second, there are the connections between the grounds and value which make it so that those grounds generate that value. Given these distinct axes of dependence, there are distinct dimensions to questions about the dependence of wellbeing. In (...)
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  4. Value After Death.Christopher Frugé - forthcoming - Ratio.
    Does our life have value for us after we die? Despite the importance of such a question, many would find it absurd, even incoherent. Once we are dead, the thought goes, we are no longer around to have any wellbeing at all. However, in this paper I argue that this common thought is mistaken. In order to make sense of some of our most central normative thoughts and practices, we must hold that a person can have wellbeing after they die. (...)
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  5. A Reformed Division of Labor for the Science of Well-Being.Roberto Fumagalli - forthcoming - Philosophy:1-35.
    This paper provides a philosophical assessment of leading theory-based, evidence-based and coherentist approaches to the definition and the measurement of well-being. It then builds on this assessment to articulate a reformed division of labor for the science of well-being and argues that this reformed division of labor can improve on the proffered approaches by combining the most plausible tenets of theory-based approaches with the most plausible tenets of coherentist approaches. This result does not per se exclude the possibility that theory-based (...)
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  6. Well-Being Coherentism.Gil Hersch - forthcoming - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science.
    Philosophers of well-being have tended to adopt a foundationalist approach to the question of theory and measurement, according to which theories are conceptually prior to measures. By contrast, social scientists have tended to adopt operationalist commitments, according to which they develop and refine well-being measures independently of any philosophical foundation. Unfortunately, neither approach helps us overcome the problem of coordinating between how we characterize wellbeing and how we measure it. Instead, we should adopt a coherentist approach to well-being science.
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  7. Well-Being and Pluralism.Polly Mitchell & Anna Alexandrova - forthcoming - Journal of Happiness Studies.
    It is a commonly expressed sentiment that the science and philosophy of well-being would do well to learn from each other. Typically such calls identify mistakes and bad practices on both sides that would be remedied if scientists picked the right bit of philosophy and philosophers picked the right bit of science. We argue that the differences between philosophers and scientists thinking about well-being are more difficult to reconcile than such calls suggest, and that pluralism is central to this task. (...)
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  8. Not More Than a Feeling: An Experimental Investigation Into the Folk Concept of Happiness.Kevin Reuter, Michael Messerli & Luca Barlassina - forthcoming - Thought: A Journal of Philosophy.
    Affect-based theorists and life satisfaction theorists disagree about the nature of happiness, but agree about this methodological principle: a philosophical theory of happiness should be in line with the folk concept HAPPINESS. In this article, we present two empirical studies indicating that it is affect-based theories that get the folk concept HAPPINESS right: competent speakers judge a person to be happy if and only if that person is described as feeling pleasure/good most of the time. Our studies also show that (...)
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  9. Practical Wisdom, Well‐Being, and Success.Cheng-Hung Tsai - forthcoming - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research:1-17.
    What is practical wisdom? What does a practically wise person know? It is widely held that a person is practically wise if and only if the person knows how to live well, and that a person knows how to live well only if the person knows what is good or important for well‐being. The question is: What is it that contributes to or constitutes well‐being known by a wise person? A theory of wisdom without a substantive answer to this question (...)
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  10. Permanent Value.Christopher Frugé - 2022 - Journal of the American Philosophical Association 8 (2):356-372.
    Temporal nihilism is the view that our lives won’t matter after we die. According to the standard interpretation, this is because our lives won’t make a permanent difference. Many who consider the view thus reject it by denying that our lives need to have an eternal impact. However, in this paper, I develop a different formulation of temporal nihilism revolving around the persistence of personal value itself. According to this stronger version, we do not have personal value after death, so (...)
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  11. Not Merely the Absence of Disease: A Genealogy of the WHO’s Positive Health Definition.Lars Thorup Larsen - 2022 - History of the Human Sciences 35 (1):111-131.
    The 1948 constitution of the World Health Organization defines health as ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’. It was a bold and revolutionary health idea to gain international consensus in a period characterized by fervent anti-communism. This article explores the genealogy of the health definition and demonstrates how it was possible to expand the scope of health, redefine it as ‘well-being’, and overcome ideological resistance to progressive and international (...)
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  12. Well‐Being, Part 2: Theories of Well‐Being.Eden Lin - 2022 - Philosophy Compass 17 (2):e12812.
    Judgments about how well things are going for people during particular periods of time, and about how well people’s entire lives have gone or will go, are ubiquitous in ordinary life. Those judgments are about well-being—or, equivalently, welfare or quality of life. This article examines the concept of well-being and the related concepts of prudential value and disvalue (i.e., goodness or badness for someone). It distinguishes these concepts from ones with which they might be conflated, exhibits some of the roles (...)
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  13. Worker Well-Being: What It Is, and How It Should Be Measured.Indy Wijngaards, Owen C. King, Martijn J. Burger & Job van Exel - 2022 - Applied Research in Quality of Life 17:795-832.
    Worker well-being is a hot topic in organizations, consultancy and academia. However, too often, the buzz about worker well-being, enthusiasm for new programs to promote it and interest to research it, have not been accompanied by universal enthusiasm for scientific measurement. Aim to bridge this gap, we address three questions. To address the question ‘What is worker well-being?’, we explain that worker well-being is a multi-facetted concept and that it can be operationalized in a variety of constructs. We propose a (...)
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  14. A Defense of Temporal Well-Being.Ben Bradley - 2021 - Res Philosophica 98 (1):117-123.
  15. Causal Accounts of Harming.Erik Carlson, Jens Johansson & Olle Risberg - 2021 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly.
    A popular view of harming is the causal account (CA), on which harming is causing harm. CA has several attractive features. In particular, it appears well equipped to deal with the most important problems for its main competitor, the counterfactual comparative account (CCA). However, we argue that, despite its advantages, CA is ultimately an unacceptable theory of harming. Indeed, while CA avoids several counterexamples to CCA, it is vulnerable to close variants of some of the problems that beset CCA.
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  16. Dear Prudence: The Nature and Normativity of Prudential Discourse.Guy Fletcher - 2021 - Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
    Philosophers have long theorized about what makes people's lives go well, and why, and the extent to which morality and self-interest can be reconciled. However, we have spent little time on meta-prudential questions, questions about prudential discourse—thought and talk about what is good and bad for us; what contributes to well-being; and what we have prudential reason, or prudentially ought, to do. This situation is surprising given that prudence is, prima facie, a normative form of discourse and cries out for (...)
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  17. Review of Guy Fletcher’s Dear Prudence. [REVIEW]Christopher Frugé - 2021 - Utilitas 33 (4):505-509.
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  18. Against ‘Good for’/‘Well-Being’, for ‘Simply Good’.Thomas Hurka - 2021 - Philosophical Quarterly 71 (4):803-22.
    This paper challenges the widely held view that ‘good for’, ‘well-being’, and related terms express a distinctive evaluative concept of central importance for ethics and separate from ‘simply good’ as used by G. E. Moore and others. More specifically, it argues that there's no philosophically useful good-for or well-being concept that's neither merely descriptive in the sense of naturalistic nor reducible to ‘simply good’. The paper distinguishes two interpretations of the common claim that the value ‘good for’ expresses is distinctively (...)
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  19. Empirical Relationships Among Five Types of Well-Being.Seth Margolis, Eric Schwitzgebel, Daniel J. Ozer & Sonja Lyubomirsky - 2021 - In Measuring Well-Being: Interdisciplinary Perspectives from the Social Sciences and Humanities. New York, NY, USA: pp. 339-376.
    Philosophers, psychologists, economists and other social scientists continue to debate the nature of human well-being. We argue that this debate centers around five main conceptualizations of well-being: hedonic well-being, life satisfaction, desire fulfillment, eudaimonia, and non-eudaimonic objective-list well-being. Each type of well-being is conceptually different, but are they empirically distinguishable? To address this question, we first developed and validated a measure of desire fulfillment, as no measure existed, and then examined associations between this new measure and several other well-being measures. (...)
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  20. Life Worth Living (Rev. Edn).Thaddeus Metz - 2021 - In Filomena Maggino (ed.), Encyclopedia of Quality of Life and Well-Being Research, 2nd edn. Springer. pp. 1-4.
    An updated version of this encyclopedia entry on the concept of what, if anything, makes life worthwhile.
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  21. How to Study Well-Being: A Proposal for the Integration of Philosophy with Science.Michael Prinzing - 2021 - Review of General Psychology 25 (2):152-162.
    There are presently two approaches to the study of well-being. Philosophers typically focus on normative theorizing, attempting to identify the things that are ultimately good for a person, while largely ignoring empirical research. The idea is that empirical attention cannot be directed to the right place without a rigorous theory. Meanwhile, social scientists typically focus on empirical research, attempting to identify the causes and consequences of well-being, while largely ignoring normative theorizing. The idea is that conceptual and theoretical clarity will (...)
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  22. Ben Bramble, The Passing of Temporal Well-Being[REVIEW]Daniel Weltman - 2021 - Journal of Moral Philosophy 18 (6):670-673.
  23. Mental Health Without Well-Being.Sam Wren-Lewis & Anna Alexandrova - 2021 - Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 46 (6):684-703.
    What is it to be mentally healthy? In the ongoing movement to promote mental health, to reduce stigma, and to establish parity between mental and physical health, there is a clear enthusiasm about this concept and a recognition of its value in human life. However, it is often unclear what mental health means in all these efforts and whether there is a single concept underlying them. Sometimes, the initiatives for the sake of mental health are aimed just at reducing mental (...)
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  24. A Defense of Free-Roaming Cats From a Hedonist Account of Feline Well-Being.C. E. Abbate - 2020 - Acta Analytica 35 (3):439-461.
    There is a widespread belief that for their own safety and for the protection of wildlife, cats should be permanently kept indoors. Against this view, I argue that cat guardians have a duty to provide their feline companions with outdoor access. The argument is based on a sophisticated hedonistic account of animal well-being that acknowledges that the performance of species-normal ethological behavior is especially pleasurable. Territorial behavior, which requires outdoor access, is a feline-normal ethological behavior, so when a cat is (...)
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  25. Harming and Failing to Benefit: A Reply to Purves.Jens Johansson & Olle Risberg - 2020 - Philosophical Studies 177 (6):1539-1548.
    A prominent objection to the counterfactual comparative account of harm is that it classifies as harmful some events that are, intuitively, mere failures to benefit. In an attempt to solve this problem, Duncan Purves has recently proposed a novel version of the counterfactual comparative account, which relies on a distinction between making upshots happen and allowing upshots to happen. In this response, we argue that Purves’s account is unsuccessful. It fails in cases where an action makes the subject occupy a (...)
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  26. The Good of Today Depends Not on the Good of Tomorrow: A Constraint on Theories of Well-Being.Owen C. King - 2020 - Philosophical Studies 177 (8):2365-2380.
    This article addresses three questions about well-being. First, is well-being future-sensitive? I.e., can present well-being depend on future events? Second, is well-being recursively dependent? I.e., can present well-being depend on itself? Third, can present and future well-being be interdependent? The third question combines the first two, in the sense that a yes to it is equivalent to yeses to both the first and second. To do justice to the diverse ways we contemplate well-being, I consider our thought and discourse about (...)
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  27. Explanatory Perfectionism: A Fresh Take on an Ancient Theory.Michael Prinzing - 2020 - Analysis (4):704-712.
    The ‘Big 3’ theories of well-being—hedonism, desire-satisfactionism, and objective list theory—attempt to explain why certain things are good for people by appealing to prudentially good-making properties. But they don’t attempt to explain why the properties they advert to make something good for a person. Perfectionism, the view that well-being consists in nature-fulfilment, is often considered a competitor to these views (or else a version of the objective list theory). However, I argue that perfectionism is best understood as explaining why certain (...)
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  28. Well-Being as Harmony.Hasko von Kriegstein - 2020 - In David Kaspar (ed.), Explorations in Ethics. pp. 117-140.
    In this paper, I sketch out a novel theory of well-being according to which well-being is constituted by harmony between mind and world. The notion of harmony I develop has three aspects. First there is correspondence between mind and world in the sense that events in the world match the content of our mental states. Second there is positive orientation towards the world, meaning that we have pro-attitudes towards the world we find ourselves in. Third there is fitting response to (...)
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  29. Précis of A Philosophy for the Science of Well-Being.Anna Alexandrova - 2019 - Res Philosophica 96 (4):509-511.
  30. Reply to Hawkins, Hassoun, and Arneson.Anna Alexandrova - 2019 - Res Philosophica 96 (4):537-544.
  31. Against Contextualism About Prudential Discourse.Guy Fletcher - 2019 - Philosophical Quarterly 69 (277):699-720.
    In recent times, there has been a surge of interest in, and enthusiasm for, contextualist views about prudential discourse — thought and talk about what has prudential value or contributes to someone’s well-being. In this paper I examine and reject two cases for radical forms of prudential contextualism, proposed by Anna Alexandrova and Steve Campbell. Alexandrova holds that the semantic content of terms like ‘well-being’ and ‘doing well’ varies across contexts. Campbell proposes that there are plural prudential concepts at play (...)
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  32. Diversity of Meaning and the Value of a Concept: Comments on Anna Alexandrova's A Philosophy for the Science of Well-Being.Jennifer Hawkins - 2019 - Res Philosophica 96 (4):529-535.
    In her impressive book, looking at the philosophy and science of well-being, Anna Alexandrova argues for the strong claim that we possess no stable, unified concept of well-being. Instead, she thinks the word “well-being” only comes to have a specific meaning in particular contexts, and has a quite different meaning in different contexts. I take issue with (1) her claim that we do not possess a unified, all-things-considered concept of well-being as well as with (2) her failure to consider why (...)
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  33. David Sobel, From Valuing to Value: A Defense of Subjectivism , Pp. Vii + 312. [REVIEW]Owen C. King - 2019 - Utilitas 31 (2):203-207.
    This is a review of David Sobel's monograph, From Valuing to Value: A Defense of Subjectivism.
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  34. Struggling for Clarity on Well-Being.Mark Piper - 2019 - Southwest Philosophy Review 35 (1):155-162.
    Well-being is said to concern what is good for persons. But the words ‘good for’ are indeterminate enough to support the worry that philosophers working on well-being might not be quarreling over the same conceptual territory. To allay these worries, it would be helpful to provide an analysis of prudential goodness that is substantive enough to coordinate disagreement about and adjudicate between competing theories of well-being, and yet not so substantive that it begs any important questions at the normative level. (...)
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  35. Can the Science of Well-Being Be Objective?Anna Alexandrova - 2018 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 69 (2):421-445.
    Well–being, health and freedom are some of the many phenomena of interest to science whose definitions rely on a normative standard. Empirical generalizations about them thus present a special case of value-ladenness. I propose the notion of a ‘mixed claim’ to denote such generalizations. Against the prevailing wisdom, I argue that we should not seek to eliminate them from science. Rather, we need to develop principles for their legitimate use. Philosophers of science have already reconciled values with objectivity in several (...)
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  36. A Working Test for Well-Being.Tobias A. Fuchs - 2018 - Utilitas 30 (2):129-142.
    In order to make progress in the welfare debate, we need a way to decide whether certain cases depict changes in well-being or not. I argue that an intuitive idea by Nagel has received insufficient attention in the literature and can be developed into a test to that purpose. I discuss a version of such a test proposed by Brad Hooker, and argue that it is unsuccessful. I then present my own test, which relies on the claim that if compassion (...)
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  37. Pulling Apart Well-Being at a Time and the Goodness of a Life.Owen C. King - 2018 - Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy 5:349-370.
    This article argues that a person’s well-being at a time and the goodness of her life are two distinct values. It is commonly accepted as platitudinous that well-being is what makes a life good for the person who lives it. Even philosophers who distinguish between well-being at a time and the goodness of a life still typically assume that increasing a person’s well-being at some particular moment, all else equal, necessarily improves her life on the whole. I develop a precise (...)
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  38. Feminist Perspectives on Well-Being.Charlotte Knowles - 2018 - In Kathleen Galvin (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Well-Being. London, UK: Routledge.
    In this paper I argue that from a feminist perspective well-being is most productively defined in relation to freedom, and it is with regard to questions of freedom that well-being should be pursued. Pursuing well-being from a starting point of oppression and working towards an ideal of freedom, involves two things: a reconception of the self as fundamentally relational and an emphasis on the importance of self-understanding for well-being. The former is something that has been widely acknowledged in the feminist (...)
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  39. A Philosophy for the Science of Well-Being.Anna Alexandrova - 2017 - New York: Oxford University Press.
    Do the new sciences of well-being provide knowledge that respects the nature of well-being? This book written from the perspective of philosophy of science articulates how this field can speak to well-being proper and can do so in a way that respects the demands of objectivity and measurement.
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  40. Desire Satisfaction, Death, and Time.Duncan Purves - 2017 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 47 (6):799-819.
    Desire satisfaction theories of well-being and deprivationism about the badness of death face similar problems: desire satisfaction theories have trouble locating the time when the satisfaction of a future or past-directed desire benefits a person; deprivationism has trouble locating a time when death is bad for a person. I argue that desire satisfaction theorists and deprivation theorists can address their respective timing problems by accepting fusionism, the view that some events benefit or harm individuals only at fusions of moments in (...)
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  41. The Concept of Well-Being.Stephen M. Campbell - 2016 - In Guy Fletcher (ed.), Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Well-Being. Routledge.
  42. Flourishing Dogs: The Case for an Individualized Conception of Welfare and Its Implications.Sofia Jeppsson - 2016 - Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 29 (3):425-438.
    Martha Nussbaum argues that animals are entitled to a flourishing life according to the norm for their species. Nussbaum furthermore suggests that in the case of dogs, breed norms as well as species norms are relevant. Her theses capture both common intuitions among laypeople according to which there is something wrong with the breeding of “unnatural” animals, or animals that are too different from their wild ancestors, and the dog enthusiast’s belief that dogs departing from the norms for their breed (...)
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  43. A Capabilities-Based Account of Patient Welfare.Peter Koch - 2016 - Dissertation, SUNY @ Buffalo
    The promotion of patient welfare is a central goal of medical professionals and serves as a fundamental principle of medical professionalism. Despite its importance, however, it is unclear what is meant by patient welfare. In my dissertation, I explore patient welfare by analyzing the ordinary notion of welfare and applying this analysis to the patient population. I argue that welfare is best understood and expressed in terms of capabilities, which I define using the structure and vocabulary of Basic Formal Ontology. (...)
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  44. Welfare, Meaning, and Worth.Aaron Smuts - 2016 - Routledge.
    _Welfare, Meaning, and Worth_ argues that there is more to what makes a life worth living than welfare, and that a good life does not consist of what is merely good for the one who lives it. Smuts defends an objective list theory that states that the notion of worth captures matters of importance for which no plausible theory of welfare can account. He puts forth that lives worth living are net high in various objective goods, including pleasure, meaning, knowledge, (...)
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  45. Ways to Be Worse Off.Ian Stoner - 2016 - Res Philosophica 93 (4):921-949.
    Does disability make a person worse off? I argue that the best answer is yes and no, because we can be worse off in two conceptually distinct ways. Disabilities usually make us worse off in one way (typified by facing hassles) but not in the other (typified by facing loneliness). Acknowledging two conceptually distinct ways to be worse off has fundamental implications for philosophical theories of well-being. -/- (This paper was awarded the APA’s Routledge, Taylor & Francis Prize in 2017.).
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  46. The Science of Well-Being.Anna Alexandrova - 2015 - In Guy Fletcher (ed.), Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Well-Being. Routledge. pp. 389-401.
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  47. Well-Being.Ben Bradley - 2015 - Polity.
    The concept of well-being plays a central role in moral and political theory. Policies and actions are justified or criticized on the grounds that they make people better or worse off. But is there really such a thing as well-being, and if so, what is it? Is it pleasure, desire-satisfaction, knowledge, virtue, achievement, some combination of these, or something else entirely? How can we measure well-being, amongst individuals and society? And how can we use it to make moral judgements about (...)
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  48. When the Shape of a Life Matters.Stephen M. Campbell - 2015 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 18 (3): 565-75.
    It seems better to have a life that begins poorly and ends well than a life that begins well and ends poorly. One possible explanation is that the very shape of a life can be good or bad for us. If so, this raises a tough question: when can the shape of our lives be good or bad for us? In this essay, I present and critique an argument that the shape of a life is a non-synchronic prudential value—that is, (...)
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  49. The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Well-Being.Guy Fletcher (ed.) - 2015 - Routledge.
    The concept of well-being is one of the oldest and most important topics in philosophy and ethics, going back to ancient Greek philosophy and Aristotle. Following the boom in happiness studies in the last few years it has moved to centre stage, grabbing media headlines and the attention of scientists, psychologists and economists. Yet little is actually known about well-being and it is an idea often poorly articulated. The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Well-Being provides a comprehensive, outstanding guide and (...)
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  50. Medicine & Well-Being.Daniel Groll - 2015 - In Guy Fletcher (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Well-Being. Routledge.
    The connections between medicine and well-being are myriad. This paper focuses on the place of well-being in clinical medicine. It is here that different views of well-being, and their connection to concepts like “autonomy” and “authenticity”, both illuminate and are illuminated by looking closely at the kinds of interactions that routinely take place between clinicians, patients, and family members. -/- In the first part of the paper, I explore the place of well-being in a paradigmatic clinical encounter, one where a (...)
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