Are subjective measures of well-being ‘direct’?

Australasian Journal of Philosophy 89 (1):115-130 (2011)
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Subjective measures of well-being—measures based on answers to questions such as ‘Taking things all together, how would you say things are these days—would you say you're very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy these days?’—are often presented as superior to more traditional economic welfare measures, e.g., for public policy purposes. This paper aims to spell out and assess what I will call the argument from directness: the notion that subjective measures of well-being better represent well-being than economic measures do because subjective measures (and subjective measures alone) are direct measures of well-being. My main thesis is that the argument begs the question against proponents of economic measures: it is based on a premise that they reject and that is no less in need of justification than the conclusion of the argument, namely, the proposition that well-being is constituted by subjectively experienced mental states. If subjective measures can be defended as valid measures of well-being at all, I will maintain, it is because they are (imperfect) indirect measures of well-being.



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Erik Angner
Stockholm University

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