Philosophy of well-being: a “dysfunctional” situation?

A “responsible definition of well-being,” says Anna Alexandrova (Cambridge), “must be fit for the goals of the project – epistemically accessible, reasonably simple, in other words fit for purpose … Philosophers of Well-Being in the analytical tradition think very differently. “

This is from a discussion of the question of “worthiness”, or “How can the science of well-being properly produce knowledge that is truly about well-being?” Interviewer Richard Marshall had asked, “Why do you think your question about aptitude for value leads you to think that philosophers are not currently thinking of the right things necessary to answer this question?” “

[Sol LeWitt, “Distorted Cubes (B)”]

Professor Alexandrova’s response continues:

Many colleagues end up with an idealized subjectivist narrative … or an inflated version of hedonism, or an objective list theory with [a] intelligent subjective requirement, and so on. I call them the Big Three (but I don’t care if I’m wrong, maybe there is actually the Big Four or the Big Five). In any case, these theories are practically unusable in practice. They are far too abstract and they lack what we in Philosophy of Science call “bridge principles”. Philosophers don’t think it’s their job to translate these theories into practical constructions or measures because such a translation is too complicated, too empirical, and our major journals will not publish such work. Okay, but then don’t complain when the fruits of your labor are ignored by practitioners and accuse them of being theoretically unsophisticated (they often are, but it’s your job to come out) of your chairs and do something about it). The whole situation seems dysfunctional to me, but luckily it is changing. Colleagues in applied ethics and political theory are much more comfortable constructing theories that help practitioners satisfy the aptitude for value.

The traditional inquiry into what fundamentally is well-being is flawed, says Alexandrova, who argues for “building pluralism” rather than a singular, unified narrative:

Pluralism of construction is only the consequence of the aptitude for value. To be appropriate, a theory of well-being must be adapted to the context of its use and because there are many such contexts, we will need many constructs. For me, building pluralism is both an empirical fact and a desirable goal. I think when you look at all the areas where people use a wellness concept, you see the diversity. Would it not be a shame if development economists define well-being in the same way as development psychologists? Fortunately, they don’t and I get nervous when I hear people advocating a single definition of wellness for all intents and purposes.

You can read the full interview with her on 03:16. Discussions welcome.


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