How to study well-being: A proposal for the integration of philosophy with science

Review of General Psychology 25 (2):152-162 (2021)
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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 come with time and more data. This paper argues that neither is a good approach to the study of well-being. The traditional philosophical approach underappreciates the vital importance of empirical investigation, while the atheoretical empirical approach underappreciates the vital importance of normative theorizing. The proposed solution is to bring these methods together. Well-being research should be interdisciplinary. The paper proposes a “conceptual engineering” approach as a novel alternative. This approach involves an iterative process of normative theorizing, empirical investigation, and conceptual revision, with the aim of articulating concepts and theories of well-being that optimally suit particular interests and purposes.

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Michael Prinzing
Yale University


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