By In Happiness, Value Theory Comments (6)

David Sobel: Two Roles for the Attitudes in an Account of Well-Being

Steve Wall and I have been thinking together about what the best theory of well-being that claims that loving the (prudentially) good is itself (prudentially) good would look like. Such views have been lovingly explored by, among others, Parfit, Darwall, Kagan, and Feldman. On such a view, there are objective prudential values, for example, achievement or friendship, which either have prudential value independently from any attitudes or whose value is more easily unlocked by the relevant attitudes than options without this objective value. Typically such views maintain that being objectively good, and one in some way loving or enjoying that objective good, are each necessary conditions, and jointly sufficient, for a benefit. (NB: The view under discussion here is different from Hurka’s related version of “loving the good is itself good” as Hurka ties this thought to virtue and he is not talking about prudential value.)

Here is a picture within such a framework we came up with yesterday that we seek feedback on.

On the picture we are exploring, the attitudes play two distinct roles in grounding our welfare. First, conative attitudes such as liking or enjoying can broadly make good for one stuff that is not stance-independently valuable. As between two wines or colors of drapes which are in no way stance-independently valuable, we claim, my conative favoring or liking one over the other can make it better for me to get what I so favor than to get the other dispreferred option. We think it hard to deny such a role to conative favoring attitudes and thus hard to maintain that only attitudes that are directed towards what is stance-independently good can enhance prudential value. Liking the stance-independently neutral, it seems to us, makes such items better for us to get. Perhaps, additionally, liking stance-independently bad stuff can also be welfare-enhancing. This is more controversial and we take no stand on this question. If one were to claim that liking, for example, immoral stuff can make it better for one, one should add that it may well be improper in many cases to draw attention to this benefit and failing to do what one can to prevent feeling such pleasure, or failing to in some sense disavow such pleasure, may itself be immoral.

Second, the relevant sort of attitude that especially enhances the value of objective (prudential) values is more like appreciation than liking. We see “appreciation” as (at least closer to) a cognitive attitude with correctness conditions and a representative aspect. One can appreciate a joke—that is appreciate that it scores high on the humorous scale and be cognizant of what is funny about it–even if one is too depressed to be amused by it or enjoy it, as Liz Anderson reminds us.

Likings or enjoyings, we think, lack such correctness conditions or representative aspect. This, we suspect, is at least part of the reason why their prudential value is not affected (or less affected) by the excellence of their object but the value of appreciation is strongly affected by the excellence of its object. Appreciation’s representative aspect is, we suspect, at least part of why its warrant or lack of warrant is relevant to its value for us.

So, on the picture we seek feedback about, the prudential upshot of one attitude, liking, functions closer to the way subjectivists have supposed. The prudential value of what we like is not strongly tied to the stance-independent value of the object of the liking. But, on the assumption that there are objective prudential values, the value of appreciation functions closer to the way many objectivists have supposed in that its value is strongly tied to the stance-independent value of its object.


David Sobel is a professor of philosophy at Syracuse University, he works primarily in ethics. Much of his research has focused on understanding what makes something valuable. His recent From Valuing to Value (OUP) has a quite beautiful cover.

6 Responses to David Sobel: Two Roles for the Attitudes in an Account of Well-Being

  1. Preston says:

    Hi Dave!

    This sounds cool. I think these hybrid sorts of views have some nice potential. So I have a couple of questions.

    1. Could you say a bit more about what likings and appreciations are, qua mental states? Are likings preferences? Preferences I am willing to give up on a whim? First-order desires? And are appreciations beliefs? Dual direction-of-fit states? Second-order desires?
    I’m also a bit curious about how we know whether something is a liking or an appreciation first-personally–for example, how do I distinguish an appreciation from, say, a second-order liking (if such a thing is even possible!).
    One way that seems intuitive to me is to say that ‘likings’ are the things we don’t hold fixed in a certain way–if I like chocolate ice cream, but when I get to the counter I feel like vanilla, there’s nothing weird to me if I go in for vanilla. But if I appreciate my friendship I will help my friend move even if I don’t feel like it that day (set aside promises I may have made, as that complicates things).

    2. You use the existence of correctness conditions to explain why appreciations’ value can depend on their objects in a way that won’t hold for ‘likings’. But you also said you want to remain agnostic about whether liking the bad can be welfare-increasing. I’m a bit worried about how you can remain agnostic–if liking the bad is not welfare increasing, then it seems like it is in some sense ‘incorrect’ (a weaker sense than appreciation incorrectness, since that is a representational state). And once you allow for that, haven’t we allowed for likings to have some kind of correctness conditions?

    More generally, I think there is a notion of correctness that can coherently assess things that are not representational–think of saying that a heart that isn’t pumping blood correctly, for example. I think it might be useful to say a bit about why we should think the representational aspect of appreciations are going to matter, or why likings won’t even have the weaker notion of correctness conditions. (I suppose one way to do this would just be to show that the view explains a lot of intuitions we have–fair enough!)

  2. Brad Cokelet says:

    Hi Dave!

    Two rough thoughts:

    (1) maybe the prudential value of getting a liked stance dependent good is a function of what fulfills ones emotional nature/self. I’m thinking of Dan Haybron’s work. Assuming you know it: fit/misfit with emotional self might attenuate or intensify the prudential value of satisfying likes. More of a stretch: radical failure of fit with emotional nature would undercut prudential value.

    (2) Similarly, you could piggy back on Raibley’s stuff on value/agency to hold that the prudential value of getting what you like is a function on how well it contributes to value satisfaction.

    These would “objectively” constrain the prudential value of getting what you like (in domains of stance dependent goods) w/o appeal to “representational” correctness. Maybe this and examples would help highlight the contrast?

  3. David Sobel says:

    UPDATED: Sorry, I think spell checker distorted what initially appeared. I hope this is clearer.


    I don’t think we have settled on exactly which conative state we want to fix on or even if there is just one such state we want to fix on. For our purposes here it is best to focus on the hardest to resist cases such as favoring things in matters of mere taste. But I myself think there are a fair number of favoring attitudes that seem to have this sort of normative upshot: likings, wanting, preferring, etc. Perhaps one might, for now, see our claim as that there exists at least one such conative state of favoring which can make good for one stuff that is not stance-independently good.

    I would not myself understand the distinction between the conative attitudes we want to grant normative authority and the cognitive one in the way you suggest involving importance and relative permanence. I do think the kind of appreciation we have in mind is very belief like and perhaps a belief that something is valuable. But I assume it can be had even when one thinks the value is not especially to one’s own taste.

    I would not say that if liking the bad is not good for one that means the liking is incorrect in the sense I have in mind. Appreciation involves seeing what is valuable about a thing and judging that is has value. Liking can have no normative upshot without being similarly representational, or so it seems to me.

  4. David Sobel says:


    Thanks for that. I should re-read the Haybron before I make specific claims about it. So I’d have to ask you to say more about it before feeling comfy saying much about it. And I guess I have to say the same about the Raibley. But if you would be willing to remind me more of the details of the views I would certainly try to say how I think it fits with what we are exploring.

  5. Preston says:

    Ok, great. This makes sense.

  6. Avi Appel says:

    This reminds me of Aristotle on pride (aka “great-souled person” or megalopsychos). If I remember correctly, this is the only virtue that Aristotle claims requires both moral and epistemic characteristics. Namely, the great-souled person must be great (by excelling in all the other virtues) but must also believe that he is great (but not, of course, believe that he is greater or less great than he really is).

    We could reconstruct Aristotle’s virtue of pride using your vocabulary fairly easily in order to illustrate the parallel: Being a moral person has (latent) objective prudential value which is unlocked when one appreciates their own moral character (or deeds) to the appropriate degree.