The good of today depends not on the good of tomorrow: A constraint on theories of well-being

Owen C. King

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Abstract

This article addresses three questions about well-being. First, is well-being future-sensitive? I.e., can present well-being depend on future events? Second, is well-being recursively dependent? I.e., can present well-being (non-trivially) depend on itself? Third, can present and future well-being be interdependent? The third question combines the first two, in the sense that a yes to it is equivalent (given some natural assumptions) to yeses to both the first and second. To do justice to the diverse ways we contemplate well-being, I consider our thought and discourse about well-being in three domains: everyday conversation, social science, and philosophy. This article’s main conclusion is that we must answer the third question with no. Present and future well-being cannot be interdependent. The reason, in short, is that a theory of well-being that countenances both future-sensitivity and recursive dependence would have us understand a person’s well-being at a time as so intricately tied to her well-being at other times that it would not make sense to consider her well-being an aspect of her state at particular times. It follows that we must reject either future-sensitivity or recursive dependence. I ultimately suggest, especially in light of arguments based on assumptions of empirical research on well-being, that the balance of reasons favors rejecting future-sensitivity.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPhilosophical Studies
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print/First online - 13 Jun 2019

Keywords

  • Well-being

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