Combining Good and Bad

In Mauro Rossi & Christine Tappolet (eds.), Perspectives on Ill-Being. Oxford University Press (forthcoming)
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Abstract

How does good combine with bad? Most creatures are neither so blessed as to only enjoy good nor so cursed as to only suffer bad. Rather, the good and bad they receive throughout their lives combine to produce their overall quality of life. But it’s not just whole lives that have combined good and bad. Many stretches within contain both positive and negative occurrences whose value is joined to form the overall quality of that span of time. In a single morning someone might wake up, brush their teeth, stub their toe groggily lumbering down the stairs, and have a sip of coffee that’s tasty but so hot they burn their tongue. These events are good and bad for them to various degrees, and their value comes together to form an overall value for them of that morning. A single moment, even, can have combined value from distinct pockets of good and bad that occur simultaneously. The tastiness of the coffee is good, but the pain of the heat is bad. They combine to form an overall value of the sipping moment – negative if the pain outweighed the flavor. Thus, wellbeing and illbeing combine. But how? How can someone rightly chastise themselves for sipping the overly hot coffee when it was, in fact, good because it was tasty? To pose the question starkly, a life can be bad, even so bad to not be worth living, and yet it can have many instances of good, where these goods are, in themselves, pure of any negativity. But how can good make something bad?

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Christopher Frugé
University of Oxford

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