A Journal of Philosophy, Applied to the Real World


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Hooker argues that something is good for well-being if a life with more of that element is always better than a life that is otherwise the same but has less of it. He goes through a list of things that come to mind as valuable in themselves and determines whether or not these things are actually intrinsically good using that simple test. While we agree with Hooker’s positive assessment – that innocent pleasure, significant achievement, important knowledge, autonomy, and friendship are distinct, valuable elements of life – we disagree with his negative assessment – that appreciating beauty and living a morally good life are not. Instead, we argue, both of these elements make a life better, independently of the other five values, and thus pass his test.

We first consider the appreciation of beauty. We believe that a life that contains appreciation of beauty is better than a life that is similar in other respects but does not contain appreciation of beauty. Appreciation of beauty thus passes Hooker’s initial test for an element of well-being, i.e., something that improves one’s life, a point with which Hooker agrees. The next question is whether it does so independently of the other valuable elements. Hooker considers two options: either appreciation of beauty is subjective or objective. If the former, he takes it to be instrumental in adding pleasure or friendship; if the latter, he takes it to be a type of important knowledge. In reply, we argue that appreciation of beauty could be an independent element of well-being, even if it is subjective, and not merely valuable for its contribution to pleasure or friendship. For example, one can appreciate beauty in a piece of artwork that makes us feel sadness, awe, shock, or horror. These are all emotional reactions that are not necessarily identical to pleasure or happiness, nor valuable for their contribution to pleasure or happiness, but can still improve a life.