About this topic
Summary While much of the philosophical literature on well-being is concerned with debating substantive theories or accounts of what the good life consists in (e.g. desire-fulfillment, hedonist, perfectionist, objective list theories), philosophers have also sought to get clarity on the very concept of well-being. Some have proposed analyses of well-being and the related notion of harm. Others have tried to get clear on the relationship between synchronic well-being (well-being at a time) and diachronic well-being (well-being over time). Still others have raised doubts about the coherence of the well-being concept or rejected the idea that there is a single concept or property of well-being.
Key works The most widely discussed analysis of well-being is Stephen Darwall's rational care analysis, which is presented and defended in his book Welfare and Rational Care. Other analyses of well-being are found in Rosati 2006Kraut 2007Zimmerman 2009Tenenbaum 2010, Fletcher 2012, and Campbell 2013. Hanser 2008 provides a helpful survey of leading accounts of harm. Bigelow et al 1990 and Velleman 1991 explore the relationship between synchronic and diachronic well-being. Moore 1903 and Regan 2004 challenge the intelligibility of the well-being concept. Kagan 1994, Scanlon 1998 (Ch. 3), and Campbell 2016 challenge the presumption that there is a single concept or property of well-being under discussion in the philosophical literature. Alexandrova 2013 challenges the unity of well-being across various disciplines.
Introductions For an introduction to the philosophical concept of well-being, see Rodogno 2015, Campbell 2016, Sumner 1996 (Ch. 1), Darwall 2002 (Ch. 1-2), and Feldman 2004 (Ch. 1). For an introduction to well-being in the sciences, see Alexandrova 2015
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  1. What Is This Thing Called Well-Being.Richard Kim - manuscript
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  2. Taking the Morality Out of Happiness.Markus Kneer & Dan Haybron - manuscript
    In an important and widely discussed series of studies, Jonathan Phillips and colleagues have suggested that the ordinary concept of happiness has a substantial moral component. For in- stance, two persons who enjoy the same extent of positive emotions and are equally satisfied with their lives are judged as happy to different degrees if one is less moral than the other. Considering that the relation between morality and happiness or self-interest has been one of the central questions of moral philosophy (...)
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  3. 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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  4. Aggregating Personal Value.Christopher Fruge - forthcoming - Oxford Studies in Metaethics.
    A person possesses value from various components of wellbeing, but they also have overall wellbeing from various instances of value taken together. Most ethicists assume that there is an objectively unique way that wellbeing from components aggregates into overall wellbeing. However, I argue that aggregation is subjective and varies depending on what sort of aggregation a person values. I end with some implications for the significance of death.
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  5. 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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  6. The Pursuit of Happiness: Philosophical and Psychological Foundations of Utility, Louis Narens and Brian Skyrms. Oxford University Press, 2020, 208 pages. [REVIEW]Krister Bykvist & Johan E. Gustafsson - 2024 - Economics and Philosophy 40 (1):233-239.
  7. Alienation, Resonance, and Experience in Theories of Well-Being.Andrew Alwood - 2023 - Philosophia 51 (4):2225-2240.
    Each person has a special relation to his or her own well-being. This rough thought, which can be sharpened in different ways, is supposed to substantially count against objectivist theories on which one can intrinsically benefit from, or be harmed by, factors that are independent of one’s desires, beliefs, and other attitudes. It is often claimed, contra objectivism, that one cannot be _alienated_ from one’s own interests, or that improvements in a person’s well-being must _resonate_ with that person. However, I (...)
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  8. A Plea for Prudence.James L. D. Brown - 2023 - Analysis 83 (2):394-404.
    Critical notice of Guy Fletcher's 'Dear Prudence: The Nature and Normativity of Prudential Discourse' and Dale Dorsey's 'A Theory of Prudence'.
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  9. Grounds of Goodness.Jeremy David Fix - 2023 - Journal of Philosophy 120 (7):368-391.
    What explains why we are subjects for whom objects can have value, and what explains which objects have value for us? Axiologicians say that the value of humanity is the answer. I argue that our value, no matter what it is like, cannot perform this task. We are animals among others. An explanation of the value of objects for us must fit into an explanation of the value of objects for animals generally. Different objects have value for different animals. Those (...)
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  10. Measurement Scepticism, Construct Validation, and Methodology of Well-Being Theorising.Victor Lange & Thor Grünbaum - 2023 - Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy 10.
    Precise measurements of well-being would be of profound societal importance. Yet, the sceptical worry that we cannot use social science instruments and tests to measure well-being is widely discussed by philosophers and scientists. A recent and interesting philosophical argument has pointed to the psychometric procedures of construct validation to address this sceptical worry. The argument has proposed that these procedures could warrant confidence in our ability to measure well-being. The present paper evaluates whether this type of argument succeeds. The answer (...)
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  11. Examining the Role of Aesthetic Experiences in Self-Realization and Self-Transcendence: A Thematic Analysis.Rayan Magon & Gerald Cupchik - 2023 - Creativity. Theories – Research - Applications 10 (1-2):68-94.
    Numerous scholars, philosophers, and experts in aesthetics have underscored the profound significance of a life enriched by the presence of beauty. Consequently, the appreciation of aesthetic experiences is considered pivotal for achieving self-discovery and self-transcendence (Howell et al. 2017). Despite theoretical prominence, limited qualitative research has been conducted on this topic. To address this gap in research, this study’s objective emphasized two questions guiding the inquiry; What is the role of aesthetic encounters in aiding self-realization or individuation? and, how do (...)
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  12. The Sum of Well-Being.Jacob M. Nebel - 2023 - Mind 132 (528):1074–1104.
    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 (...)
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  13. Structuring Wellbeing.Christopher Frugé - 2022 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 105 (3):564-580.
    Many questions about wellbeing involve metaphysical dependence. Does wellbeing depend on minds? Is wellbeing determined by distinct sorts of things? Is it determined differently for different subjects? However, we should distinguish two axes of dependence. First, there are the grounds that generate value. Second, there are the connections between the grounds and value which make it so that those grounds generate that value. Given these distinct axes of dependence, there are distinct dimensions to questions about the dependence of wellbeing. In (...)
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  14. Value After Death.Christopher Frugé - 2022 - Ratio 35 (3):194-203.
    Does our life have value for us after we die? Despite the importance of such a question, many would find it absurd, even incoherent. Once we are dead, the thought goes, we are no longer around to have any wellbeing at all. However, in this paper I argue that this common thought is mistaken. In order to make sense of some of our most central normative thoughts and practices, we must hold that a person can have wellbeing after they die. (...)
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  15. Permanent Value.Christopher Frugé - 2022 - Journal of the American Philosophical Association 8 (2):356-372.
    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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  16. A Reformed Division of Labor for the Science of Well-Being.Roberto Fumagalli - 2022 - Philosophy 97 (4):509-543.
    This paper provides a philosophical assessment of leading theory-based, evidence-based and coherentist approaches to the definition and the measurement of well-being. It then builds on this assessment to articulate a reformed division of labor for the science of well-being and argues that this reformed division of labor can improve on the proffered approaches by combining the most plausible tenets of theory-based approaches with the most plausible tenets of coherentist approaches. This result does not per se exclude the possibility that theory-based (...)
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  17. Well-Being and Meaning in Life.Matthew Hammerton - 2022 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 52 (5):573-587.
    Many philosophers now see meaning in life as a key evaluative category that stands alongside well-being and moral goodness. Our lives are assessed not only by how well they go for us and how morally good they are, but also by their meaningfulness. In this article, I raise a challenge to this view. Theories of meaning in life closely resemble theories of well-being, and there is a suspicion that the former collapse into the latter. I develop this challenge showing that (...)
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  18. The usefulness of well-being temporalism.Gil Hersch - 2022 - Journal of Economic Methodology 30 (4):322-336.
    It is an open question whether well-being ought to primarily be understood as a temporal concept or whether it only makes sense to talk about a person’s well-being over their whole lifetime. In this article, I argue that how this principled philosophical disagreement is settled does not have substantive practical implications for well-being science and well-being policy. Trying to measure lifetime well-being directly is extremely challenging as well as unhelpful for guiding well-being public policy, while temporal well-being is both an (...)
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  19. Well-Being Coherentism.Gil Hersch - 2022 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 73 (4):1045-1065.
    Philosophers of well-being have tended to adopt a foundationalist approach to the question of theory and measurement, according to which theories are conceptually before 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 well-being and how we measure it. Instead, we should adopt a coherentist approach to well-being science.
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  20. A new well‐being atomism.Gil Hersch & Daniel Weltman - 2022 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 107 (1):3-23.
    Many philosophers reject the view that well-being over a lifetime is simply an aggregation of well-being at every moment of one's life, and thus they reject theories of well-being like hedonism and concurrentist desire satisfactionism. They raise concerns that such a view misses the importance of the relationships between moments in a person's life or the role narratives play in a person's well-being. In this article, we develop an atomist meta-theory of well-being, according to which the prudential value of a (...)
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  21. A Simple Analysis of Harm.Jens Johansson & Olle Risberg - 2022 - Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy 9:509-536.
    In this paper, we present and defend an analysis of harm that we call the Negative Influence on Well-Being Account (NIWA). We argue that NIWA has a number of significant advantages compared to its two main rivals, the Counterfactual Comparative Account (CCA) and the Causal Account (CA), and that it also helps explain why those views go wrong. In addition, we defend NIWA against a class of likely objections, and consider its implications for several questions about harm and its role (...)
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  22. Not merely the absence of disease: A genealogy of the WHO’s positive health definition.Lars Thorup Larsen - 2022 - History of the Human Sciences 35 (1):111-131.
    The 1948 constitution of the World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’. It was a bold and revolutionary health idea to gain international consensus in a period characterized by fervent anti-communism. This article explores the genealogy of the health definition and demonstrates how it was possible to expand the scope of health, redefine it as ‘well-being’, and overcome ideological resistance to progressive and (...)
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  23. Well‐being, part 2: Theories of well‐being.Eden Lin - 2022 - Philosophy Compass 17 (2):e12812.
    Judgments about how well things are going for people during particular periods of time, and about how well people’s entire lives have gone or will go, are ubiquitous in ordinary life. Those judgments are about well-being—or, equivalently, welfare or quality of life. This article examines the concept of well-being and the related concepts of prudential value and disvalue (i.e., goodness or badness for someone). It distinguishes these concepts from ones with which they might be conflated, exhibits some of the roles (...)
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  24. Well‐being, part 1: The concept of well‐being.Eden Lin - 2022 - Philosophy Compass 17 (2):e12813.
    Philosophy Compass, Volume 17, Issue 2, February 2022.
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  25. Well-being monism defended.Emelia Miller - 2022 - Journal of Happiness Studies (Online).
    In “Well-Being and Pluralism” (2021), Polly Mitchell and Anna Alexandrova defend conceptual pluralism about well-being. Conceptual pluralism about well-being holds that there are multiple, irreducible concepts of well-being that are employed in different contexts, all equally legitimate as concepts of well-being. Moreover, “Conceptual pluralism about well-being entails that there is no single essence which characterises all and only instances of well-being.” (Mitchell and Alexandrova, 2021, p. 2422) Conceptual monism about well-being, on the other hand, holds, at a minimum, that there (...)
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  26. Worker Well-Being: What It Is, and How It Should Be Measured.Indy Wijngaards, Owen C. King, Martijn J. Burger & Job van Exel - 2022 - Applied Research in Quality of Life 17:795-832.
    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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  27. The Value and Significance of Ill-Being.Christopher Woodard - 2022 - Midwest Studies in Philosophy 46:1-19.
    Since Shelly Kagan pointed out the relative neglect of ill-being in philosophical discussions, several philosophers have contributed to an emerging literature on its constituents. In doing so, they have explored possible asymmetries between the constituents of ill-being and the constituents of positive well-being. This paper explores some possible asymmetries that may arise elsewhere in the philosophy of ill-being. In particular, it considers whether there is an asymmetry between the contribution made to prudential value by equal quantities of goods and bads. (...)
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  28. A Defense of Temporal Well-Being.Ben Bradley - 2021 - Res Philosophica 98 (1):117-123.
  29. Causal Accounts of Harming.Erik Carlson, Jens Johansson & Olle Risberg - 2021 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 103 (2):420-445.
    A popular view of harming is the causal account (CA), on which harming is causing harm. CA has several attractive features. In particular, it appears well equipped to deal with the most important problems for its main competitor, the counterfactual comparative account (CCA). However, we argue that, despite its advantages, CA is ultimately an unacceptable theory of harming. Indeed, while CA avoids several counterexamples to CCA, it is vulnerable to close variants of some of the problems that beset CCA.
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  30. 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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  31. Review of Guy Fletcher’s Dear Prudence. [REVIEW]Christopher Frugé - 2021 - Utilitas 33 (4):505-509.
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  32. Against ‘Good for’/‘Well-Being’, for ‘Simply Good’.Thomas Hurka - 2021 - Philosophical Quarterly 71 (4):803-22.
    This paper challenges the widely held view that ‘good for’, ‘well-being’, and related terms express a distinctive evaluative concept of central importance for ethics and separate from ‘simply good’ as used by G. E. Moore and others. More specifically, it argues that there's no philosophically useful good-for or well-being concept that's neither merely descriptive in the sense of naturalistic nor reducible to ‘simply good’. The paper distinguishes two interpretations of the common claim that the value ‘good for’ expresses is distinctively (...)
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  33. Empirical Relationships Among Five Types of Well-Being.Seth Margolis, Eric Schwitzgebel, Daniel J. Ozer & Sonja Lyubomirsky - 2021 - In Measuring Well-Being: Interdisciplinary Perspectives from the Social Sciences and Humanities. New York, NY, USA: pp. 339-376.
    Philosophers, psychologists, economists and other social scientists continue to debate the nature of human well-being. We argue that this debate centers around five main conceptualizations of well-being: hedonic well-being, life satisfaction, desire fulfillment, eudaimonia, and non-eudaimonic objective-list well-being. Each type of well-being is conceptually different, but are they empirically distinguishable? To address this question, we first developed and validated a measure of desire fulfillment, as no measure existed, and then examined associations between this new measure and several other well-being measures. (...)
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  34. Life Worth Living (rev. edn).Thaddeus Metz - 2021 - In Filomena Maggino (ed.), Encyclopedia of Quality of Life and Well-Being Research, 2nd edn. Springer. pp. 1-4.
    An updated version of this encyclopedia entry on the concept of what, if anything, makes life worthwhile.
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  35. How to study well-being: A proposal for the integration of philosophy with science.Michael Prinzing - 2021 - Review of General Psychology 25 (2):152-162.
    There are presently two approaches to the study of well-being. Philosophers typically focus on normative theorizing, attempting to identify the things that are ultimately good for a person, while largely ignoring empirical research. The idea is that empirical attention cannot be directed to the right place without a rigorous theory. Meanwhile, social scientists typically focus on empirical research, attempting to identify the causes and consequences of well-being, while largely ignoring normative theorizing. The idea is that conceptual and theoretical clarity will (...)
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  36. Ben Bramble, The Passing of Temporal Well-Being[REVIEW]Daniel Weltman - 2021 - Journal of Moral Philosophy 18 (6):670-673.
  37. Mental Health Without Well-being.Sam Wren-Lewis & Anna Alexandrova - 2021 - Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 46 (6):684-703.
    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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  38. 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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  39. Harming and Failing to Benefit: A Reply to Purves.Jens Johansson & Olle Risberg - 2020 - Philosophical Studies 177 (6):1539-1548.
    A prominent objection to the counterfactual comparative account of harm is that it classifies as harmful some events that are, intuitively, mere failures to benefit. In an attempt to solve this problem, Duncan Purves has recently proposed a novel version of the counterfactual comparative account, which relies on a distinction between making upshots happen and allowing upshots to happen. In this response, we argue that Purves’s account is unsuccessful. It fails in cases where an action makes the subject occupy a (...)
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  40. 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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  41. 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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  42. 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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  43. Précis of A Philosophy for the Science of Well-Being.Anna Alexandrova - 2019 - Res Philosophica 96 (4):509-511.
  44. Reply to Hawkins, Hassoun, and Arneson.Anna Alexandrova - 2019 - Res Philosophica 96 (4):537-544.
  45. 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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  46. 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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  47. 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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  48. 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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  49. 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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  50. 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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