About this topic
Summary The topic of well-being (welfare, self-interest, the good life) concerns how well an individual is doing or faring and, more broadly, how well one's life goes for her. Things that positively impact your well-being are good for you, benefit you, are in your self-interest, or have prudential value for you; things that negatively impact your well-being are bad for you, harm you, or have prudential disvalue for you. The philosophical literature on well-being is primarily devoted to assessing theories of well-being, which purport to identify what ultimately makes us better or worse off. The distinction between subjective and objective theories marks a notable divide in the literature. Proponents of subjective theories--e.g. desire-fulfillment and, arguably, hedonistic theories--maintain that something is good (or bad) for you only if you have, or under idealized conditions would have, some specified favorable (or unfavorable) attitude toward it. Proponents of objective theories, such as objective list and perfectionist theories, deny this.
Key works Influential early works in the contemporary well-being literature include Parfit 1984, Appendix I; Griffin 1986; and Sumner 1996. The most popular subjective theories are hedonistic theories (Feldman 2004, Crisp 2006, Bramble 2016), desire-fulfillment theories (Railton 1986, Heathwood 2005), and "hybrid" theories that include a subjective and objective component (Adams 1999, Ch. 3; Kagan 2009). The most popular objective theories are "objective list" theories that posit a plurality of basic goods (see Finnis 1979, Nussbaum 2000, and Hurka 2010) and perfectionist theories that identify well-being with the "perfection" or development of one's nature (Kraut 2007; cf. Hurka 1993).
Introductions For a general introduction to the well-being literature, see Parfit 1984, Appendix I; Sumner 1996, Ch. 1; Heathwood 2010; and Crisp 2013Velleman 1991 is an influential treatment of the relationship between synchronic and diachronic well-being. Hanser 2008 provides a helpful survey of competing theories of harm. 
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The Concept of Well-Being
  1. A Plea for Prudence.James L. D. Brown - forthcoming - Analysis.
    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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  2. Measurement scepticism, construct validation, and methodology of well-being theorising.Victor Lange & Thor Grünbaum - forthcoming - Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy.
    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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  3. The Value and Significance of Ill-Being.Christopher Woodard - 2022 - Midwest Studies in Philosophy 46.
    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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  4. The usefulness of well-being temporalism.Gil Hersch - forthcoming - Journal of Economic Methodology:1-15.
    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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  5. 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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  6. 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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  7. 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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  8. Grounds of Goodness.Jeremy David Fix - forthcoming - Journal of Philosophy.
    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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  9. A new well‐being atomism.Gil Hersch & Daniel Weltman - forthcoming - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.
    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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  10. A Simple Analysis of Harm.Jens Johansson & Olle Risberg - forthcoming - Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy.
    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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  11. A Capabilities-Based Account of Patient Welfare.Peter Koch - 2016 - Dissertation, Suny @ Buffalo
    The promotion of patient welfare is a central goal of medical professionals and serves as a fundamental principle of medical professionalism. Despite its importance, however, it is unclear what is meant by patient welfare. In my dissertation, I explore patient welfare by analyzing the ordinary notion of welfare and applying this analysis to the patient population. I argue that welfare is best understood and expressed in terms of capabilities, which I define using the structure and vocabulary of Basic Formal Ontology. (...)
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  12. Well‐being, part 1: The concept of well‐being.Eden Lin - 2022 - Philosophy Compass 17 (2).
    Philosophy Compass, Volume 17, Issue 2, February 2022.
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  13. 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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  14. 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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  15. Ben Bramble, The Passing of Temporal Well-Being[REVIEW]Daniel Weltman - 2021 - Journal of Moral Philosophy 18 (6):670-673.
  16. 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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  17. Causal Accounts of Harming.Erik Carlson, Jens Johansson & Olle Risberg - 2022 - 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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  18. 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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  19. Structuring Wellbeing.Christopher Frugé - forthcoming - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.
    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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  20. Review of Guy Fletcher’s Dear Prudence. [REVIEW]Christopher Frugé - 2021 - Utilitas 33 (4):505-509.
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  21. 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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  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. 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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  24. 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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  25. 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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  26. A Defense of Temporal Well-Being.Ben Bradley - 2021 - Res Philosophica 98 (1):117-123.
  27. 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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  28. 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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  29. 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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  30. Well-Being Coherentism.Gil Hersch - forthcoming - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science.
    Philosophers of well-being have tended to adopt a foundationalist approach to the question of theory and measurement, according to which theories are conceptually prior to 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 wellbeing and how we measure it. Instead, we should adopt a coherentist approach to well-being science.
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  31. 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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  32. 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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  33. 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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  34. Feminist Perspectives on Well-being.Charlotte Knowles - 2018 - In Kathleen Galvin (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Well-Being. London, UK: Routledge.
    In this paper I argue that from a feminist perspective well-being is most productively defined in relation to freedom, and it is with regard to questions of freedom that well-being should be pursued. Pursuing well-being from a starting point of oppression and working towards an ideal of freedom, involves two things: a reconception of the self as fundamentally relational and an emphasis on the importance of self-understanding for well-being. The former is something that has been widely acknowledged in the feminist (...)
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  35. 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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  36. Précis of A Philosophy for the Science of Well-Being.Anna Alexandrova - 2019 - Res Philosophica 96 (4):509-511.
  37. Reply to Hawkins, Hassoun, and Arneson.Anna Alexandrova - 2019 - Res Philosophica 96 (4):537-544.
  38. 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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  39. 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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  40. 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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  41. Is Motivation Internal to Value?J. David Velleman - 1998 - In C. Fehige & U. Wessels (eds.), Preferences. Walter de Gruyter.
    The view that something's being good for a person depends on his capacity to care about it – sometimes called internalism about a person’s good – is here derived from the principle that 'ought' implies 'can'. In the course of this derivation, the limits of internalism are discussed, and a distinction is drawn between two senses of the phrase "a person's good".
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  42. 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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  43. 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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  44. Pulling Apart Well-Being at a Time and the Goodness of a Life.Owen C. King - 2018 - Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy 5:349-370.
    This article argues that a person’s well-being at a time and the goodness of her life are two distinct values. It is commonly accepted as platitudinous that well-being is what makes a life good for the person who lives it. Even philosophers who distinguish between well-being at a time and the goodness of a life still typically assume that increasing a person’s well-being at some particular moment, all else equal, necessarily improves her life on the whole. I develop a precise (...)
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  45. 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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  46. Desire satisfaction, death, and time.Duncan Purves - 2017 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 47 (6):799-819.
    Desire satisfaction theories of well-being and deprivationism about the badness of death face similar problems: desire satisfaction theories have trouble locating the time when the satisfaction of a future or past-directed desire benefits a person; deprivationism has trouble locating a time when death is bad for a person. I argue that desire satisfaction theorists and deprivation theorists can address their respective timing problems by accepting fusionism, the view that some events benefit or harm individuals only at fusions of moments in (...)
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  47. A Philosophy for the Science of Well-Being.Anna Alexandrova - 2017 - New York: Oxford University Press.
    Do the new sciences of well-being provide knowledge that respects the nature of well-being? This book written from the perspective of philosophy of science articulates how this field can speak to well-being proper and can do so in a way that respects the demands of objectivity and measurement.
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  48. Ways to Be Worse Off.Ian Stoner - 2016 - Res Philosophica 93 (4):921-949.
    Does disability make a person worse off? I argue that the best answer is yes and no, because we can be worse off in two conceptually distinct ways. Disabilities usually make us worse off in one way (typified by facing hassles) but not in the other (typified by facing loneliness). Acknowledging two conceptually distinct ways to be worse off has fundamental implications for philosophical theories of well-being. -/- (This paper was awarded the APA’s Routledge, Taylor & Francis Prize in 2017.).
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  49. Stephen Darwall, Welfare and Rational Care. [REVIEW]A. E. Wengraf - 2004 - Philosophical Inquiry 26 (4):145-148.
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  50. Welfare and Rational Care. [REVIEW]Emer O’Hagan - 2005 - Dialogue 44 (3):620-622.
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