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. Permanent Value.Christopher Frugé - forthcoming - Journal of the American Philosophical Association.
    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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  2. Worker Well-Being: What It Is, and How It Should Be Measured.Indy Wijngaards, Owen C. King, Martijn J. Burger & Job van Exel - forthcoming - Applied Research in Quality of Life.
    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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  3. 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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  4. 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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  5. 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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  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. 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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  8. 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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  9. 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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  10. 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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  11. Précis of A Philosophy for the Science of Well-Being.Anna Alexandrova - 2019 - Res Philosophica 96 (4):509-511.
  12. Reply to Hawkins, Hassoun, and Arneson.Anna Alexandrova - 2019 - Res Philosophica 96 (4):537-544.
  13. Mental Health Without Wellbeing.Sam Wren Lewis & Anna Alexandrova - forthcoming - Journal of Medicine and Philosophy.
    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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  14. 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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  15. 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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  16. 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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  17. Is Motivation Internal to Value?J. David Velleman - 1998 - In C. Fehige & U. Wessels (eds.), Preferences. Walter de Gruyter.
    The view that something's being good for a person depends on his capacity to care about it – sometimes called internalism about a person’s good – is here derived from the principle that 'ought' implies 'can'. In the course of this derivation, the limits of internalism are discussed, and a distinction is drawn between two senses of the phrase "a person's good".
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  18. 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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  19. 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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  20. 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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  21. 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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  22. 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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  23. 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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  24. 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.
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  25. Stephen Darwall, Welfare and Rational Care. [REVIEW]A. E. Wengraf - 2004 - Philosophical Inquiry 26 (4):145-148.
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  26. Welfare and Rational Care. [REVIEW]Emer O’Hagan - 2005 - Dialogue 44 (3):620-622.
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  27. What Is Goodness Good For?Christian Piller - 2015 - In Mark Timmons (ed.), Oxford Studies Normative Ethics: Volume 4. pp. 179-209.
  28. 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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  29. 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 (...)
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  30. On For Someone’s Sake Attitudes.Toni Rønnow-Rasmussen - 2008 - 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 (...)
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  31. 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 (...)
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  32. Précis of Welfare and Rational Care.S. Darwall - 2006 - Philosophical Studies 130 (3):579-584.
  33. What is the Rational Care Theory of Welfare?: A Comment on Stephen Darwall’s Welfare and Rational Care.Fred Feldman - 2006 - Philosophical Studies 130 (3):585-601.
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  34. Darwall on Welfare and Rational Care.Connie S. Rosati - 2006 - Philosophical Studies 130 (3):619-635.
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  35. 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 (...)
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  36. 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 (...)
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  37. 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 (...)
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  38. 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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  39. 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.
  40. 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 (...)
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  41. 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 (...)
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  42. 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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  43. 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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  44. 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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  45. 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 (...)
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  46. Good, Conation, and Pleasure.Richard Kraut - 2007 - In What is Good and Why: The Ethics of Well-Being. Harvard University Press. pp. 66-130.
  47. 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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  48. 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 (...)
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  49. 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 (...)
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  50. 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.
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