The Sum of Well-Being

Mind 132 (528):1074–1104 (2023)
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Is well-being the kind of thing that can be summed across individuals? This paper takes a measurement-theoretic approach to answering this question. To make sense of adding well-being, we would need to identify some natural "concatenation" operation on the bearers of well-being that satisfies the axioms of extensive measurement and can therefore be represented by the arithmetic operation of addition. I explore various proposals along these lines, involving the concatenation of segments within lives over time, of entire lives led alongside one another or in sequence, and of evaluatively basic propositions via conjunction. All of these proposals turn out to carry highly controversial commitments about the good. I do not claim that these commitments are unacceptable. But they suggest that we cannot simply take for granted, as many philosophers do, that there is any such thing as the sum of well-being.

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Jake Nebel
Princeton University

Citations of this work

Ethics without numbers.Jacob M. Nebel - 2024 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 108 (2):289-319.
Extensive Measurement in Social Choice.Jacob M. Nebel - forthcoming - Theoretical Economics.
Non-Archimedean population axiologies.Calvin Baker - forthcoming - Economics and Philosophy.

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References found in this work

Reasons and Persons.Derek Parfit - 1984 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press.
New work for a theory of universals.David K. Lewis - 1983 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 61 (4):343-377.

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