How Theories of Well-Being Can Help Us Help

Journal of Practical Ethics 2 (2):1-19 (2014)
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Some theories of well-being in philosophy and in psychology define people’s well-being in psychological terms. According to these theories, living well is getting what you want, feeling satisfied, experiencing pleasure, or the like. Other theories take well-being to be something that is not defined by our psychology: for example, they define well-being in terms of objective values or the perfection of our human nature. These two approaches present us with a trade-off: The more we define well-being in terms of people’s psychology, the less ideal it seems and the less it looks like something of real value that could be an important aim of human life. On the other hand, the more we define well-being in terms of objective features of the world that do not have to do with people’s psychological states, the less it looks like something that each of us has a reason to promote. In this paper I argue that we can take a middle path between these two approaches if we hold that well-being is an ideal but an ideal that is rooted in our psychology. The middle path that I propose is one that puts what people value at the center of the theory of well-being. In the second half of the paper I consider how the value-based theory I describe should be applied to real life situations.
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