How Theories of Well-Being Can Help Us Help
Journal of Practical Ethics 2(2): 1-19
Some theories of well-being in philosophy and in psychology define people’s well-being in psychological terms. According to these theories, living well is getting what you want, feeling satisfied, experiencing pleasure, or the like. Other theories take well-being to be something that is not defined by our psychology; for example, they define well-being in terms of objective values or the perfection of our human nature. These two approaches present us with a trade-off: The more we define well-being in terms of people’s psychology, the less ideal it seems and the less it looks like something of real value that could be an important aim of human life. On the other hand, the more we define well-being in terms of objective features of the world that do not have to do with people’s psychological states, the less it looks like something that each of us has a reason to promote. In this paper I argue that we can take a middle path between these two approaches if we hold that well-being is an ideal but an ideal that is rooted in our psychology. The middle path that I propose is one that puts what people value at the center of the theory of well-being. In the second half of the paper I consider how the value-based theory I describe should be applied to real life situations.
What can we learn from happiness surveys?
Journal of Practical Ethics 2(2): 20-32
Defenders of happiness surveys often claim that individuals are infallible judges of their own happiness. I argue that this claim is untrue. Happiness, like other emotions, has three features that make it vulnerable to introspective error: it is dispositional, it is intentional, and it is publically manifest. Other defenders of the survey method claim, more modestly, that individuals are in general reliable judges of their own happiness. I argue that this is probably true, but that it limits what happiness surveys might tell us, for the very claim that people are reliable judges of their own happiness implies that we already have a measure of how happy they are, independent of self-reports. Happiness surveys may help us extend and refine this prior measure, but they cannot, on pain of unintelligibility, supplant it altogether.
Indirect Discrimination Is Not Necessarily Unjust
Journal of Practical Ethics 2(2): 33-57
This article argues that, as commonly understood, indirect discrimination is not necessarily unjust: 1) indirect discrimination involves the disadvantaging in relation to a particular benefit and such disadvantages are not unjust if the overall distribution of benefits and burdens is just; 2) indirect discrimination focuses on groups and group averages and ignores the distribution of harms and benefits within groups subjected to discrimination, but distributive justice is concerned with individuals; and 3) if indirect discrimination as such is unjust, strict egalitarianism has to be the correct account of distributive justice, but such egalitarianism appears vulnerable to the leveling down objection (whether decisively or not), and many theorists explicitly reject strict egalitarianism anyway. The last point threatens the position of liberals who oppose indirect discrimination but think significant inequalities can be just.
Letter: Comment on “Associative Duties and the Ethics of Killing in War”
Journal of Practical Ethics 2(2): 58-68
Response to Seth Lazar’s “Associative Duties and the Ethics of Killing in War” (Journal of Practical Ethics, Volume 1, Number 1)
Letter: A Reply to McMahan
Journal of Practical Ethics 2(2): 69-71
Response to Jeff McMahan's Comment on “Associative Duties and the Ethics of Killing in War”.