Well-being: Hedonism, Preference-Satisfaction and Objective List Theories

v    Readings

Ø    John Harsanyi. Morality and the Theory of Rational Behavior

Ø    Martha Nussbaum. Adaptive Preference and Womens Options in Women in Human Development, pp. 111 - 166

Ø    H. E. Baber. "Subjective Welfareism and Adaptive Preference"      

Ø    Jon Elster. "Sour Grapes"

v    Objective-List Theories: purport to appeal to universal human nature in order to arrive at essential conditions for human flourishing

Ø    Nussbaum’s List (pp. 78-80): are the entries plausible

§       Bodily integrity: is the opportunity for sexual satisfaction central? Is “choice in matters of reproduction”?

§       Practical Reason: is “being able to form a conception of the good and engage in critical reflection about planning one’s life” important for ones own welfare?

§       Other Species: is “being able to live with concern for and in relation to animals, plants and the world of nature” really important cross-culturally?

Ø    Objections to the Objective List approach: elitist and appears to license paternalism; appeals to questionable notions of human nature; may be question-begging to the extent that lists are compiled by reflecting on preferences (arrived at by “focus groups” of elite individuals)

v    Hedonism

Ø    Nozick’s Utility Machine

§       Supposed to show that hedonism is false since we desire states that are not strictly “in the head”—however pleasurable these states may be.

§       Response 1: our intuitions in cases this removed from reality are unreliable

§       Response 2: appealing to our preference not to plug in begs the question of whether we should understand well-being in terms of pleasure or preference-satisfaction

v    Preference-Satisfaction

Ø    Preference

§       Preference and choice: revealed preference

§       “True” rather than “manifest” preferences are to be satisfied

§       Neither the origin nor content of preferences count

Ø    Autonomy

§       The Perfectly Benevolent Despot

§       Perverse tastes

§       Meet The Meat (vide The Restaurant at the End of the Universe!): intuitively we think that we ought to change the world to accommodate preferences rather than manipulating preferences so that they can be satisfied by the status quo.

§       Expensive Tastes: should people who are more demanding get more?

§       Adaptive Preference: should people who are satisfied with little get less?

Ø    Response to Nussbaum

§       Preference is dispositional: the absence of occurrent frustration doesn’t mean a state is preferred

§       Bundles of goods are ranked

§       Rational choice model can explain veiling and other apparently “irrational’ practices.