Can Subjectivism Account for Degrees of Wellbeing?

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 24 (3):767-788 (2021)
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Wellbeing describes how good life is for the person living it. Wellbeing comes in degrees. Subjective theories of wellbeing maintain that for objects or states of affairs to benefit us, we need to have a positive attitude towards these objects or states of affairs: the Resonance Constraint. In this article, we investigate to what extent subjectivism can plausibly account for degrees of wellbeing. There is a vast literature on whether preference-satisfaction theory – one particular subjective theory – can account for degrees of wellbeing. This is generally taken to be problematic. However, other subjective theories – namely, desire-satisfaction, judgment- and value-fulfillment theories – do not suffer from the same difficulties. We introduce two models of degrees of wellbeing a subjectivist can employ: the Relative and the Absolute Model, and defend the claim that both models face difficulties. In particular, we argue that a subjectivist theory should describe instances of depression as instances of low degrees of wellbeing. We also argue that a reduction of desires may sometimes improve one’s degree of wellbeing, an idea we call the Epicurean Intuition. We then argue that the Relative Model fails to account for the disbenefit of certain types of depression, while the Absolute Model fails to meet a central commitment of subjectivism – the Resonance Constraint – and is unable to accommodate the Epicurean Intuition. The upshot of the paper is that subjectivist theories cannot account for degrees of well-being in a plausible way.



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Author Profiles

Huub Brouwer
Tilburg University
Willem van der Deijl
Tilburg University

References found in this work

Reasons and Persons.Derek Parfit - 1984 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press.
Welfare, happiness, and ethics.L. W. Sumner - 1996 - New York: Oxford University Press.
Well-being and death.Ben Bradley - 2009 - New York: Oxford University Press.
Facts and Values.Peter Railton - 1986 - Philosophical Topics 14 (2):5-31.

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