Cultural differences and philosophical accounts of well-being

In cross-cultural studies of well-being psychologists have shown ways in which well-being or its constituents are tailored by culture (Arrindell et. al. 1997, Diener and Diener 1995, Kitayama et. al. 2000, Oishi & Diener 2001, Oishi et. al. 1999). Some psychologists have taken the fact of cultural variance to imply that there is no universal notion of well-being (Ryan and Deci, 2001, Christopher 1999). Most philosophers, on the other hand, have assumed that there is a notion of well-being that has universal application. Given the facts about cultural variance, is this a mistake? What are the implications for philosophers of the existence of cultural differences in well-being? In answer to these questions I distinguish two different philosophical projects in the area of well-being. One of these projects seeks to provide a formal analysis of well-being. I argue that this project is not undermined by the kinds of cultural differences that have been discovered and that, therefore, there might be a universal notion of well-being. The other project seeks to provide a substantive account of well-being. Cultural differences are relevant here, but not always as directly relevant as one might have assumed. The main goal of this paper, then, is to argue that the implications of cultural differences for the philosophical project are limited and to clear the ground for a universal notion of well-being. In service of this main goal, the paper takes on three subsidiary tasks. First, I clarify the basic question or questions that philosophers are trying to answer when they talk about well-being. Second, I provide a..
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