Powers and Faden's Concept of Self-Determination and What It Means to 'Achieve' Well-Being in Their Theory of Social Justice

Public Health Ethics 6 (1):35-44 (2013)
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Powers and Faden argue that social justice ‘is concerned with securing and maintaining the social conditions necessary for a sufficient level of well-being in all of its essential dimensions for everyone’ (2006: 50). Moreover, social justice is concerned with the ‘achievement of well-being, not the freedom or capability to achieve well-being’ (p. 40). Although Powers and Faden note that an agent alone cannot achieve well-being without the necessary social conditions of life (e.g. equal civil liberties and basic material resources, such as food and shelter), it seems that achievement requires that an agent actually pursue the six dimensions of well-being. In this article, I question the extent to which an individual has an obligation to achieve well-being, even if he or she would choose to do otherwise. For example, can an agent choose to forgo being healthy even if all the social conditions are met in her life, thereby choosing to not achieve well-being? It remains unclear how the dimension of self-determination coheres with the remaining five dimensions of well-being and the extent of society’s obligations toward an individual’s achievement of well-being, even in those instances when society’s actions may go against an individual’s right to self-determination



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