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Nicole Hassoun: What do we owe to others as a basic minimum?

What do we owe to others as a basic minimum? Having such an account may inform theories of global justice, basic needs, or human rights (see, e.g., this paper). Moreover, having a good account can provide a basis for empirical work on the factors that contribute to such lives (and the connection between minimally good lives and other things that matter). It can, thus, offer some guidance for those who care for others who might fall below this threshold and for policy makers working to ensure that, insofar as possible, people rise above it.

Some deny that we owe people any basic minimum. Libertarians who reject positive rights and consequentialists who think we can sacrifice some for the greater good may reject the claim that there should be a basic minimum. Moreover, there are many different ways of thinking about what ensuring people can secure a basic minimum requires in light of what else we owe people. Some believe it is better to help someone just below the threshold reach the minimum rather than someone who is further below it come closer to the threshold. Others think we should prioritize helping people further below the threshold but give some weight to helping those who rise above it (and so forth). And, some agree that everyone should be able to secure the basic minimum but also maintain that we owe people much more than this. Yet others bring other considerations into the picture; desert, luck, responsibility and so forth may well have a role to play in modifying the role a basic minimum should play in a theory of justice. But what, at a minimum, must we help people in our personal lives and as members of society secure (taking into account the other things that matter)?

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Rosa Terlazzo: Must Adaptive Preferences be Prudentially Bad for Us?

Think about Belle from Beauty and the Beast. She is a smart, ambitious, independent young woman who trades her freedom for her father’s and over time comes to love the inconsiderate, dominating Beast who keeps her captive.

On one plausible reading, Belle’s case is a classic case of adaptive preference. By adaptive preference, I mean a preference that a person forms for an option in a limited set, that she would not have formed if other more expansive options had been available. And such preferences tend to raise problems for social and political philosophers and well-being theorists because they pull us simultaneously in two different directions: because they are the person’s own preferences, it seems that they are relevant to – perhaps even decisive in – determining what is good for her or how she should be treated; but because they involve settling for what she can get rather than a desire for what she would want if only it were available, they do not seem to capture what is genuinely good for her.

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Ben Bramble: The Passing of Temporal Well-Being

Most contemporary work on well-being assumes that individuals have several different kinds of well-being:

  1. Momentary well-being—i.e., well-being at a particular point in time.
  2. Periodic well-being—i.e., well-being during some extended period longer than a moment but shorter than a whole life (say, a day, a week, a year, or a chapter of a life).
  3. Lifetime well-being—i.e., the well-being of one’s life considered as a whole.

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Jonathan Phillips and Joshua Knobe: The Ordinary Concept of Happiness

Consider a father who looks at his beloved daughter and thinks, ‘What I want most in life is just for you to be happy.’ In thinking this thought, the father makes use of a concept that is deeply important but also very difficult to adequately characterize – the ordinary concept of happiness. Our aim is to understand how this concept works.

One obvious view would be that the ordinary concept of happiness is just a matter of having certain psychological states. For example, it might be thought that the ordinary concept of happiness is a matter of feeling good, experiencing satisfaction with one’s life, and not experiencing negative affective states, such as pain, lonelinessor despair. On this view, when the father thinks that what he wants most in life is for his daughter to be happy, what he means is simply that what he wants is for her to have certain kinds of psychological states.

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Eden Lin: Subjective List Theories

How well a person’s life is going (i.e., how high it is in welfare or well-being) is determined by how good or bad for that person the things that are happening in her life are. Theories of well-being purport to tell us what it takes for a person’s life to go well by identifying the basic goods and bads: the kinds that are good or bad for a person in the most fundamental way. In the philosophical literature on well-being, there is a standard menu of theories: hedonism, desire satisfactionism, perfectionism, the happiness theory, hybrid theories, and objective list theories. In “The Subjective List Theory of Well-Being” (Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 2016), I argue that this menu should be expanded to include a neglected type of theory: subjective list theories. I also introduce a particular theory of this type, and I argue that it is superior to some existing theories. In this post, I will give an abbreviated version of the argument from that paper.

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Dan Haybron: Not Well-Being, But a Good Life

I came to philosophy motivated by a long-standing sense that there is something profoundly wrong with the way we live, a sentiment well expressed in a gorgeous 1982 film, Koyaanisqatsi, Hopi for “life out of balance” or “crazy life.” I had experienced ways of living that made sense to me and ways, depicted in the film, that did not. I wanted better to understand this worry. It was surprising, then, that my first ethics course persuaded me that it was probably not worth taking another. The readings sometimes claimed to be talking about the good life, but for the most part they just talked about this or that fragment of a good life: being morally good or being happy, for instance. The fragments made sense, but seemed simplistic and never really added up to anything very compelling. At least, I could never connect them with my original unease at contemporary living. Though not religious, I found more of relevance in religious studies classes, especially on East Asian thought. A later course on MacIntyre brought a deeper appreciation of Aristotle’s insights. But nothing quite hit the mark.

Part of what draws so many students to ancient philosophy, including non-Western thought, is that it seems clearly to address our fundamental concern to lead good lives. What we get from Aristotle and the Stoics, for instance, are comprehensive visions of the sorts of lives we should want. For Aristotle, a good life is a full and active life involving many sorts of excellence, not just moral virtue. It is a deeply pleasant and meaningful life, and includes some element of fortune in things like health and wealth. This is what we should aim at, for ourselves and our children, and the measure by which we should assess our lives in our deathbed reckonings. In broad outline, it is an attractive and reasonably commonsensical picture of the good life. (more…)

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Connie S. Rosati: What is Good for a Person

When we talk about what is good for a person, our talk may invoke different notions of a person’s good.  No one of these notions has normative priority over the others; rather, each does important normative work.  Arguably, some disputes among welfare theorists may be due to a failure to distinguish these notions.  For purposes of illustration, I will focus on two of them here, though as will I explain, there are no doubt others.

Sometimes our talk about what is good for a person concerns the good for an individual considered as a member of a distinct biological kind.  Just as we might talk about what is good for blue jays or Labrador retrievers, we might talk about what is good for human beings, H.  So when we describe some welfare object, O, as good for a person, P, we treat as P’s good whatever is good for H.  For example, the good for human beings might include proper nutrition, the exercise and development of their capacities, pleasure or enjoyment, and both autonomy and interconnection.

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