Welfare and the Achievement of Goals

I just finished reading Simon Keller’s “Welfare and the Achievement of Goals” for the second time. I had read it earlier when it was just a draft, but I decided that I should read it again now that it appears in the October 2004 issue of Philosophical Studies. This is an excellent paper that I would highly recommend to anyone interested in the topic of welfare.

In the paper, Keller argues for the “Unrestricted View: An individual’s achieving her goals in itself contributes to her welfare regardless of what those goals are” (28). “The greater the quantity of productive effort that an individual successfully devotes to the achievement of a particular goal, the more that achievement contributes to her welfare” (36). And Keller clarifies the notions of “goal” and “achievement” as follows. “Taking something as a goal involves intending to put some effort into its achievement. Having a mere desire does not” (32). “[T]he Unrestricted View is concerned with the achieving, not the mere attaining, of goals…. To achieve a goal is to have its attainment be due in part to your own efforts” (33).

I find the Unrestricted View and Keller’s argument for it extremely plausible. The Unrestricted view explains why “not every desire is such that its satisfaction contributes to its holder’s welfare” (32). Take Parfit’s famous example. “You meet a stranger who tells you that he has a disease, and you form a desire that the stranger recover. You never see or hear of him again, but he does recover. Your desire, then, is satisfied, but that – surely – doesn’t make things better for you” (32). Why not? The plausible answer is that it’s not something in which you have anything invested and so its fulfillment doesn’t benefit you. Of course, had you taken this person’s recovery as a goal and gone to some effort to achieve it, we would consider your achievement of the goal to be a benefit to you.

The Unrestricted View also explains our intuition that a person’s life goes better for her if she achieves her goals. Those interested should see section II of Keller’s paper, where he tries to bring out this intuition with a number of examples.

Now I do have some concerns/questions about the details of Keller’s view. In particular, I’m skeptical about whether the extent to which the achievement of a particular goal constitutes a benefit is purely a function of “the quantity of productive effort that an individual successfully devotes to the achievement that goal.” Imagine two Olympic athletes: Bill and Ted. Let’s suppose that Bill and Ted both put the same amount of effort into achieving their goals of winning gold medals and that both are equally successful as a result. Both spend the same amount of time training. Both exert themselves just as much in their workouts. But suppose that whereas Bill is a loner who has little else to do besides workout, Ted is a husband and a father. So Ted has to sacrifice more to achieve his goals. In particular, he laments the fact that he has to spend so much time away from his family. Had Ted not been striving to achieve a gold medal, he would have been able to enjoy more time with his family. Bill, by contrast, has nothing better to do than train.

In this case, I would argue that Ted’s achieving his goal benefits him more than Bill’s achieving his goal does, despite the fact that both have put the same amount of effort into achieving their goals and despite the fact that their respective efforts were equally productive/efficacious in bringing about their respective goals. After all, if Ted fails, all his sacrifices will have been in vain. But, if Bill fails, his “sacrifices” haven’t been in vain because he hasn’t made any “sacrifices.” He wouldn’t have enjoyed himself more had he done something other than train for the Olympics — I’m just stipulating that this is the case.

So here’s my own proposal for determining how much the achievement of a particular goal contributes to an individual’s welfare: it is a function of the following: (1) the extent to which one’s efforts have been efficacious in achieving one’s goal and (2) the extent to which one has had to sacrifice in order to achieve one’s goal. Both should be assessed counterfactually. Thus, to determine (1), we ask, “In the nearest possible world where one did not try to achieve the goal in question, to what extent would that goal still have been attained?” And, to determine (2), we ask, “In the nearest possible world where one did not try to achieve the goal in question, how much more pleasurable/enjoyable would one’s life have been?” This proposal would account for the fact that Ted benefits more by achieving his goal than Bill would by achieving his, for Ted sacrificed more. I consider this a friendly proposal, one that is in the spirit of Keller’s view.

Another thing that I wonder about Keller’s view is whether one must still have the goal when it is achieved in order for its achievement to count as a benefit. For instance, if one devotes a big part of one’s life to discovering a cure for cancer and one’s efforts do eventually lead to the discovery of a cure, does one benefit from the discovery even if, when the discovery is made, one no longer wants a discovery to be found? (Perhaps, one has decided that cancer is necessary for population control.) I want to say that this person does benefit from the discovery in that it prevents all his efforts from being a waste, but I’m curious what Keller and others think.

Lastly, I wonder, if someone undermines the achievement of your goal, when does the harm occur? For example, suppose I destroy the only copy of your manuscript and thereby prevent you from achieving your goal of publishing it. Does the harm occur when I destroy your book, or does it occur all the while you were pointlessly working on the manuscript? Given what Keller says in the following, I must assume that it’s the latter. He says, “the Unrestricted View may bear upon the debate over whether and how an individual’s interests can be affected by posthumous events; if you form goals whose fate will not be decided within your own lifetime, then there’s an aspect of your welfare whose advancement depends on what happens after you die” (39). Surely, as a number of philosophers have pointed out, if posthumous events are responsible for harming us, the direct harm must take place ante-mortem, not postmortem, for postmortem there is no subject to be harmed. But if the harm takes place all the while you are pointlessly working and sacrificing for the sake of a goal that will never be achieved, then shouldn’t we say that pointless sacrificing is what constitutes the harm, not the goal-undermining event; the destruction of the manuscript is the harmful event that is responsible for your previously being in the harmful state of toiling/sacrificing pointlessly — for more on this distinction between harmful events and harmful states, see my earlier post entitled “Desires, Harmful States, and Posthumous Events.” Likewise, we should say that the achievement of a goal is only what’s responsible for the benefit of toiling/sacrificing efficaciously. The achievement of a goal is not what constitutes the benefit; it’s what is responsible for the benefit. I wonder if Keller would agree with this description of the harmful/beneficial state. If we don’t go with this sort of description, then I have some serious worries about the timing of the harm/benefit.

15 Replies to “Welfare and the Achievement of Goals

  1. Doug,
    I have a question about your friendly modification of Keller’s view. You want to hold that the extent to which one has had to sacrifice to achieve a goal will (in part) determine the contribution of achieving this goal to the individual’s welfare. And you suggest that Ted benefits more than Bill (in achieving the same goal, given the same effort) insofar as Ted sacrificed more than Bill.
    But I don’t share the intuition that Ted benefits more than Bill. I do agree that if Ted and Bill would have failed, the failure would have been worse for Ted – after all, he did sacrifice more, and for naught. But from this, I don’t yet see how Ted would benefit more when he succeeds. Rather, it seems to me that he is risking and sacrificing more to achieve the same goal – and benefit – as Bill.
    More broadly, I wonder about Keller’s proposal that the contribution to welfare of achieving a goal is a function of the effort put into its achievement (I should stress – I have not yet read his paper). What of easily-attained goals that an agent cares deeply about? What of cases where an agent is stuck in long and unpleasant efforts to achieve goals she does not care much about (perhaps doing her taxes)? It seems that the amount of effort required to achieve a goal does not always accurately reflect the importance of a goal to a given agent.

  2. Jason,
    You ask, “What of easily-attained goals that an agent cares deeply about? What of cases where an agent is stuck in long and unpleasant efforts to achieve goals she does not care much about (perhaps doing her taxes)?” Keller believes, and I agree, that there are things besides the achievement of goals, like pleasure and pain, that bear upon an individual’s welfare. So the satisfaction that a person gets in knowing (or believing) that she has achieved some goal about which she cares deeply is prudentially good whether or not the goal was easily attained. And the extent to which one is pleased by its attainment will depend on how much one cares about the goal. In the tax case, the unpleasant experiences that one must go through in preparing one’s taxes certainly have a detrimental effect on one’s welfare.
    You also say, “It seems that the amount of effort required to achieve a goal does not always accurately reflect the importance of a goal to a given agent.” True. But the question is, “Does the extent to which the achievement of a goal (as opposed to being pleased that the goal has been achieved) affects one’s welfare depend on the effort or sacrifice that went into its achievement?” It sounds like you want to say “no,” that it instead depends on how much you care about the goal. But recall Parfit’s case. You may care very deeply about the stranger’s recovery, but it doesn’t seem that you benefit from the stanger’s recovery if you neither hear about it nor do anything to achieve his recovery.
    Regarding your question to me, I’m going to try to come up with some example to pump your intuitions and hopefully get back to you later today.

  3. Thanks Doug!
    1) Concerning the Parfit case, I think you’re right – it’s not just how much an agent cares about a goal (that determines its contribution to well-being). We could add a qualification that the agent must also be aware of the achievement of the goal [of course this gets into the whole posthumous desire-satisfaction issue, etc.; I recognize not everyone will find this sort of awareness condition plausible.]
    2) Consider a variation on the tax case. I have the goal of completing my taxes. I can either do them myself, or hire someone to do them (I would still need to take the step of hiring someone, so there would be some effort on my part). Presumably the former involves much more effort on my part. Putting aside questions of pleasures and pains, I still find it puzzling to think that the successful completion of my taxes contributes more to my welfare simply if I do them myself.

  4. Jason,
    You say: “But I don’t share the intuition that Ted benefits more than Bill. I do agree that if Ted and Bill would have failed, the failure would have been worse for Ted – after all, he did sacrifice more, and for naught. But from this, I don’t yet see how Ted would benefit more when he succeeds. Rather, it seems to me that he is risking and sacrificing more to achieve the same goal – and benefit – as Bill.”
    I’m not sure I understand your position. You admit that failure is worse for Ted than it is for Bill, but you deny that success is better for Ted than it is for Bill. How do you reconcile these two positions? I would argue that if not-P is worse for X than it is for Y, then P must be better for X than it is for Y.
    It would make more sense to deny that failure is any worse for Ted and claim instead that what’s worse for Ted is that he sacrificed more — this seems to be what you’re suggesting. So you might want to just claim that achievement of one’s goals does not affect an individual’s welfare. To bring out the intuition that it does, consider the following excerpt from Keller’s article:
    “Bill sets himself the goal of writing and publishing a novel, and, after years of hard work, he achieves it. Bill’s life, we can imagine, is improved in many ways by the publication of his book. Perhaps it earns him some money; perhaps it increases his self-esteem; perhaps the experience of placing his novel in the public eye is cathartic.”
    “Steve also sets himself the goal of writing and publishing a novel. He works just as hard as Bill, but his efforts, unlike Bill’s, never get very far. Then, just as Bill is bringing his project to fruition, Steve buys a lottery ticket on a whim, and he wins. Steve wins the same amount of money as Bill gets in royalties. Steve is interviewed by the newspapers about his win, and this experience is just as cathartic and just as enhancing of his self-esteem as the publication of Bill’s novel is for Bill. In the excitement of winning the lottery, Steve forgets all about his plan to write a novel, and never feels any sadness or regret about leaving it behind.”
    “While Bill and Steve are even in most welfare-related respects, my intuition is that Bill’s life goes better than Steve’s. The relevant difference is that Bill, and not Steve, achieves what he sets out to achieve. If this is right, then Bill’s achieving his goal in itself enhances his welfare.”
    “…Bill’s life is successful in a way that Steve’s isn’t. Bill sets out to live a life that includes the publication of a novel, and he succeeds. Bill, as we might put it, imposes his will upon the world. This cannot be said of Steve, even though things go well for Steve in all sorts of ways. Bill’s welfare is enhanced in a way that Steve’s is not. Or so it seems to me.”

  5. Jason,
    I’m enjoying this discussion. Thanks for your comments. Now here’s a reply to your latest comment.
    You say, “Consider a variation on the tax case. I have the goal of completing my taxes. I can either do them myself, or hire someone to do them (I would still need to take the step of hiring someone, so there would be some effort on my part). Presumably the former involves much more effort on my part. Putting aside questions of pleasures and pains, I still find it puzzling to think that the successful completion of my taxes contributes more to my welfare simply if I do them myself.”
    You can’t put aside questions of pleasures and pains, at least, not if you’re making some overall assessment of welfare. Although the successful completion of your taxes contributes more toward your welfare the more effort (sacrifice) you put into achieving that goal, it may very well be that, overall, you are better off letting someone else prepare the taxes given the amount of unpleasantness you’ll suffer in preparing them yourself.
    It would be better, then, to focus our intuitions on the following pair of cases: two cases where you go to the trouble of preparing your taxes yourself. In one case, you go to the trouble of preparing them yourself and as a result your taxes are successfully filed with the IRS. In the other case, you go to the trouble of preparing them yourself, but they get lost in the mail, and unbeknownst to you, your wife prepares them as well and as a result of her work (not yours) your taxes are successfully filed with the IRS. In both cases, you go through the unpleasantness of preparing your taxes. In both cases, you garner some satisfaction in thinking that your efforts have been successful — and let’s suppose that you never learn that your wife sent them in as well. My intuition is that, in the second case, you are less well off; in that case, not only did you go through all the unpleasantness of preparing them yourself, but that unpleasantness was for naught. You needn’t have gone to all that trouble. At least in the first case, there was some point to your efforts.
    What’s your intuition about these cases?

  6. Doug,
    Thanks for bringing this article to our attention. I have just finished reading it and agree that it provides a valuable contribution to the literature.
    I have a question concerning what Keller writes, and perhaps those of you who have read it can help me out. On page 9 (of the rtf version linked to above) he writes,
    “the greater the effort required for an individual to achieve her goal, the more her welfare is enhanced by its achievement”.
    He then seems to be applying this principle with the following examples:
    “Suppose that you achieve your goal of winning a gold medal and I achieve my goal of winning a silver medal…or that we each contribute to a scientific breakthrough, but your contribution is greater than mine….In all of these cases, on the view I am suggesting, the contribution to your welfare is greater.”
    I am not sure how these examples apply to his principle. The principle focuses on the amount of effort required to achieve a goal; the examples I mention seem to focus on the importance of the goal achieved. Could it not be, for example, that for me to achieve a silver medal requires as much if not more effort that it requires for you to achieve a gold medal? Perhaps you are just naturally a better athelete. Likewise, could it not be that my contribution to the breakthrough, althoug of less significance, required as much if not more effort on my part? Perhaps you are just smarter than me?
    I am reading his principle wrong? Do I misunderstand the point of the examples?

  7. Scott,
    I had trouble with the same passage, and the silver/gold medal example makes no sense to me. If we each achieve our goal and with the same amount of productive effort, then the contribution to our welfare should be the same, and it’s clearly possible that our productive effort could be the same, as you point out. The fact that your goal is more ambitious than mine (i.e., you want to win the gold, whereas I just want to win the silver) shouldn’t change things.
    Now the other example makes sense to me. If we each contribute to the same scientific breakthrough but your efforts have been more efficacious, then you have contributed more *productive* effort to the achievement of that goal and you thereby benefit more by its achievement. So even if we both put the same amount of effort into the goal, our *productive* effort will be different if your efforts have been more efficacious than mine. Of course, what’s adding to your confusion is that, in the sentence you cite, Keller left out the word “productive,” but everywhere else he’s careful to talk about “productive effort.” One of the virtues of my friendly proposal is that it makes clear that the extent to which the achievement of a goal contributes to an individual’s welfare is a function of both efficacy and sacrifice.

  8. It has been great reading through this discussion. I have a few things that I want to comment on.
    1. On the Bill and Ted case, I’m not convinced that there’s a difference in how well off each of them is in virtue of winning the medal. (Though I haven’t thought it through properly, and certainly have no objection in principle to Doug’s friendly ammendment.) My first inclination is to say that they have both put in a great deal effort and have both achieved their goals – each to this extent lives a life of success – and that the difference between them is only to do with how well their lives would have gone had they not taken on the goals they did. If they don’t achieve their goals, then that may be more of a shame in Ted’s case, because he could have done so many other valuable things with his life. But I’m not sure that this translates into Ted’s being better off if he does achieve the goal or worse of if he doesn’t.
    Doug, I wonder what you’d say about the following case. Bob is of mediocre ability in all respects, except that he has a real talent for baseball. Charles is an all-round scholar and athlete with the potential to do well at almost anything to which he puts his mind. Both Bob and Charles dedicate themselves to baseball and both achieve the same sorts of things (and all else is equal). Doug, does it follow from your suggestion that all of this makes Charles better off, because there are so many other things that he could have done (and would have had he not chosen baseball)? My inclination is to think that if there’s any difference here it’s in the opposite direction – Bob is better off, because he makes the most of the one talent that he has.
    Well, suddenly I’m not so sure. I need to think this through…
    2. I think that the way that I want to think of welfare-related “success” is as a property that’s attached not to individuals at times, but to stretches of an individual’s life. This might (MIGHT) allow me to say the following things about a couple of Doug’s original points.
    Of the cancer researcher who changes his mind – nice example by the way – I’d say that the finding of the cure for cancer makes successful the part of his life when he had and was working towards the goal of finding a cure for cancer. It means that that part of his life goes well. But it has no bearing upon the later part of his life, coincident with the final discovery, during which he has renounced the goal and is not trying to get it achieved. (I have no answer to the question of how levels of success in different parts of a life get put together to yield the success of a life as a whole – but I’m not completely sure that an answer is needed.)
    On the question of when the harm occurs in the manuscript case, I think that there’s just no answer (and that philosophers wondering about when postmortem harms occur are not really asking a sensible question). It’s like asking when Carter’s presidency precedes Reagan’s. So my suggestion is that it is all to be described tenselessly. The effort spent working on the manuscript does not contribute to its getting published, so the life of the person who exerts that effort does not go as well as it otherwise would have. The reason why the manuscript does not get published is that Doug destroys it. This period of the author’s life does not go very well, in virtue of its intrinsic character and its relation to extrinsic events – in particular Doug’s act of destruction. And that’s just all there is to say. (That’s my thought, anyway.)
    3. I like what Doug says about Jason’s nice tax case. The one thing that I’d add – and I fear that here I’m bringing up something about the view that a lot of people don’t like – it that yes, I really do think that you make yourself better off in one respect by doing your taxes yourself, rather than hiring an accountant and spending the time watching TV. If you do the taxes yourself, then you kind of influence the world in a way that you wouldn’t have otherwise. You set a (minor, short-term) goal, and you make sure that it’s achieved by you, not the accountant. Of course I think that there are all sorts of other reasons to watch TV and not do your own taxes.
    3. On Scott’s comment about the passage on p. 9. You’re right to pick up on that. I think that I forgot to include an “assume all else is equal” clause. I’m sticking to the claim that it’s quantity of effort that matters, and just assuming that as a general rule it takes more effort to win a gold medal than a silver, etc.

  9. According to the Unrestricted View, “An individual’s achieving her goals in itself contributes to her welfare regardless of what those goals are” (28).
    According to Doug’s modification, “So here’s my own proposal for determining how much the achievement of a particular goal contributes to an individual’s welfare: it is a function of the following: (1) the extent to which one’s efforts have been efficacious in achieving one’s goal and (2) the extent to which one has had to sacrifice in order to achieve one’s goal.”
    I’m only casually familiar with this literature (and I’ve not yet read the paper in question), so forgive me if I seem a little naive on this one, but shouldn’t there be a restriction placed on the content of the goal itself? That is, shouldn’t the goal itself be in some sense rational? If we leave it purely subjective (i.e., unconstrained), then that would mean that one’s welfare could be enhanced by setting the goal of counting all of the blades of grass on one’s lawn and then accomplishing this task (to borrow Rawls’s case). It also would allow that Hitler’s welfare is increased if he achieves his goal of racially ‘purifying’ Europe. But, since these don’t seem like worthy goals, they don’t seem like they increase the agent’s welfare. This seems especially intuitive as long as we distinguish between faring well and receiving pleasure from achieving one’s goals (as the above discussion does, I think). That is, we might say that the grass-counter is pleased by achieving his goal, and that this pleasure-increase makes for a welfare-increase; but it seems counterintuitive to say that there’s an additional welfare increase simply from achieving this (worthless) goal.
    Am I missing something, or are others’ intuitions just different from mine?

  10. Josh,
    Simon anticipates your worries about silly goals (the grass counter) and immoral goals (Hitler) — see section II of his paper. Whether you’ll be convinced by what he says is another question. It convinced me.

  11. Simon,
    Thanks for joining the discussion. It’s great to have this kind of forum, where we can have a timely discussion about a recent article that is informed by the author’s comments — an ideal use for blogs, I think.
    You say, “My first inclination is to say that they have both put in a great deal effort and have both achieved their goals — each to this extent lives a life of success – and that the difference between them is only to do with how well their lives would have gone had they not taken on the goals they did.” But then why don’t you say the same thing about cases where the quantity of effort differs? In that case, you would say that both those who succeed with little effort and those that succeed with much effort live successful lives and that the difference between them is only to do with how well their lives would have gone had they not taken on the goals they did. After all, the amount of effort you put into to achieving a goal doesn’t necessarily correlate with how successful your efforts have been. Some are equally successful with less effort than others. What I’m asking, then, is why does the quantity of effort matter if not for the fact that it indicates the price of one’s success. And the point of my Bill and Ted case is only to show that the price of success doesn’t always correlate with the quantity of effort.
    Regarding your Bob and Charles case, I have to ask, “In the nearest possible world where Charles doesn’t dedicate himself to baseball, is he better off in terms of enjoyment and all other aspects of welfare besides success?” If he wouldn’t have been any happier doing something else and ditto for Bob, then each benefit equally from their successes; the fact that Charles had more options for leading a successful life seems irrelevant. If, however, Charles would have lived a much happier life had he not dedicated himself to baseball and yet he was willing to sacrifice his happiness for the sake of achieving his baseball goals (and assuming that, in contrast, Bob would have been worse off had he not dedicated himself to baseball), then I would say that Charles benefits more from his baseball successes than Bob benefits from his baseball successes. Charles’s success lends meaning to his sacrifices, whereas Bob made no sacrifices that his success would render meaningful.
    Asking when did it become true that one was toiling pointlessly is like asking when did Carter’s presidency precede Reagan’s. But I don’t think that asking either when did some harmful event occur or when was Smith in a harmful state is like asking when did Carter’s presidency precede Reagan’s. I believe harms come in two forms, harmful states and harmful events, and states and events take place in time. The truth of a given proposition may be timeless (although I don’t know the literature on this stuff) but I don’t think that a proposition’s being true can itself constitute a harmful event or a harmful state to be in.
    To clarify: on your view, it’s not just the quantity of effort but also the efficacy of one’s efforts that matters, right? That is, was I right in supposing that if we each contribute to the same scientific breakthrough but your efforts have been more efficacious, then you have contributed more productive effort to the achievement of that goal and you thereby benefit more by its achievement?

  12. Doug –
    Thanks. I didn’t quite get the original proposal – sorry about that.
    First, yes, I was thinking that it’s the efficacy, not straight quantity, of effort put into achieving the goal that matters.
    About your Bill and Ted case, I certainly want to say that there’s something extra to regret if Ted doesn’t achieve his goal. Not only does he spend much of his life working towards a goal that he never achieves, but in doing so he prevents himself from living a life that goes well in all sorts of other respects. Similarly, there’s something extra to be happy about fi Ted does achieve his goal, because there was more at risk. (I hope that I’m on the right track with the intuition here. I’m imagining that it’s like the feeling that it’s really a shame when a talented scientist decides to dedicate his life to proving that the government is covering up the existence of aliens, though not such a shame when the same decision is made by a kooky, untalented person who wouldn’t be doing anything better in any case.)
    I’m hesitant about construing this as revealing something about Bill and Ted’s respective levels of welfare, though. Here’s the thing. When you look at Bill’s life and Ted’s life as they actually are, they both do the same things. They both spend a great deal of time training hard, and they both achieve their goal. I’m reluctant to say that how well someone’s life goes depends not only on the nature of the life itself, but upon what kind of life the person would have lived if things had been a little different.
    So what I’d want to say about Bill and Ted is, “Ted’s welfare is advanced by X through Ted’s achieving his goal, and Bill’s welfare is advanced by X through Bill’s achieving HIS goal. It’s very lucky that Ted managed to get that welfare-advancement of X, because in putting himself into a position to achieve it he had to give up lots of other things – fortunately, those sacrifices weren’t in vain. If Bill hadn’t got his welfare-advancement of X, well, that would have been a shame too, but at least he wouldn’t have had to kick himself over failing to do something else with the time he spent in training – he had nothing better to do anyway.” Does this make any sense?
    The way that I see quantity and efficacy of effort as mattering is not through their marking the price of success. Rather, I see them as marking the extent to which an individual changes the world to make it as he wants it. A successful life, in the welfare-related sense, is a life spent making the world conform to your goals – making it different from how it would have been if you’d never turned up or had just sat around doing nothing. One way to see this is to note that great efficacious effort isn’t always properly seen as a “price” of success. The effort in itself might be very enjoyable and rewarding. But that doesn’t make it matter any less to your level of welfare.
    I do feel the force of your suggestion though. Maybe I’m just being bull-headed in holding out!
    On the temporal stuff, I think that maybe we’re not really disagreeing as much as I thought. I find the talk of harmful states a little difficult, because I find it hard to translate “Bob lived a life that didn’t go very well” into “Bob was in a harmful state throughout his life”. But that aside, would you be happy with the following way of putting things?
    While Bob is alive, he is living a life that doesn’t go very well. To that extent, he is in a harmful (harmed?) state throughout his life. The reason why Bob’s life doesn’t go very well is that Doug destroy Bob’s manuscript after Bob’s death. So the event that harms Bob – the harmful event – occurs after he dies. As for the question, “when does the harm to Bob occur?”, well, you can answer that however you like. If you’re asking, “when is this not-so-good life of Bob’s lived?”, you’ll get one answer. If you’re asking, “when does the event in virtue of which Bob’s life goes poorly occur?”, you’ll get a different answer.

  13. Simon,
    You say, “When you look at Bill’s life and Ted’s life as they actually are, they both do the same things. They both spend a great deal of time training hard, and they both achieve their goal.”
    But, looking at their lives as they actually are, they haven’t both sacrificed a great deal in order to achieve their goals.
    You also say, “I’m reluctant to say that how well someone’s life goes depends not only on the nature of the life itself, but upon what kind of life the person would have lived if things had been a little different.”
    How is this different from someone else saying the following in response to your position: “I’m reluctant to say that how well someone’s life goes depends not only on the nature of the life itself, but upon what kind of effects that that person’s efforts have had”? If the efficacy of one’s efforts can count as “belonging” to the nature of one’s life itself, then why can’t the pointlessness of one’s sacrifices count as “belonging” to the nature of one’s life itself? I don’t see how the efficacy of one’s efforts is any more intrinsic to the nature of one’s life than the pointlessness of one’s sacrifices is. Both are relational properties.
    Now I do appeal to a counterfactual test to assess the extent of one’s sacrifices, but don’t you need to appeal to a counterfactual test to assess the efficacy of one’s efforts? That is, we should ask, “In the nearest possible world where one did not try to achieve the goal in question, to what extent would that goal still have been attained?”
    You also say, “The way that I see quantity and efficacy of effort as mattering is not through their marking the price of success. Rather, I see them as marking the extent to which an individual changes the world to make it as he wants it. A successful life, in the welfare-related sense, is a life spent making the world conform to your goals – making it different from how it would have been if you’d never turned up or had just sat around doing nothing.”
    I don’t see how the quantity of one’s efforts marks the extent to which an individual changes the world to make it as she wants it. Only the efficacy of one’s efforts marks that. Consider two possible worlds, one with Jack and the other with Jill. They both want P to be the case. In his world, Jack brings it about that P is the case by pushing a button. In her world, Jill brings it about that P is the case through years of painstaking effort. And assume that in both cases that, had they not done what they did, it would not be the case that P. The efforts of both are, then, equally efficacious. Both have (and to the same extent) changed the world to make it as they want it to be. So I don’t see what your rationale is for thinking the quantity of effort matters at all in determining one’s level of welfare. It’s not that the quantity of effort marks the extent to which one changes the world to make it as one wants it to be, as we can see by considering the Jack and Jill case. So what is your rationale for thinking that the quantity of effort matters?

  14. I finally managed to look over Simon’s paper; a good read, though I’m having trouble getting my intuitions together…
    1) Doug – I like your Jack and Jill case; I think I was tring to get at a similar intuition (a bit more clumsily) with the ‘doing taxes’ scenarios, and questioning the impact of sheer quantity of effort. I’m still not entirely sure what I think about the impact of successfully ‘shaping the world’ or ‘imposing her will on the world’ on an agent’s welfare (especially if this does not impact her mental states).
    2) I’m also a bit confused about what effort amounts to. For the past few days I’ve been hard at work marking student essays; I had set my self the goal of getting them all done by today’s class (and I was successful). I think I put in a lot of effort, but I’m not sure where it fits. Does spending a lot of time on pursuing a goal amount to a lot of effort? Would it be possible to devote many hours to completing a project without thereby exerting a lot of effort (in the case of marking, for example)? Do I exert more effort the more I concentrate on a task? Am I exerting more effort if I keep working even though I would love to be doing something else? Simon suggested in a recent comment (plausibly, I think) that effort need not be unpleasant or seen as a price for success; we can enjoy our efforts. Does effort then amount simply to performing some sort of action to achieve a goal? If I’m running, am I putting forth more effort if I run more quickly? What if it’s a pleasant day, and I’m actually comfortable running more quickly than usual – so I’d be inclined to report ‘it feels like less effort’?
    So, overall, how do we identity and/or quantify effort?

  15. One more thought: Suppose that Jeff has as his goal that P be the case. Further suppose that both Jeff and Jason can bring it about that P is the case if either of them pushes a button — assume that pushing the button involves very little effort. As it happens, Jason is about to push the button, but Jeff could rush in and push the button before Jason has the chance. Now Simon’s view seems to imply that Jeff would benefit more if he’s the one to push the button. If Jeff pushes the button, he changes the world to make it as he wants it. If Jason pushes the button, the world will be as Jeff wants it to be but nothing Jeff has done will have changed the world so as to make it as Jeff wants it to be. But the idea that Jeff benefits more if he jumps in and pushes the button before Jason has a chance is counter-intuitive. And this suggests that efficacy, in absence of any sacrifice, does not count as a contributing factor to one’s welfare.

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