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, harm 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, Crisp 2006, Bramble 2016), desire-fulfillment theories (Railton 1986, Heathwood 2005), 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 1979, Nussbaum 2000, and Hurka 2010) and perfectionist theories that identify well-being with the "perfection" or development of one's nature (Kraut 2007; cf. Hurka 1993).
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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The Concept of Well-Being
  1. David Sobel, From Valuing to Value: A Defense of Subjectivism , Pp. Vii + 312.Owen C. King - forthcoming - Utilitas:1-5.
  2. Well-Being, Disability, and Choosing Children.Matthew J. Barker & Robert A. Wilson - forthcoming - Mind:fzy039.
    The view that it is better for life to be created free of disability is pervasive in both common sense and philosophy. We cast doubt on this view by focusing on an influential line of thinking that manifests it. That thinking begins with a widely-discussed principle, Procreative Beneficence, and draws conclusions about parental choice and disability. After reconstructing two versions of this argument, we critique the first by exploring the relationship between different understandings of well-being and disability, and the second (...)
  3. 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 (...)
  4. 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 (...)
  5. 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 (...)
  6. 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.
  7. What Is Goodness Good For?Christian Piller - 2015 - In Mark Timmons (ed.), Oxford Studies Normative Ethics: Volume 4. pp. 179-209.
  8. Welfare, Meaning, and Worth.Aaron Smuts - 2017 - 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, (...)
  9. Analysing Personal Value.Toni Rønnow-Rasmussen - 2007 - The Journal of Ethics 11 (4):405-435.
    It is argued that the so-called fitting attitude- or buck-passing pattern of analysis may be applied to personal values too if the analysans is fine-tuned in the following way: An object has personal value for a person a, if and only if there is reason to favour it for a’s sake. One benefit with it is its wide range: different kinds of values are analysable by the same general formula. Moreover, by situating the distinguishing quality in the attitude rather than (...)
  10. On For Someone’s Sake Attitudes.Toni Rønnow-Rasmussen - 2009 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 12 (4):397-411.
    Personal value, i.e., what is valuable for us, has recently been analysed in terms of so- called for-someone's-sake attitudes. This paper is an attempt to add flesh to the bone of these attitudes that have not yet been properly analysed in the philosophical literature. By employing a distinction between justifiers and identifiers, which corresponds to two roles a property may play in the intentional content of an attitude, two different kinds of for-someone's-sake attitudes can be identified. Moreover, it is argued (...)
  11. Fitting Attitudes, Welfare, and Time.Jens Johansson - 2009 - 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 (...)
  12. Précis of Welfare and Rational Care.S. Darwall - 2006 - Philosophical Studies 130 (3):579-584.
  13. What is the Rational Care Theory of Welfare?Fred Feldman - 2006 - Philosophical Studies 130 (3):585-601.
  14. Darwall on Welfare and Rational Care.Connie S. Rosati - 2006 - Philosophical Studies 130 (3):619-635.
  15. Welfare and Rational Care.Stephen Darwall - 2002 - Princeton University Press.
    What kind of life best ensures human welfare? Since the ancient Greeks, this question has been as central to ethical philosophy as to ordinary reflection. But what exactly is welfare? This question has suffered from relative neglect. And, as Stephen Darwall shows, it has done so at a price. Presenting a provocative new "rational care theory of welfare," Darwall proves that a proper understanding of welfare fundamentally changes how we think about what is best for people.Most philosophers have assumed that (...)
  16. Intrinsic and Extrinsic Value.Toni Rønnow-Rasmussen - 2015 - In Iwao Hirose & Jonas Olson (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Value Theory. Oxford University Press USA.
    Section 2.1 identifies three notions of intrinsic value: the finality sense understands it as value for its own sake, the supervenience sense identifies it with value that depends exclusively on the bearer’s internal properties, and the nonderivative sense describes intrinsic value as value that provides justification for other values and is not justified by any other value. A distinction between final intrinsic and final extrinsic value in terms of supervenience is subsequently introduced. Section 2.2 contains a discussion of the debate (...)
  17. An Introduction to Ill-Being.Shelly Kagan - 2015 - Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics 4:261-88.
    Typically, discussions of well-being focus almost exclusively on the positive aspects of well-being, those elements which directly contribute to a life going well, or better. It is generally assumed, without comment, that there is no need to explicitly discuss ill-being as well—that is, the part of the theory of well-being that specifies the elements which directly contribute to a life going badly, or less well—since (or so it is thought) this raises no special difficulties or problems. But this common assumption (...)
  18. The Science of Well-Being.Anna Alexandrova - 2015 - In Guy Fletcher (ed.), Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Well-Being. Routledge. pp. 389-401.
  19. Prudential Value or Well-Being.Raffaele Rodogno - 2015 - In David Sander & Tobias Brosch (eds.), Oxford Handbook of Value: The Affective Sciences of Values and Valuation. Oxford University Press.
  20. Toni Rønnow‐Rasmussen, Personal Value, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2011, 185 Pp., US$ 75 , ISBN 9780199603787. [REVIEW]Olivier Massin - 2015 - Dialectica 69 (2):221-231.
    Personal Values is a delightful and enlightening read. It is teeming with novel insights, ground-breaking distinctions, rich examples, new delineations of the field, refreshing historical reminders, inventive arguments, unprecedented connections, identifications of neglected difficulties, and pioneering proposals. I shall focus here on three of these insights, which are illustrative of the pervasive scrupulousness and inventiveness of the book. The first is that there is a distinction between the supervenience base of values and their constitutive grounds. The second is that FA (...)
  21. The Elements of Well-Being.Brad Hooker - 2015 - Journal of Practical Ethics 3 (1):15-35.
    This essay contends that the constitutive elements of well-being are plural, partly objective, and separable. The essay argues that these elements are pleasure, friendship, significant achievement, important knowledge, and autonomy, but not either the appreciation of beauty or the living of a morally good life. The essay goes on to attack the view that elements of well-being must be combined in order for well-being to be enhanced. The final section argues against the view that, because anything important to say about (...)
  22. 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, (...)
  23. 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 (...)
  24. 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, (...)
  25. Harm and Causation.Robert Northcott - 2015 - Utilitas 27 (2):147-164.
    I propose an analysis of harm in terms of causation: harm is when a subject is caused to be worse off. The pay-off from this lies in the details. In particular, importing influential recent work from the causation literature yields a contrastive-counterfactual account. This enables us to incorporate harm's multiple senses into a unified scheme, and to provide that scheme with theoretical ballast. It also enables us to respond effectively to previous criticisms of counterfactual accounts, as well as to sharpen (...)
  26. Good, Conation, and Pleasure.Richard Kraut - 2007 - In What is Good and Why: The Ethics of Well-Being. Harvard University Press. pp. 66-130.
  27. 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 (...)
  28. Happiness is Not Well-Being.Jason R. Raibley - 2012 - Journal of Happiness Studies 13 (6):1105-1129.
    This paper attempts to explain the conceptual connections between happiness and well-being. It first distinguishes episodic happiness from happiness in the personal attribute sense. It then evaluates two recent proposals about the connection between happiness and well-being: (1) the idea that episodic happiness and well-being both have the same fundamental determinants, so that a person is well-off to a particular degree in virtue of the fact that they are happy to that degree, and (2) the idea that happiness in the (...)
  29. Well‐Being, Self‐Regarding Reasons, and Morality.Howard L. M. Nye - 2014 - Thought: A Journal of Philosophy 3 (4):332-341.
    It seems that we should want to avoid becoming intellectually disabled. It is common for philosophers to infer from this that those of us without intellectual disabilities are intrinsically better off than individuals with intellectual disabilities, and that there are consequently stronger moral reasons for others to preserve our lives than to preserve the lives of intellectually disabled individuals. In this article, I argue against this inference from what states we should prefer for ourselves to how much moral reason others (...)
  30. Harm.Michael Rabenberg - 2014 - Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 8 (3):1-32.
    In recent years, philosophers have proposed a variety of accounts of the nature of harm. In this paper, I consider several of these accounts and argue that they are unsuccessful. I then make a modest case for a different view.
  31. The Concept of Well-Being.Stephen M. Campbell - 2016 - In Guy Fletcher (ed.), Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Well-Being. Routledge.
  32. The Concept of Welfare in Economics.W. D. Lamont, Honor Brotman & J. P. Corbett - 1953 - Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 27:159-230.
  33. Meaning as a Distinct and Fundamental Value: Reply to Kershnar.Thaddeus Metz - 2014 - 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 (...)
  34. Stephen Darwall, Welfare and Rational Care.A. E. Wengraf - 2004 - Philosophical Inquiry 26 (4):145-148.
  35. Good and Good For.Sergio Tenenbaum - 2010 - In Desire, Practical Reason, and the Good. Oxford University Press.
  36. Well-Being and Prudential Value.Tim E. Taylor - 2013 - Philosophy and Public Policy Quarterly 31 (2):10-17.
  37. "Review of" Welfare and Rational Care". [REVIEW]H. Benjamin Shaeffer - 2006 - Essays in Philosophy 7 (2):14.
  38. Doing Well in the Circumstances.Anna Alexandrova - 2013 - 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 (...)
  39. What Is This Thing Called Well-Being.Richard Kim - manuscript
  40. Why 'Nonexistent People' Do Not Have Zero Wellbeing but No Wellbeing at All.Ori J. Herstein - 2013 - 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 (...)
  41. Review of Stephen Darwall, Welfare and Rational Care. [REVIEW]Chris Heathwood - 2003 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 81 (4):615-617.
  42. Toni Rønnow-Rasmussen, Personal Value. [REVIEW]Christian Coons - 2012 - Ethics 123 (1):183-188.
  43. Well-Being as an Object of Science.Anna Alexandrova - 2012 - Philosophy of Science 79 (5):678-689.
    The burgeoning science of well-being makes no secret of being value laden: improvement of well-being is its explicit goal. But in order to achieve this goal its concepts and claims need to be value adequate; that is, they need, among other things, to adequately capture well-being. In this article I consider two ways of securing this adequacy—first, by relying on philosophical theory of prudential value and, second, by the psychometric approach. I argue that neither is fully adequate and explore an (...)
  44. An Analysis of Prudential Value.Stephen M. Campbell - 2013 - Utilitas 25 (3):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 (...)
  45. The Frustrating Problem For Four-Dimensionalism.A. P. Taylor - 2013 - Philosophical Studies 165 (3):1097-1115.
    I argue that four-dimensionalism and the desire satisfaction account of well-being are incompatible. For every person whose desires are satisfied, there will be many shorter-lived individuals (‘person-stages’ or ‘subpersons’) who share the person’s desires but who do not exist long enough to see those desires satisfied; not only this, but in many cases their desires are frustrated so that the desires of the beings in whom they are embedded as proper temporal parts may be fulfilled. I call this the frustrating (...)
  46. Life Worth Living.Thaddeus Metz - 2014 - In Alex Michalos (ed.), Encyclopedia of Quality of Life and Well-being Research. Springer. pp. 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.
  47. Why Am I My Brother's Keeper?Donald Regan - 2004 - In R. Jay Wallace, Samuel Scheffler & Michael Smith (eds.), Reason and Value: Themes from the Philosophy of Joseph Raz. Clarendon Press.
  48. Death and Well-Being.John Bigelow, John Campbell & Robert Pargetter - 1990 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 71 (2):119-40.
  49. The Locative Analysis of Good For Formulated and Defended.Guy Fletcher - 2012 - Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy (JESP) 6 (1):1-27.
    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 (...)
  50. Wipe That Smile Off Your Face.Aaron Jarden & Dan Weijers - 2011 - 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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