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DEVELOPMENT AND DEFENSE OF A DESIRE-SATISFACTION CONCEPTION
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
This document is dedicated to my parents, George and Lonnie Tupa.
I would like to thank Sharon DiFino, David Sobel, Crystal Thorpe, and Jon Tresan
for providing helpful comments to this work in its developmental stages. I would also
like to thank the audiences of the Ohio Philosophical Association and Florida
Philosophical Association for giving helpful comments on parts of two chapters. To
Peter Barry, I owe an enormous debt of gratitude for reading over many drafts of my
chapters and providing a great deal of helpful advice over the years. Lastly, I would like
to thank my advisor, David Copp, for helping me throughout the entire dissertation
project and providing guidance at many very difficult times. I am sure that I have left out
a number of people who have helped me along the way, and for that, I beg their
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ................................................................................................. iv
A B STR A C T ............................................................................... ..................... viii
1 THE CONCEPT OF WELL-BEING....................................................................
1.1 Introduction .................................................................................................. ....... 1
1.2 W ell-B eing and M oral V alue............................................ ........... ............... 7
1.3 Well-Being: Narrow and Broad Concepts.........................................................14
1.4 Well-Being and Self-Regarding Interests..........................................................17
1.5 W ell-Being and A esthetic V alue ........................................ ...................... 20
1.6 Conclusion ..................................... ................................ .......... 34
2 CONCEPTIONS OF WELL-BEING.....................................................................36
2.1 Four Conceptions............................................................... .... 37
2.1.1. M mental State Conceptions ............................................................... 37
2.1.2 D esire Satisfaction V iew s...................................... ......................... 41
2.1.3 Explanatory Objective Theories ............ ...........................................44
2.1.4 Pluralistic Theories of Well-Being..........................................................48
2 .1.5 C on clu sion ................................................................................ 50
2.2 Critical D discussion of Conceptions ........................................... ............... 51
2 .1.1 T h e Story ...................................... .... ... ..................... ............... 5 1
2.2.2 The Application of Explanatory Objectivism to the Story .........................53
2.2.3 Application of Happiness to the Story..................................................64
2.2.4 Pluralistic Conceptions of Well-Being.....................................................70
2.2.5 C conclusion ....................................................... .................... 80
3 DEVELOPING A DESIRE-SATISFACTION CONCEPTION OF WELL-
B E IN G ...................................... .................................... ................ 8 2
3.1 Actual Desire Accounts Critically Discussed...........................................82
3.1.1 Som e Introductory Rem arks........................................................ ......... 82
3.1.2 Intrinsic and Extrinsic D esires................ ............................................83
3.1.3 Problems for Total Desire Satisfaction Accounts .....................................85
3.1.4 Intrinsic D esires .......................................................... ......... ...... 87
3.1.5 A Critical Discussion of Actual Intrinsic Desire Views of Well-Being.....89
3.2 Counterfactual Desire Accounts Developed.............................. ............... 98
3.2.1 Information and the Relevant Desire Set.................. ................... ...........98
3.2.2 Ideal Advisor Views .......... ........... ....... ........ ............. ............ 104
3.2.3 What the Ideal Advisor Advises (or what advice we should listen to) ....106
4 IDEAL ADVISOR VIEWS .................. ........... ......................... 11
4.1 The Internalism R equirem ent ..................................... .................. ....... ........ .111
4.2 Rosati's Specific Internalism Requirement................................... ............... 117
4.3 Full Information and the Conditional Fallacy ........................ ........... 133
4.4 Knowledge That and Knowledge What Something is Like .............................139
4.5 Propositional and Non-Propositional Knowledge Revisited ............................150
4.6 Railton's Account of Personality........ .......................................... 154
4.7 Conclusion .................. ......... ................... 156
5 TURNING THE DESIRE-SATISFACTION ACCOUNT DEVELOPED ABOVE
INTO A THEORY OF PRUDENTIAL WELL-BEING ..........................................158
5.1 Self-Regarding Interests ................................... ... ...................159
5.1.1 Conceptions of Prudential Well-Being and Self-Regarding Interests......159
5.1.2 Self-Regarding Desires: The Problem of Self-Sacrifice ..........................160
5.1.3 The Problem R estated......................................... .......................... 162
5.1.4 O vervold's P roposals......................................................... .................... 163
5.1.5 A Problem with the Derived-Desire Interpretation of Overvold's
Second Proposal .............................................. ... .... .. ............ 171
5.1.6 Self-Regarding Desires........................... ... .......................... 172
5.1.7 Self-Regarding Interests Concluded .............................. ................... 180
5.2 Non-M oral and Non-Aesthetic Interests............... ................... ....................182
5.2.1 The Problem .................. ..... ................ ....... ......... .......... .. 182
5.2.2 M oral Desires and the Relevant Desire Set.......................................... 185
5.2.3 A another A approach ........................................................... ............. 186
5.2.4 Aesthetic Values and Prudential Well-Being ................ .................. 191
5.3 Perverse A advice .................. ...................................... .. ........ .... 193
5.3.1 C aring and W ell-B eing...................................... .................. .... ........... 193
5.3.2 Darwall on Caring and W elfare..... .......... ..................................... 195
5.3.3 Natural Kinds and Definitions..... .......... ...................................... 198
5.3.4 Sympathetic Concern and W ell-W fishing ............................................1. 99
5.3.5 The Object of Care and Well-Wishing and "One Thought Too Many"..200
5.3.5 Perverse Advice and Caring ..... ..................... ...............204
5.4 Conclusion ................. ......... ...................... .............. ......... 206
6 MIXED THEORIES AND DESIRE-SATISFACTION CONCEPTIONS OF
W ELL-BEING ............... .......................................... ............ 208
6.1 Mixed Theories: What They Are and What Motivates Them ..........................209
6.2 Mixed Theories that Involve Desire-Satisfaction Accounts..............................210
6.2.1 Desire/Objective M ixed Theories............................................... 212
6.2.2 Desire/M ental State M ixed Theories............................................ 220
6.3 Mixed Theories that Include Mental States ............................ ..................225
6.3.1 Sumner's M ixed Happiness Theory .....................................................225
6.3.2 Mental State Accounts Mixed with Objective Elements..........................240
6.4 Conclusion ........................................... .......... 247
7 DO POSTHUMOUS EVENTS ALTER THE LEVEL OF WELL-BEING ONE
H A D W H EN A LIV E? ........................................... .................. ............... 248
7.1 Introduction ............... ... ................................... .. ...... .... .. .............. 248
7.2 Overvold's and Hooker's Proposals ......... ...............................................249
7.3 A N ew B beginning .............................. ........................ .. ...... .... ...... ...... 253
7.4 C including R em arks ................................................ .............................. 263
L IST O F R E FE R E N C E S ..................................................................... ..... .................271
B IO G R A PH IC A L SK E T C H ........................................ ............................................275
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
DEVELOPMENT AND DEFENSE OF A DESIRE-SATISFACTION CONCEPTION
Chair: David Copp
Major Department: Philosophy
In my dissertation, I develop what I take to be the best version of desire-satisfaction
theories of well-being and I defend my favored version against competing theories of
Desire-satisfaction theories, roughly, are those according to which one's well-being
varies with the extent to which some or all of one's desires are satisfied. A desire is
satisfied if the desired state of affairs obtains. My favored version of desire-satisfaction
theories is quite complex, but the basic idea is that the desires that are true to one's
personality are the desires that are relevant to one's well-being.
The first chapter is dedicated to a clarification of the concept of well-being. I settle
on the following explication of this concept: a person's well-being is or consists in the
non-moral, non-aesthetic, self-regarding interests of the person.
The second chapter of my dissertation is a defense of desire-satisfaction
conceptions of well-being against its traditional competitors: mental state conceptions,
perfectionist conceptions, and objective list conceptions.
The third and fourth chapters involve developing and defending my favored desire-
satisfaction view. The fifth chapter consists of curtailing the desire-satisfaction view,
thus far developed, to the conditions of well-being detailed in the first chapter. Thus far,
nothing has restricted the desire-satisfaction view to the desires which are not influenced
by moral concerns, aesthetic concerns, or desires which are not sufficiently self-
The sixth chapter is dedicated to defending my preferred desire-satisfaction view
against more sophisticated conceptions of well-being.
The final chapter is dedicated to an application of desire-satisfaction accounts of
well-being to the issue of whether events that happen after one dies can alter the overall
amount of well-being the person had in his or her life as a whole. I argue that events that
happen after one dies cannot alter the overall amount of well-being one had in one's life
as a whole, not, at least, on desire-satisfaction conceptions of well-being.
THE CONCEPT OF WELL-BEING
My ultimate conclusion is that a desire-satisfaction conception is the best
conception of well-being. However, before we get into arguments about whether this is
so, first we must have at least a general idea of what the concept of well-being is. I
believe that there is a significant amount of misunderstanding about the concept of well-
being. This first chapter is an attempt to make clear, at least in a general sense, what this
Some authors who write on philosophical accounts of well-being give putative
synonyms for "well-being" such as "welfare," "prudence," "self-interest," "a good life,"
"individual good" and so on. None of these synonyms provide any clearer idea of what
the concept of well-being is than any other. Although these synonyms are cue words for
people who are already familiar with the topic (and so serve an important purpose in
virtue of that), none of them provide a clarification of the concept of well-being. What I
am looking for in this first chapter is a clarification of the concept of well-being.
Above, I use the terms "concept" and "conception" loosely; I will now give a more
precise, semi-technical, explanation of those terms. This will help in two ways: (A) it
will help to make clear how fine-grained an account of well-being we should expect at
each point in this dissertation, and (B) it will help me in providing a framework for
debates over the various accounts of well-being.
Rawls' distinction in A Theory of Justice should help here. Early in that book,
Rawls distinguishes between a concept of justice and a conception of justice (Rawls, 5-
6).1 Here is what Rawls says about concepts and conceptions of justice: "Thus it seems
natural to think of the concept of justice as distinct from the various conceptions of
justice and as being specified by the role which these different sets of principles, these
different conceptions, have in common" (Ibid, pg. 5). Rawls has an account of the
common role of conceptions of justice. Here is one statement of that role: "Those who
hold different conceptions of justice can, then, still agree that institutions are just when no
arbitrary distinctions are made between persons in the assigning of basic rights and duties
and when the rules determine a proper balance between competing claims to the
advantages of social life" (Ibid, pg. 5). If one were to generate a conception of how to
organize an institution that (1) forbids arbitrary distinctions between people and (2)
provides a solution to the claims of different people regarding the social goods, then that
conception would be a conception of justice, according to Rawls. More carefully, it
would be a conception of the concept of justice that Rawls is trying to explicate. There
could be other concepts of justice than justice in the arrangement of social institutions,
which is the concept of justice Rawls is after, such as justice in punishment or justice in
family life; however, Rawls' project is not to elucidate those concepts of justice.
I think that the distinction between concepts and conceptions can helpfully be
applied in my project. Earlier I mentioned that the account of well-being I favor is a kind
of desire-satisfaction theory. This theory is, very roughly, that one's life goes well to the
extent to which one's desires are satisfied. There are other conceptions. Another is that
1 Rawls claims to have been influenced by H.L.A. Hart in his The Concept of Law.
one's life goes well to the extent to which one is happy and not sad. Yet another
conception is that one's life goes well to the extent to which one develops and exercises
human nature. These conceptions have in common that they can serve as accounts of a
single concept-the concept of prudential well-being. This idea leads naturally to the
question, what is the concept of prudential well-being?
On the concept of well-being I am after in this dissertation, well-being consists in
the satisfaction of the non-moral, non-aesthetic, and self-regarding interests of the
individual. As we will see, there are other concepts of well-being-other concepts that
could be described as concepts of "well-being." For this reason, to sharpen my
discussion, I will often use the term "prudential well-being" in place of unmodified
"well-being." I shall not be trying to say what "prudential well-being" means in ordinary
English. It is rather that I am trying to analyze a concept and have to call it something: I
think "prudential well-being" fits the bill at least as well as any other term, but I
acknowledge it is not a perfect fit.2
It is important to get clear on the concept we are after because without a clear idea
of the concept, we cannot be sure that the various conceptions are competing conceptions
of the same concept. The goal of the first chapter is to get clear on what the conceptions
are of before going on to argue for my favored conception. With a clearer understanding
of the concept we are after, we can be sure that the debate between the competing
2"Prudential" is used in many different ways, so I should say more about my fairly technical usage.
Oftentimes "prudential" is used to describe a course of action or, alternatively, a reason: when it is used in
this way, it means a course of action or a reason is suitable given one's goals. With this use of
"prudential," going to the desert would be prudent for someone who wants to live in isolation, all other
things being equal. I am using "prudential" in a slightly different sense; I am using "prudential" as a term
that captures a kind of value or possible goal-not whether some course of action will obtain the goal or
one's reason is a good reason given a goal, but the goal or value itself. With this use of "prudential,"
supposing that friendship enhances one's well-being intrinsically, going to the desert is not prudent for the
hermit, all other things being equal. It is the second use of "prudential" that I am trying to capture.
conceptions involves genuine disagreements, and not pseudo-disagreements based on
confusions about the grounds of the debate.
In an effort to avoid misunderstanding, I would like to say a bit more about
prudential well-being in the next few paragraphs. First I will say some more about what
it is; then I will say more about why we should study it (what role is plays); lastly I will
say more about it to distinguish it from another, somewhat closely related concept. This
must all be very brief because I will say a lot more about the first topic throughout the
dissertation, and very detailed discussions of the second and third topics are beyond the
scope of the dissertation.
In Plato's myth of the Ring of Gyges, we are to imagine that Gyges finds a ring that
can make him invisible. Once he puts it on, he finds out very quickly that he can get
away with just about anything he wants. His plans are grand: using the ring, he seduces
the queen and overthrows the king. These actions are morally wrong, but they seem
clearly to serve Gyges' self-interest. Gyges enhances his prudential well-being, I would
say. The concept of prudential well-being that concerns me in this dissertation is the
concept of the kind of value with respect to which Gyges' life improves in the myth. My
proposal is, then, that Gyges' life improves in that he is able, by using the ring, to satisfy
more of his non-moral, non-aesthetic and self-regarding interests.
Now I need to say something about why the concept of prudential well-being is
worth studying and what role it plays in various contexts. One can agree with me in
thinking that there is a concept of prudential well-being and even have an informal
understanding in what such well-being consists-and yet wonder why the concept is
First, I think that the concept plays a role in our ordinary, pre-theoretic, evaluations
of lives. The discussion of the life of Gyges (and the life of the Count of Monte Cristo,
which will be my principal example) is meant to illustrate this ordinary, pre-theoretic,
notion and how it can be used to evaluate how a life is going. A rigorously philosophical
account of prudential well-being could make judgments about people's lives more
Second, prudential well-being plays a role in many moral and political theories.
This may sound paradoxical given that prudential value is restricted to the satisfaction of
non-moral interests, but it is not as paradoxical as it may seem. A standard Utilitarian
view is that an act is right if and only if it maximizes utility impartially in the long run.
Some Utilitarians take "utility" to refer to prudential well-being. So the Utilitarian
theory, on this account, is that the right act is that which maximizes prudential well-being
impartially in the long run. In political theory, egalitarians sometimes advocate equality
of well-being, and I believe at least some egalitarians have in mind prudential well-being.
An egalitarian might add that a proper role of the state is to promote the equality of the
prudential well-being of its members. There are numerous other moral and political
theories that make reference to prudential well-being.
One can agree with me that the concept of prudential well-being plays a role in
various ordinary, everyday judgments of lives and also that the concept plays a role in
various moral and political theories-and yet think "so much the worse for those
judgments and theories." However, such a view may be based in a confusion between
prudential well-being and selfishness.
The term "selfishness" does not appropriately capture the concept I am after.
Someone behaves selfishly, roughly, when she disregards the welfare of others when
concern for the welfare of others is appropriate.3 The basic idea is that selfish behavior
involves neglect of the welfare of others. Self-interested behavior, in contrast, or
behavior motivated by concern for the agent's well-being does not necessarily include
such neglect. Self-interested behavior can include regard for the well-being of others.4 If
one conflates the concepts of self-interest and selfishness, then any moral or political
theory that is based on the concept of self-interest may look extremely implausible. But
such conflation is a mistake-the two concepts are different. Thus, it would be a mistake
to dismiss our concern with exploring the concept of prudential well-being on the basis of
a conflation of actions done out of a concern for prudential well-being with selfishness.
In this brief interlude on prudential well-being, I have tried to give some motivation
for thinking that there is such a concept and that the concept plays a role in our ordinary
value judgments. Additionally, I have tried to give a few examples of moral and political
theories in which the concept of prudential well-being plays a role. I also stressed the
importance of distinguishing between selfish behavior and behavior motivated by
Might there not be some concept of well-being, besides prudential well-being,
worthy of study? I think that there is. The situation I face with the concept of well-being
is similar to the situation Rawls faces with concepts of justice. Rawls chooses to study
3 Strictly speaking, this is only a necessary condition of selfish behavior. That condition should be enough
to make the difference between the concept of prudential well-being and selfishness clear.
4 Suppose that a person is faced with only two possible courses of action; both would enhance her well-
being to the same degree. Suppose furthermore that the first possible course of action increases the well-
being of other people while the second does not. The courses of action are equally self-interested. Yet the
second is selfish and the first is not.
the concept of justice in the arrangement of social institutions and I choose to study
prudential well-being: these are valid choices, despite the fact that there are other,
closely related, concepts worthy of study. The common role of the various conceptions
of prudential well-being in a diverse array of contexts is what makes me think the
concept ripe for critical examination.
In the remainder of Chapter 1, I will explain my proposed account of the concept of
prudential well-being. Later, in Chapters 3-5, I will go on to explicate and develop a
desire-satisfaction conception of well-being.
Recall that I claim that the concept of prudential well-being is that well-being
consists in the satisfaction of the non-moral, non-aesthetic, and self-regarding interests of
the individual. That makes for three key conditions on what constitutes an interest of the
proper sort: It must be (1) non-moral, (2) non-aesthetic, and (3) self-regarding.
Heretofore, I have not presented any reason for believing those three conditions are
correct; indeed, I have not explained what those conditions are in detail. In the remainder
of this chapter, I take up each of these three conditions in turn, moving from the non-
moral condition to the requirement that the interests be self-regarding and then to the
requirement that the interests be non-aesthetic. I will introduce each of these conditions
using well-known fictional stories, and then I will go on to discuss the conditions in a
more rigorous philosophical manner.
1.2 Well-Being and Moral Value
It is helpful to begin with a fairly in-depth case study that will illustrate the concept
of well-being. My case study will be the life of the protagonist in Alexandre Dumas'
novel The Count of Monte Cristo. Let me give those readers unfamiliar with the story a
very brief outline of the plot. As the novel begins, the protagonist, Edmond Dantes, is
living quite well. Unbeknownst to him, there is a plot against him and he is thrown in jail
without any semblance of a fair trial and without chance of seeing or speaking to anyone.
Eventually he escapes and discovers a great treasure. At this point he becomes known as
The Count of Monte Cristo. He uses this treasure for retribution against those who
plotted against him and to benefit those who truly loved him. In this phase, Monte Cristo
sees himself as a "divine angel of retribution." In the end, but after he has accomplished
his goals, he realizes the emptiness of a life of vengeance and moves on to a different
path in life.
The plot is fantastically complex and serpentine. I do not have the space to give
more detail about its general structure.5 Nevertheless, the changing fortunes of Dantes'
life should provide stories that are helpful.
As we begin the novel, Edmond enjoys a high degree of well-being. He is illiterate
and does not have a formal education. But he is a good son, is about to be promoted to
the rank of captain on a ship, and is engaged to be married. His life, intuitively, has a
high level of well-being. The plot develops and several people, each with motives of his
own, conspire against Edmond. They succeed and Edmond is thrown in an island prison
called the Chateau d'If. Edmond never receives much of an explanation as to why he is
in prison. The worst kinds of conditions imaginable are standard fare in this prison. He
is isolated in a small dungeon with very little light, he cannot communicate with anybody
and he has nothing to do. He is more that just bored; his poor conditions and inexplicable
imprisonment almost drive him insane. Edmond's change of fate is an easy case for the
5 Just to give the reader a hint, the planning and bringing about (in detail) of Napoleon's return to The
Continent from exile on the Isle of Elba is but a mere sub-plot in this novel.
concept of well-being: his life is clearly going poorly. His most basic needs (where these
are understood as food, clothing and shelter) are met, but surely, this is not enough.
A while after Edmond enters the Chateau d'If, another prisoner named Abbe Faria
tunnels into Edmond's prison cell. The Abbe is trying to tunnel his way out of the prison
but ends up in Edmond's cell-now the two cells are connected by the tunnel, but the
tunnel does not go outside the walls of the prison. The Abbe is a learned person who has
several books (perhaps they are better called "manuscripts") in his cell and quite a few
contraptions that help make life go better. He begins to teach Edmond to read and then
goes on to teach him various languages and several subjects. Lastly, the Abbe, on his
deathbed, tells Edmond of a great treasure on the small uninhabited island of Monte
Cristo. The Abbe dies and Edmond escapes. Edmond's life has been improving; first he
has someone to talk to; then he develops his talents and he starts to live the kind of life he
wants to live again. Eventually, he gets his freedom.
But now let us look at some more difficult cases. As the novel goes along,
Edmond's conditions improve in various ways. Let us look to see if these improvements
are improvements in well-being.
Edmond goes to Monte Cristo and finds the great, almost unfathomably large,
treasure. Because he does not want people to know that he has escaped from prison, he
changes his name to The Count of Monte Cristo-hereafter referred to as "The Count" or
"Monte Cristo." Has the mere fact that he has found this enormous treasure increased his
well-being? No, the wealth will often provide means to well-being; it does not provide
well-being itself.6 So the concept of well-being cannot be reduced to wealth.
Economists will often look at wealth when trying to measure well-being, and if not
exactly well-being, perhaps utility, which is a concept that is a nearly-related cousin.
Although wealth may be thought of as the possession of money and goods, perhaps our
idea of wealth should also include the ability to spend money and to use and have access
to possessions. So, wealth (as we should think of it) may be a slightly richer notion than
just having money and possessions. Still, this richer notion of wealth is not the same as
well-being. It would be a mistake to identify wealth with well-being, for one can be
wealthy and have a low level of well-being, and one can be poor and yet have a high
level of well-being. Perhaps, however, economists intend merely to treat wealth as a sign
of well-being. If so, I do not have philosophical disagreement with them, but I have
two brief comments. The first is that I am not concerned with finding the signs of well-
being; I am concerned with finding in what well-being consists. Second, many
economists are moving away from wealth as a sign of well-being.8 To bring this
discussion back to The Count of Monte Cristo, there is a correlation between the Count
finding the great treasure and his life going better, but the treasure is only a means to his
6 1 am in concert with Aristotle on this subject. He is looking for an analysis of a similar concept when he
says: "wealth is evidently not the good we are seeking; for it is merely useful and for the sake of something
else" (EN, 1096a6-8).
7 "Utility" as economists use the term, may be after something slightly different than "well-being" as I
8 Both the World Bank and the UN publish, at regular intervals, world-wide data that are far better signs of
well-being (such as literacy rates and broader education data, employment data such as the kinds of jobs
people can have, and so on).
increasing his well-being. The important point is that opulence cannot be identified with
As I mentioned above, after securing the treasure, Monte Cristo has two goals: to
get revenge on those who plotted against him, and to benefit those who truly cared for
him. I will discuss each of these projects in turn, for they raise interesting issues for our
discussion of well-being. First I will discuss the Count's revenge and the possibility of
placing a moral condition on well-being. The Count is willing to go to great extremes to
get his revenge. He does not seem willing to "do whatever it takes," but some of his
actions are, at best, morally inappropriate. At one point, when The Count is trying to
bankrupt one of his wealthy adversaries, he manipulates a kind of commodities exchange
(much like the modern day stock market). Many people lose fortunes due to the Count's
actions (the Count had to have foreseen this), but the Count achieves his goal of ruining
the one person he was after.9
In another instance, the Count gives the wife of one of his adversaries information
about poisons and ways of poisoning people without being detected. The Count then
goes on to give her the poison itself. Monte Cristo does not give her the end or goal (as if
by manipulation or command), she provides that herself. She then proceeds to poison no
fewer than six people-killing five of them, including herself and her son. Monte Cristo
knew of her poisonings, which took place over a number of weeks, and did not stop
9 As is always the case in Dumas' novel, the story is not quite so simple. The man Monte Cristo is trying to
ruin, Danglar, loses great deal of his fortune in the stock market. Danglar then steals a fortune from a
hospital and runs away. Danglar is then captured and imprisoned. When in his cell, he must pay exorbitant
sums of money in order to get any food, thereby bankrupting him, even of his stolen riches. The lesson that
Danglar is to learn is that life is more precious than money (Danglar originally conspired against Monte
Cristo for financial gain).
them.10 Perhaps, in some extremely technical sense, the Count's hands were clean. But,
we must keep in mind that he knowingly contributed to the deaths of many innocent
people. Additionally, the Count conspired to have Villefort's daughter marry her half-
brother (the blood relation of these two individuals unbeknownst to everyone save Monte
Cristo, and perhaps his servants).11 There is surely something wrong in that.
There are other instances of like actions that I will not go into. Monte Cristo does
not seem to be willing merely to ruin the lives of those who conspired to ruin his. For
each of the four who conspire against him, Monte Cristo has a particular lesson to teach
them before they are murdered, commit suicide, or are ruined. Furthermore, Monte
Cristo reveals his true identity to each of them at the time of ruining their lives, perhaps
so that they will learn their lesson better. Despite this moral education that Monte Cristo
is doling out, and despite the fact that he does not seem to be willing to go quite so far as
to do "whatever it takes," some of his actions are wrong, to say the least.
The question we must deal with now is whether the achievement of his plans and
projects, expending and developing of his natural talents towards these immoral ends, and
his pleasure in these projects and results could count as contributing to Monte Cristo's
well-being. The Count is aimed at, or at least involved in, dubious moral enterprises.
Should the above-mentioned actions be excluded from increasing the Count's well-being
10 Villefort's wife (his second), Madame de Villefort, tries to poison all of those people who stand in the
way of making her son inherit several fortunes. Her son with Villefort does not stand to inherit any money
because Villefort has a daughter by his first marriage. The people Madame de Villefort poisons are: (1) a
husband and (2) wife who have a fortune who are relatives on her husband's side, (3) she tries to poison her
father in law, who also has a fortune, but instead kills his servant, (4) she poisons, but does not kill, her
daughter in law. At this point she is found out and she poisons and kills (5) herself and (6) her son.
Villefort originally conspired against Monte Cristo to save his own reputation. This string of poisonings, in
addition to several other events, ruins Villefort's reputation.
1 The details of this plot are too complex to go into.
in virtue of their immorality? My answer is "no." Now, I do not wish to deny that there
is a moral dimension to a life's going well (without restriction), but I am interested in the
specific notion of prudential well-being.
As I have said, I am willing to take it for granted that a life can go better or worse
as evaluated by moral criteria. However, evaluating lives in light of moral criteria is not
the topic of this dissertation. As I will show later in this chapter, some authors who use
terms such as "well-being," "welfare," "individual good," etc. are writing about a concept
that is essentially moral. It is important to be clear, at this early stage, that I am after a
Here is, I think, a helpful way of putting the issue: we can interpret "well-being" in
a narrow and a broad sense. In the broad sense, the "well" of "well-being" is a general
and overarching term of evaluation that applies to one's being or life. If a life goes well
in this broad sense, then the life is more choiceworthy without restriction. In the
narrower sense, "well-being" refers to just a single dimension of choiceworthiness-the
prudential dimension, as I call it.
Returning to the Count's life, my contention is that he can have a higher level of
prudential well-being when he succeeds in his projects, develops and uses his talents, and
is pleased in his pursuits and successes, even when his projects are immoral. So, when
the Count manipulates the commodities exchange and thereby bankrupts his adversary
(also bankrupting people completely uninvolved in the conspiracy against the Count), or
when he gives poison to the wife of another adversary knowing full well that she will
poison innocent people, the Count's life goes prudentially better. He enhances his
It is also possible for a project to be morally right and increase the agent's
prudential well-being. It is a confusion to think that morally wrong actions always
increase well-being. It is equally a confusion to think that morally right actions always
decrease well-being (or do not contribute to well-being). It is just that to enhance a life
morally is not necessarily to enhance it with respect to prudential well-being, nor vice
versa. So although I illustrate the distinction between moral and prudential well-being
with a discussion of the Count's immoral actions, please do not read too much into this.
1.3 Well-Being: Narrow and Broad Concepts
I would like to examine two fairly recent works where I think philosophers might
seem to be after the same concept as I am (the narrow concept of prudential well-being),
but are in reality, after the broader concept of unrestricted goodness of a life. David
Brink, in the final chapter of his book Moral Realism and the Foundations of Ethics
examines various proposals for theories of value. He uses terms such as "well-being"
and "welfare" in addition to "value." Brink mentions a case of a Nazi who has plans to
persecute Jews and claims that the Nazi's accomplishment of his goals in this example
could not count to increase the value of that life (Brink, pg. 227). The particular
conception of well-being Brink settles on leaves room for satisfaction of "reasonable"
and "admissible" projects as enhancing one's well-being (Ibid, pg. 233).12 Given what
Brink says, and the example of the Nazi that he uses, it seems that Brink places a moral
requirement on what can count as one's good.
12 Brink's final and full-bodied version of well-being is decidedly Aristotelian. But I am not at this moment
concerned with which conception of well-being is best. I am here trying to get a fix on the concept of well-
being and be clear about which concept I am after. It is how Brink argues against certain conceptions of
well-being that tells us what he takes the concept to be.
We have had to get to Brink's concept of well-being indirectly: that is, we have had
to figure out what concept he was after by looking at how he argues for his favored
conception. The next author I will discuss speaks more directly about well-being at the
level of concepts-at the level of generality of concepts as opposed to conceptions.
Stephen Darwall, in his recent book Welfare and Rational Care offers an analysis
of welfare. He says: "What is for someone's good or welfare is what one ought to desire
and promote insofar as one cares for him" (Darwall, pg. 7, italics omitted). Darwall uses
all of the regular synonyms for welfare such as "a person's good, interest, well-being, or
welfare" (Ibid, pg. 1) and even "prudential value" (Ibid, pg. 12). Given this, one might
think that he is after the same concept I am, however, I intend to show that he is after a
different concept-which turns out to be much like the concept that Brink is after.
The "ought" that appears in Darwall's analysis of welfare is not obviously moral.
If it were, I would well be on my way to showing that Darwall has in mind a concept just
like Brink's. Unfortunately, things are not that easy. Elsewhere, Darwall replaces
"ought" with "should" (Ibid, pg. 8) and "would rationally" (Ibid, pg. 9). I do not think
that Darwall is using "rational" in a moral sense. Darwall gives a general idea of what he
means by "rational" by allowing "makes sense, is warranted or justified" to replace it
(Ibid, pg. 9).
Another important issue is that Darwall's analysis is counterfactual in nature. The
"insofar as one cares for him" phrase is important here. Darwall means that a person's
welfare consists in what one would rationally desire for the person were one to care for
him. We could even go so far as to give a "possible worlds" analysis of this: What is in
someone's welfare is what one rationally wants for him in the nearest possible world in
which one were to care for him.13
Now that I have explained Darwall's analysis, I can examine whether or not he is
after the same concept I am. Darwall's claim is that something, x, contributes to
someone's, A's, welfare if and only if x is what someone, B, would rationally want for A,
were B to care for A, other things being equal. Nothing excludes A and B from being the
same person (Ibid, pg. 20). Now, as I understand this, Darwall is searching for an
account of something akin to, or even identical to, the good life. I do not see any
elements of his formulation that limit the range of choices to prudential value in the
narrower sense described above. The morally good life, prudentially good life, and
perhaps even the aesthetically good life, all could be elements of the kind of life one
would rationally want for someone, were one to care for that someone.
Darwall, like Brink, ultimately chooses an Aristotelian conception of well-being.
Brink, Darwall, and myself use many of the same terms for what we are after: "welfare,"
"well-being," "self-interest," "prudential value," and so on. However, if I am right, we
are after very different concepts. There are broad and narrow concepts of well-being: the
broad concept is similar to the concept of the good life, the narrower concept excludes at
least moral value and focuses only on prudential value. Further explanation of what this
narrower value consists in must wait. They are after a broader concept and I am after the
I do not claim that Brink and Darwall are wrong in any serious way. I do take
myself to have made the difference between us clear: we are after different concepts
13 I am uncertain on whether "insofar as" in Darwall's usage has any implications about the degree of care.
The degree of caring could be relevant to Darwall's account, but the text is not clear on that issue.
despite the fact that we use the same terms. I take "prudential well-being" to denote the
concept of well-being I am after in this dissertation-this is contrary to the usage of
Darwall and Brink, but I think that "prudential" is slightly more apt to the narrower
concept that I am trying to explicate than it is to the wider concept that is of interest to
Darwall and Brink.
Let us return briefly to the story of the Count. The Count's revenge then, even
though extreme and immoral, would still count as increasing his well-being. At least, it
would not be excluded in virtue of its being immoral. Something similar should be said
about projects which are morally good. Something should not be included in the list of
what makes someone's life go well (in the sense I am after), merely in virtue of its moral
goodness. There is a great deal more that must be explained about the concept I am after,
and for this, we must continue with The Count of Monte Cristo.
1.4 Well-Being and Self-Regarding Interests
As I mentioned above, the Count directs his immense wealth and talents towards a
pair of purposes-heaping benefits on his true friends and seeking revenge on those who
plotted against him. I have already discussed the relevance of the motive of revenge, but
what of the motive of heaping benefits on those who really did care for him? Although
the bulk of the novel is dedicated to the Count's revenge, the first thing the Count does
with his newly found wealth and secret identity is to benefit those who truly loved him.
His mother died before he went to prison, his father died while he was in prison, his
fiancee married a man who (unbeknownst to her) was one of those who originally plotted
against him, but his former employer, Monsieur Morrel, the owner of the ship Monte
Cristo was to captain, is still alive and much in need of help. Morrel is in debt and cannot
afford to pay the debt back. Furthermore, Morrel's reputation is at stake. The Count
risks the loss of his secret identity to help Morrel out. Monte Cristo then gives Morrel
money to pay off his debts. 14 While we may not view the Count's gift of the money as a
sacrifice (given that he has so much of it), the danger of people finding out who he is and
where his fortune came from are real and significant threats to his well-being.
Is the success of Monte Cristo's plan to save Morrel an increase in his (Monte
Cristo's) well-being? In some broad sense, clearly the Count gets what is in his interests,
but this may be a case where the interests are not sufficiently self-regarding to count as
prudential. As I interpret the story, the Count's actions are self-sacrificial. They do not
enhance the Count's well-being, even though they serve the count's goals. To understand
self-sacrificial acts, we need to distinguish between self-regarding and other-regarding
interests. I will discuss this distinction in detail in a later chapter. For now, however,
notice that, intuitively, self-sacrificial behavior may lead to the satisfaction of other-
regarding interests but normally not the satisfaction of self-regarding interests. Indeed,
with acts of self-sacrifice, there is setback (at least as foreseen by the self-sacrificing
agent) to self-regarding interests.
There are those who might deny that there are genuine acts of self-sacrifice. Let us
call the theory that everyone always acts in her self-interest "Psychological Egoism."
Psychological Egoists must deny that there are any real acts of self-sacrifice. As I stated
above, the interests, the satisfaction of which enhance prudential well-being, must be
self-regarding. If Psychological Egoism were true, then the requirement that the interests
14 In what should now be a familiar dramatic fashion, the details of the story are more complex. Morrel,
who takes his honor very seriously, determines that he will kill himself at the moment just before the debt
is due-thereby saving the honor of his family. The Count, in a secret identity (I suppose this would be a
"second-level" secret identity), as a representative of a banking house, purchases all of Morrel's
outstanding debts to other banking houses and then forgives the entire sum. Of course, all of this happens
just a moment before Morrel attempts to commits suicide.
be self-regarding would be vacuous or empty in a strong sense. This is so because,
according to Psychological Egoism, all actions are motivated by self-regard, and thus no
interests are excluded from being relevant to one's prudential well-being.15 Now, I think
that Psychological Egoism is false and I will argue against it in a later chapter of this
dissertation.16 But for now, let us assume Psychological Egoism is false.
Many philosophers have recently dealt with the distinction between "self-
regarding" and "other-regarding" interests, though they all use different terms in drawing
the distinction.17 The basic idea is that there must be some restriction placed on which
interests are such that their satisfaction counts as enhancing the agent's prudential well-
being. As I said I will discuss the distinction between self- and other-regarding interests
in more detail in a later chapter of this dissertation. At this moment, the important point
is that a person's prudential well-being is not necessarily enhanced by the satisfaction of
Returning to The Count of Monte Cristo, when the Count saves Morrel from his
debts, the Count's well-being is not enhanced, so I say. The Count's act is self-sacrificial
and results in the satisfaction of his interests, but the interests which are satisfied are
other regarding-they concern the welfare of Morrel and not the Count. A detailed
15 The Psychological Egoist, for all I have said, could allow that there are other-regarding interests but
nevertheless claim that they never motivate. This is a conceptual possibility, but it does not seem to have
much initial plausibility. I will discuss it in a later chapter.
16 In a way, my project would be simpler if Psychological Egoism were true because the requirement that
interests be self-regarding would not require any explanation. However, because I think Psychological
Egoism false, I take on the burden of explaining the distinction between self- and other-regarding interests.
17 Two notable examples are Ronald Dworkin and Thomas Scanlon. Dworkin, in his Sovereign Virtue,
distinguishes between personal and impersonal preferences for a theory of welfare (pg. 25-28). Scanlon
discusses a similar distinction, though using different language, in his What We Owe to Each Other (pg.
114-115, 120-124). Both authors claim to be influenced by Parfit's discussion of this topic in his Reasons
andPersons (pg. 493-502).
explanation of how this is possible, on my preferred conception of well-being, is in a later
1.5 Well-Being and Aesthetic Value
So far, I have explained why we need to understand prudential well-being as
involving the satisfaction of non-moral, and self-regarding interests of the individual.
Might there be more restrictions on which interests, when satisfied, increase well-being?
I would like to look at another proposal.
I have briefly mentioned above the possibility of regarding certain aesthetic
characteristics of a life as enhancing the overall prudential well-being of the person. This
idea has not been much discussed. I think it is interesting, however, so I will look at a
few accounts of aesthetic value and then address some significant possibilities.
G.E. Moore famously claims that the appreciation of beautiful objects is
intrinsically valuable. He also makes the stronger and more controversial claim that
beautiful objects are intrinsically valuable apart from any appreciation of them.18 Now,
beauty as such, cannot enhance anyone's prudential well-being. That is because the
beauty of beautiful objects might not be in a person's life or appropriately related to a
person's life. Well-being is necessarily something of value in a person's life. It is not
merely an impersonal value
18 For Moore's arguments by the method of absolute isolation, see 50 and 119-121 of Principia Ethica.
It should also be noted that Moore, in a later work Ethics, does not mention beauty as intrinsically valuable
and even is inclined to adopt a view that rejects the possibility of beauty being intrinsically valuable. In
Ethics, Moore claims: "it does seem as if nothing can be an intrinsic good unless it contains both some
feeling and also some other form of consciousness; and, as we have said before, it seems possible than
amongst the feelings contained must always be some amount of pleasure" (Moore, Ethics, pg. 107). This
requirement of pleasure, of course, eliminates the possibility of objects being intrinsically valuable in virtue
of their beauty alone.
What follows from this discussion is that if aesthetic value enhances someone's
well-being, it must somehow involve the agent whose well-being is at stake. There seem
to me to be three obvious ways to go here: (1) we can look at the beauty of a person, or
(2) we can look at the subjective or first-person aesthetic appreciation of beautiful things
by an agent and claim that that has something to do with his well-being, or (3) we can
look at the aesthetic beauty of the life story of an agent. One thing to keep in mind as I
proceed through these three options is that I am not attempting to determine whether or
not these ways of involving beauty in one's life are really valuable. I am concerned with
whether they could enhance one's well-being in the narrow sense, solely in virtue of their
I begin with the first idea, the idea that a person's well-being can be enhanced by
her beauty. This idea does not have much plausibility as serving as a component of
prudential well-being, but an examination should prove helpful. A discussion of Oscar
Wilde's work, A Picture ofDorian Gray, should illustrate the proposal that is on the
table. I will briefly summarize the story. As the novel begins, Dorian Gray is young and
extremely handsome. He is, at least to a large extent, innocent and ignorant of his good
looks (or at least the extent of them). Basil Halliward, a developing painter, is
completing a portrait of Dorian Gray. Halliward is so influenced and inspired by the
beauty of Gray that he is convinced that he can develop a new style of painting for the
modern age with his portrait. Upon completion, Dorian looks at it and realizes the power
of his own striking beauty. Struck by his own beauty, Dorian exclaims:
"How sad it is!" murmured Dorian Gray, with his eyes still fixed upon his own
portrait. "How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this
picture will remain always young. It will never be older than this particular day of
June ... If it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young,
and the picture that was to grow old! For that-for that-I would give everything!
Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul
for that!" (Wilde, pg. 168)
Something quite magical happens at this exclamation. As Gray eventually finds out, he is
to remain forever young while the image of him in the portrait will age over time. Gray
keeps his remarkable good looks while the portrait shows the signs of age.
This first proposal does not even seem to be a plausible account of how aesthetic
value could enhance a person's well-being. I have never heard of anyone endorsing it in
philosophical writing. The aesthetic value that makes a life go better must go deeper than
the mere physical beauty of a person. The story of Dorian Gray's life is in fact supposed
to illustrate that something starts to go very bad for him at the time of the magical
transformation; that his life goes worse, not better, as he continues to live as a beautiful
person physically. Could prudential well-being be associated with this kind of beauty?
On this account, Gray's well-being would forever be enhanced by his beauty. This is
surely implausible. I am certainly willing to grant that, throughout history, beauty has
been instrumental to prudential well-being, but it simply cannot be an element in a
plausible account of the of prudential well-being.19 As we will see below with the third
proposal, there is another way of thinking about the beauty of a life that serves as a far
more plausible candidate for being a component of prudential value.
What of the second proposal, the idea that a person's prudential well-being can be
enhanced by aesthetic experience and appreciation? The third major character of The
Picture ofDorian Gray is Lord Henry Wotton. He is a friend of Basil's and turns out to
19 Merely being beautiful is not even plausibly thought of as constituting some broader concept of well-
being, if there is such a value. The case of Dorian Gray illustrates this in that Dorian is a morally wicked
person and yet remains beautiful.
have a profound influence upon Dorian Gray. Harry, as he is called, expounds his theory
of how to live in several speeches throughout the novel. Dorian comes to accept and live
by Harry's theories; which promote a kind of aestheticism.
Perhaps the most basic and fundamental element of Lord Henry's theory is
captured in the following quotation: "The aim of life is self-development. To realize
one's nature perfectly-that is what each of us is here for" (Ibid, pg. 158). Lord Henry
believes that there is an end of life and that is to develop one's nature. The theory is
described twice as a "new Hedonism" (Ibid, pg. 164, 286), though I think Wilde uses the
term very loosely. On this note, Lord Henry advises: "Be always searching for new
sensations. Be afraid of nothing ... a new Hedonism-that is what our century wants"
(Ibid, pg. 164). We need to be careful in our understanding of what kinds of sensations
Lord Henry is talking about. I do not believe that he means just any sensation, for he
already limits it to pleasures (understood broadly). But if we look at his disciple, Dorian
and his actions, Dorian clearly seeks artistic sensations, specifically, the sensations of
beautiful things.20 So although the theory of Lord Henry begins in abstract terms such as
"developing one's self," something more like a kind of aestheticism or pursuit of
aesthetic experience is what he has in mind.21 An additional idea that seems implied by
what Lord Henry says is that it is not just aesthetic experiences that are to be pursued, but
aesthetic appreciation. There seems to be an "appreciative" element in Lord Henry's
20 Indeed, art is described as s'iliplk a method of procuring extraordinary sensations" (Ibid, pg. 379).
21 There was a movement that began in 1880's England and ran through the turn of the century sometimes
called 'Aestheticism.' For an excellent, but brief, discussion of this movement and Wilde's role in it, see
Stephen Calloway's "Wilde and the Dandyism of the Senses." As Calloway describes the movement, it is
based in developing one's aesthetic response to beauty in the world. This, of course, is slightly different
from merely having a lot of aesthetic experiences. One explanation for tying together Lord Henry's claims
about (1) developing one's self and (2) having a myriad of aesthetic experience, primarily of beauty and
involving pleasure, is that in these experiences, Dorian can refine his aesthetic sensibilities.
advice in that he seems to suggest a more cognitive, active, and critical element is
necessary for the right kind of aesthetic value, rather than just passively "experiencing"
something. Aesthetic appreciation makes for a far more plausible account of something
that enhances well-being.
The entirety of chapter XI of the novel is dedicated to the pursuits and experiences
of Dorian Gray. Wonderful music and jewelry are at the forefront of what he seeks to
experience. However, he also fancies converting to the Catholic Church for the
experiences that accompany Catholic worship. Gray also resorts to opium use, though
that could be interpreted as consistent with his pursuit of fantastic aesthetic experience.
This aestheticism so dominates Dorian Gray that the suicide of someone he once loved
doesn't make him feel sad, but instead, he appreciates the beauty of the tragedy of her
life. It would be a grave misunderstanding to think that tragedy is ugly; tragedy is not
ugly. Tragedy is among the most beautiful of art forms. The way the story is set up,
Dorian, in his pursuit of aesthetic experience, becomes full of vice and lacks all moral
virtue.22 This change in moral character is reflected (paradoxically), as increased
ugliness and decay in the painting.
This second proposal for a way in which something of aesthetic value could
contribute to well-being seems in danger of confusing aesthetic value in a life with
aesthetic valuing in a life. Even if a person had a great deal of aesthetic appreciation, she
still could live an ugly life. Indeed, Dorian Gray seems to be such an example of this.
22 The aesthetic movement often eschewed morality. The term "decadent" is often attached to "aesthetic"
in describing the movement. There are numerous instances in The Picture ofDorian Gray where Lord
Henry claims that ethics has no role in aesthetics. On my schema, I would categorize the aesthetic
movement as the pursuit of aesthetic value to the deliberate exclusion of moral value-with perhaps a
somewhat surprising silence on prudential value (though I am but an amateur historian).
One of the things that makes The Picture ofDorian Gray such a thought provoking novel
is that Dorian seems to have beauty in his person (the first proposal) and in his
experiences (the second proposal) and yet still he fails to be a beautiful person in a clear
and strong sense.23 The second proposal seems either wrong or incomplete as an account
of how aesthetic value can enhance well-being, even when "well-being" is understood in
the broad sense.
I am willing to grant for the sake of argument that the aesthetic value of a life has
something to do with the aesthetic experiences and appreciation of the person who is
living the life, though I suspect that many will disagree with that. Still, I do not think that
the aesthetic value of a life, so conceived, can plausibly be thought to enhance prudential
well-being, in virtue of its aesthetic aspect. The initial plausibility of this proposal has to
do with the fact that aesthetic appreciation seems like a specific kind of pleasure. Lord
Henry suggests aesthetic appreciation is a kind of pleasure. If indeed he is right, then this
second proposal could be accommodated by certain conceptions of prudential well-being,
though only very loosely, as I will explain below. It is important to note that, on this
reading of aesthetic appreciation, I am not saying that aesthetic appreciation does
contribute to prudential well-being, but merely that the idea that it does it is not ruled out
Is aesthetic appreciation a kind of pleasure? It may be. J.S. Mill, in the second
chapter of his Utilitarianism, is famous for distinguishing between higher and lower
23 Interestingly, if I am right, one of the lessons of the novel is a rejection of the very aestheticism that
Oscar Wilde was supposed to endorse; or at least a much more sophisticated account of what is to be
pursued according to aestheticism must be provided.
24 Here, I am using "concept" and "conception" in their technical usages from earlier in the chapter.
pleasures. The higher pleasures are supposed to be the intellectual ones while the lower
pleasures are supposed to be the bodily ones. If intellectual pleasures such as the
pleasures of philosophical contemplation or friendship could count as "higher quality"
pleasures, it is not clear why aesthetic appreciation should not also count as intellectual
pleasures. Mill thinks that a cultivated mind allows for the happiest sort of person
because of the increased potential for higher pleasures. Mill says:
A cultivated mind-I do not mean that of philosopher, but any mind to which the
fountains of knowledge have been opened, and which has been taught, in any
tolerable degree, to exercise its faculties-finds sources of inexhaustible interest in
all that surrounds it; in the objects of nature, the achievements of art, the
imaginations of poetry, the incidents of history, the ways of mankind past and
present, and their prospects in the future. (Mill, Ch. 2, paragraph 13)
In this quotation, Mill lists several things that increase well-being, including taking an
interest in the achievements of art. However, it is important to understand that for Mill,
all of the items on his list increase well-being in virtue of their being sorts of pleasure. It
is not in virtue of the aesthetic aspect that a mental state, such as aesthetic appreciation,
could enhance prudential well-being.
As we have seen above, aesthetic appreciation makes for a better account of
something of value within a life that could enhance well-being. But it appears that
aesthetic appreciation is a kind of pleasure. After all, one can have an aesthetic
experience of something disgusting or ugly; there is no requirement that the thing
experienced is of positive aesthetic value. Aesthetic appreciation, on the other hand,
seems to require that the thing appreciated, at least by the lights of the appreciatorr," be
beautiful in some way. We could even set up a new category; call it "aesthetic
disapproval." Aesthetic disapproval, let us say, involves aesthetic experience and
employs the intellectual faculties but its object is taken by the appreciatorr" to have
negative aesthetic value.
What makes one attitude aesthetic appreciation and another aesthetic disapproval?
One very intuitive answer is that aesthetic appreciation is a preferred state of mind while
aesthetic disapproval is not preferred. This fits neatly with Mill's account of what makes
a pleasure higher and lower-choice by competent and informed judges (Mill, Ch. 2).
Might there be other answers to the question about what makes a state of mind that of
aesthetic appreciation as opposed to aesthetic disapproval? There could be, but it is hard
to see what they would look like. Pursuing other lines of thought would be highly
speculative. I think that the important point is that the more we look at what aesthetic
appreciation could consist in, the more it fits with a very popular and influential account
of pleasure. Pleasures are not ruled out conceptually as candidates for constituents of
well-being: the arguments and debates over the various conceptions of prudential well-
being is something I will get into later in this dissertation
I do not think that the second proposal is a plausible account of how well-being of a
life can be enhanced (as I think the case of Dorian Gray illustrates). Moreover, it has
trouble distinguishing itself from a kind of sophisticated pleasure or desire theory. If
aesthetic appreciation is a kind of pleasure then since one possible view of prudential
well-being is that it consists in a pleasurable life, we certainly cannot rule out the second
proposal conceptually. However, this is not a problem for my proposal about prudential
value. I say that only non-aesthetic interests are such that their satisfaction enhances
well-being. But this does not exclude pleasure taken in aesthetic objects, so it does not
rule out the second proposal. However, I think that there is a far better proposal for a
way in which aesthetic value in a life can enhance well-being, and I turn to it now.
The third, and in my mind, most plausible account as to a way in which something
of aesthetic value might enhance well-being is that a kind of narrative structure of a life
might do it. Lives have narrative structures. More properly speaking, life stories have
narrative structures. Let us set aside the difference for now. Some lives have more
beautiful narrative structures than others. The proposal to be examined is that the
narrative structure of a life enhances or detracts from the prudential well-being of the
person living that life. Let me return to the Count's life because, although it is far-
fetched and fantastic, it is not mystical and supernatural as Dorian Gray's life is. Even
though the Count's life is fiction, it is more naturalistic than is Dorian Gray's.
The Count's life has a certain literary quality to it. Let us say that a life has a
"literary quality" if it has a pleasing narrative structure. Is the prudential value of a life
always enhanced by events that give it a more please narrative structure? Some
philosophers have thought so; possibly Michael Slote and more likely David Velleman.
Slote, in chapter One of his Goods and Virtues, at least hints at making literary
quality a component of the goodness of a life.25 Slote claims: "Human life seems, as I
have said, to possess a natural, though socially influenced, development of different times
or stages of life ... I believe that such a division [youth, adulthood, and old age] into
'times of life' tends to be accompanied, in most of us, by a sense of the greater
25 Technically, the "goodness of a life" is not necessarily the same concept as "well-being." If Slote is after
a different concept than the concept of well-being, then what he claims of "the goodness of a life" can be
extended to "well-being" as a thought experiment. If Slote is after the same concept that I am, then of
course what he says applied directly. Whether direct or indirect in application, Slote's arguments and ideas
are worthy of critical examination, if for no other reason that to clarify my own position.
importance or significance of certain times of life in comparison with others" (Slote pg.
13-14). Slote calls his view, the view that the timing of a success (achievement, or good)
matters to how good a life is, a "time preference" view. Slote does not necessarily
commit himself to the claim that the good of a person must have a literary quality, but as
I understand the time preference view, he comes close. Slote claims that successes in
"the prime of life" are comparatively more important to those of childhood and old age
(Ibid, pg. 18, 26). He also suggests that there are certain activities that are appropriate to
each period of a life (Ibid, pg. 19-21).
David Velleman, in his "Well-Being and Time," builds on Slote's views discussed
above. Velleman goes further than Slote explicitly to claim that the amount of well-being
one has depends on the "narrative or dramatic relations" of events in one's life (Velleman
1991, pg. 49). However, to describe Velleman's view of well-being by only looking at
the aspect that includes narrative or dramatic relations (or life stories) would be
incomplete. For Velleman sees well-being as radically split into two distinct
components: momentary well-being and well-being over time. On this distinction,
Velleman says: "I therefore favor the principle that a person's self-interest is radically
divided, in the sense that he has an interest in features of his life that aren't at all
reducible to, and hence cannot be exchanged with, patterns of momentary well-being"
(Ibid, pg. 61-62). Velleman calls momentary well-being a first-order good while well-
being over time is a second order good. A second order good is a "valuable state of
affairs consisting in some fact about other goods" (Ibid, pg. 58). Second order goods are
irreducible to first order goods if they "at least possess value over and above that of
[their] component first-order goods" (Ibid, pg. 58). The basic idea that Velleman is after
is that we can imagine two lives that have the same amount of overall momentary well-
being, but different amounts of value temporallyy extended well-being). A more detailed
discussion of Velleman's views will come later. For example, here are graphs of two
lives with the same amount of overall momentary well-being:
Although the momentary well-being of lives 1 and 2 differ at almost every single
moment, the overall momentary well-being, when summed up at the end of both lives is
the same. The basic intuition that Velleman is trying to get at is that the first life is more
valuable than the second, even though they have the same amount of momentary well-
Velleman goes further than Slote because while Slote's explanation of the time
preference view allows for a formula that adds (or multiplies) goodness at each stage of
life thus resulting in increases at particular periods and not others (as I explained above),
Velleman's does not admit of taking momentary well-being and applying a formula to
generate well-being over time. As he says:
Some of the value judgments considered above are incompatible with any reduction
of diachronic well-being [well-being over time] to synchronic well-being
[momentary well-being], no matter how sophisticated an algorithm of discounting
and weighting is applied. Because an event's contribution to the value of one's life
depends on its narrative relation to other events, a life's value can never be
computed by an algorithm applied to bare amounts of momentary well-being ...
(Ibid, pg. 60)26
The narrative relations between events (which are required to get diachronic well-
being) suggest a much more complicated model than suggested by the charts above. The
charts above only deal with amounts of well-being at any given time in hypothetical
agents' lives. Velleman requires a more substantial account of the content of the life in
order to assess its diachronic well-being.
He does not provide a formula that would enable us to determine the amount of
diachronic well-being in a life, given a detailed sequence of synchronic well-being. Such
a general formula would have to involve a complex weighing of narrative and dramatic
I certainly do not think that just any literary quality of a life would enhance a
person's prudential well-being. Imagine that the Count's life ended in the prison; we
would certainly call his life a tragedy. Tragedies have a literary quality of their own, but
it would be absurd to say that a life full of tragedy is thereby enhanced with respect to
prudential well-being. As was mentioned above, tragedies are beautiful, not ugly, so the
aesthetic value of a tragic life would be positive. But what makes a tragedy a tragedy is
that something goes horribly wrong in a life. In many tragedies, the tragic element is an
extreme decrease in prudential well-being.
2Velleman calls his account of well-being over time sionglwg irreducible" (Ibid, pg. 60). Slote's time
preference view would allow for some level of reducibility: Velleman says that Slote's time preference
view has "weak irreducibility" (Ibid, pg. 60).
What if we restrict the kind of literary quality that we take to enhance well-being in
a way that excludes tragedy? Now imagine that the story ends with the Count finding the
great treasure. This life would have a literary quality to it-but it would not be a tragedy.
Let me say his life story in this case would be an "uplifting drama." Is the life story in an
uplifting drama a story of a life that thereby has an enhanced level of well-being? No, I
do not think so.
A preliminary worry is that throughout the third proposal, no fuss has been made of
the distinction between a life and a life story; only the second can properly be said to
have a narrative structure. How could a life go well in virtue of having a life story of a
certain sort? This seems a puzzle to which I have not heard an adequate account and do
not have even a clear idea of how an account would go.
Secondly, the restriction to "uplifting dramas" appears adhoc. If we were trying to
distinguish between beautiful and ugly life stories, trying to find a distinguishing
characteristic would not be adhoc, for we would then be trying to find the distinction
between positive and negative aesthetic values. However, the distinction between
uplifting dramas and tragedies is of a different sort. Here, we are trying to distinguish
between two sorts of beautiful life story. I can see no real motive for building this
distinction into the account of aesthetic value apart from trying to fit it into prudential
well-being. Both uplifting dramas and tragedies are aesthetically valuable on initial
construal for the third account of aesthetic value. It is only after it is clear the account of
aesthetic value could not plausibly serve as an account of what enhances one's prudential
well-being that the distinction between uplifting dramas and tragedies is made. There
must be some sort of external, non-adhoc, and principled reason for the distinction. The
proponent of the third account cannot claim that it is having a beautiful life story, as such,
that increases prudential well-being. After all, both tragedies and uplifting dramas can
make for beautiful life stories.
Thirdly, it is not clear that we could properly classify the literary types tragedy and
uplifting drama without recourse to the concept of prudential well-being. So if we refer
to the narrative relations of an uplifting drama in our account of well-being, our account
may be circular. For example, the literary quality of an uplifting drama could require
lows before highs, while a tragedy could require highs before lows. If these dramatic
relations require that there be some variation in prudential well-being, some dip below a
high level of well-being and an overcoming of some obstacle, then we must have some
independent way of getting at the concept of prudential well-being.
Although it may seem as though I disagree with much of what Velleman says, I
actually only disagree with the thought that prudential well-being could be constituted,
wholly or in part, by the narrative and dramatic relations between events in one's life,
where these narrative and dramatic relations are a matter of its aesthetic value. That
leaves a lot of room for agreement. Velleman thinks that well-being is radically divided
between diachronic and synchronic well-being and that diachronic well-being is
constituted by the events that compose synchronic well-being plus the relations between
these events. I can agree with this. So when Velleman says that well-being is radically
divided, I can agree with him-in a way, but with a different distinction and for different
reasons. I can agree with the idea that there is diachronic well-being, and even
diachronic prudential well-being. I think, however, that the diachronic prudential well-
being must be determined by something other than narrative and dramatic relations.
So none of the proposals for aesthetic value I have critically discussed turn out to
be plausible candidates for something that would enhance prudential well-being by partly
constituting it. There may be some further proposal about aesthetic value and its relation
to prudential value. I feel however, that the burden of proof is on those who wish to
claim that aesthetic value is a constituent of prudential well-being.
I would like to return to a distinction I made above between two different concepts
of well-being and compare the theories of Velleman, Brink and Darwall. On the one
hand we have a broader concept where something like the "good life" is meant by "well-
being." On the other hand, we have the narrower concept where something like
"prudential value" is meant. If I understand Velleman correctly (and this is somewhat
tentative, because he only has room to give a sketch of his overall theory), he is after a
broader concept of well-being. Brink and Darwall use "well-being" in the broad sense to
include at least prudential and moral goodness. Velleman may use "well-being" in a
different way to include prudential and aesthetic goodness.27 If Velleman, Brink,
Darwall are after a different concept than I am, then in some ways, we might not really
disagree about "well-being." I can agree with what they say about the broader concept of
well-being and they could agree with the narrower concept.28
At this point, we should have a general idea of what non-moral, non-aesthetic, self-
regarding interests are. I claim that satisfaction of such interests is constitutive of
27 Darwall's phrase "what we would rationally want for someone were we to care for them," as I
understand it, is a characterization of overarching value in a life. So if aesthetic value is indeed a separate
and basic value, then it too would be a feature included in Darwall's concept of well-being.
28 Interestingly, even though they are after different concepts than I am, I will discuss the plausibility of
their conceptions of well-being as candidates for the narrower concept I am after. So we will see the work
of Darwall, Brink and Velleman again.
prudential well-being. In what follows in the next chapter, I will argue for a particular
conception of the concept of prudential well-being. In the subsequent chapters, I will
continue to develop and defend what I take to be the best conception of prudential well-
CONCEPTIONS OF WELL-BEING
Having just distinguished between a few different concepts of well-being, and
made clear that I am after the concept of prudential well-being, I now turn to the
conceptions. First I will give relatively brief accounts of the various conceptions. Next, I
will explore the various conceptions by applying them to the two primary protagonists in
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, among other hypothetical cases. Lastly, I will critically
analyze the conceptions in light of what they imply about these cases.
I will adopt a four-part taxonomy of the basic conceptions of well-being. There are
alternative taxonomies, but this one is the best for my purposes.1 The four groups of
conceptions of well-being are as follows: (1) mental state theories, (2) desire-satisfaction
theories, (3) explanatory objective theories, and (4) pluralistic theories. Mental state
theories treat some mental state, such as pleasure or happiness, as constitutive of well-
being.2 Desire-satisfaction theories treat the satisfaction of desires, or the satisfaction of
' Two alternative taxonomies are: (1) a two-way taxonomy as found in Griffin (1986) and Sumner (1996),
and (2) a three-way taxonomy as found in Parfit (1986), Scanlon (1998) and others. The two-way
taxonomy traditionally divides the conceptions into subjective and objective groups. But what features one
uses to make the distinction is not an easy and obvious issue. The three-way taxonomy as found in Parfit
and others leaves an important group of theories out. There is an alternative four-way taxonomy in Shelly
Kagan (1992). Kagan's four-way taxonomy is composed of two distinctions which cut across each other
(subjective/objective and internal/external) making for four basic theories. This four-part taxonomy may
make things a bit clearer, but the importance of the categorization is unclear. Additionally, Kagan's
taxonomy still leaves out an important group of theories (what I call "pluralistic" theories). Now, I do not
think that the other two other types of taxonomy are wrong, strictly speaking, but I do think them lacking in
the virtues of my four-way taxonomy.
2 1 do not in this dissertation use "constitute" as some philosophers do. Some philosophers think of "x
constitutes y" as asserting a specific metaphysical relation between x and y-a reductive metaphysical
relation. In this dissertation I use "constitute" in a way that is compatible with reductionism, yet does not
commit me to reductionism. I attempt to capture what some philosophers call the "making" relation by my
use of "constitutes."
some relevantly construed desire set, as constitutive of well-being. Explanatory
objectivists treat a single feature, such as a person's developing or exercising her human
nature, as constituting well-being.3 The first three families of conceptions of well-being
are monistic in that they treat some single feature as constituting well-being. The fourth
type of conception of well-being is pluralistic in that it treats multiple factors as
constituting one's well-being. Pluralists, on this characterization, treat each of the factors
as independently constitutive of well-being. In a later chapter, I will discuss what I call
"mixed theories" of well-being that combine features from theories in more than one
group. For mixed theories, well-being only increases when two or more features
combine. Mixed theories qualify as monistic because although the feature that
constitutes well-being according to them is not elemental, they are still best thought of as
picking out only a single feature that constitutes well-being, though that feature is
complex.4 Pluralists treat each factor as self-sufficient for constituting well-being.
2.1 Four Conceptions
2.1.1. Mental State Conceptions
Let us first examine mental state conceptions of well-being. A person's well-being,
on mental state accounts, is composed exclusively of some set of mental states of the
person. Accordingly, a person's well-being at a time is set by his or her occurent mental
3 I draw the terms "explanatory objectivism" from Kitcher's "Essence and Perfection." Please see 2.1.3 for
a more detailed account of this sort of theories.
4 For what it is worth, I confess that the distinction between "complex" and "elemental" features is fuzzy. I
have set up the arguments for and against the conceptions so that little, if anything, depends on the
distinction. The only thing of this dissertation that depends on the distinction is the i,,i,:., 'I,, of the
chapters: I deal with elemental monistic theories in this chapter and complex monistic theories in a later
chapter. So the distinction really just ends up affecting when I deal with the theories rather than how I deal
with them. Also, as a bit of an aside, one should recognize that it is possible to develop a pluralistic
conception of well-being composed of mixed features.
states at that time. Thus, the presence of the correct kind of mental state in the past is not
constitutive of well-being in the present. Naturally, there are restrictions as to which kind
of mental state matters for well-being. Two very popular candidates are pleasure and
happiness. Of course, "pleasure" and "happiness" are themselves, at least to some extent,
up for definition as well. Philosophers have taken the terms to mean many different
things. I do not have time to pursue the history of the conceptions of these two mental
states, if indeed they are even different. But some further exposition is necessary.
The strategy that virtually all mental state proponents adopt is to assert that well-
being is pleasure or happiness and then goes on to characterize pleasure or happiness.5
Sometimes pleasure is thought to be a sensation one has (hereafter, the sensationalist
view). The idea that happiness is a sensation is a bit less plausible than the idea that
pleasure is a sensation, but if one thinks that pleasure and happiness are the same and that
pleasure is a sensation, then one is committed to thinking that happiness is a sensation.
Upon tasting a cold beer on a hot day, one may experience a pleasurable feeling. Another
example is the pleasure one feels when listening to a great piece of music. Apart from
the sensationalist view, there is another view: pleasure and happiness are attitudes (the
attitudinal view). More specifically, the view is that pleasure and happiness are
propositional attitudes in that they take propositions as their objects. So, for example,
5 Another strategy is available. One could "cut out the middle-man" and just claim that well-being is
composed of certain kinds of mental state and then just go on to characterize this mental state-all of this
ignoring whether or not such a state is pleasure or happiness. I have not come across anyone who adopts
this strategy for a monistic theory-everyone who adopts a monistic theory seems to like to keep pleasure
or happiness in the middle. There are some pluralists, as we will later see, who pick out other mental states
as relevant to well-being, such as aesthetic appreciation; but these other mental states are on the list of
things that make a life go well in addition to pleasure or happiness.
one can be pleased that one's daughter is doing well at college or one can be happy that
the Royals baseball team are in the pennant race.6
Happiness, when conceived to be a propositional attitude, might be taken to be a
active mental state. What I mean if I were to say "happiness is active" can be illustrated
with an example: in order for a person to be happy that his daughter is doing well in
college, his daughter must really be doing well in college. So, if happiness is active in
this way, one can be happy that such and such is the case only if it really is the case. If
his daughter is not doing well in college, the father might be construed as happy in the
thought that his daughter is doing well at college. Being happy "in the thought that" such
and such is the case allows for that thought to be mistaken or wrong. If happiness is
active, however, being happy "that" such and such is the case makes no such allowance.
If happiness is active in this way, then the important thing to keep in mind is that the
mental state is what really matters here. And the mental state is relevantly the same
between (1) happiness that x is the case and (2) happiness in the thought that x is the
case.7 The only thing that is different between (1) and (2) here is the way the world is.
One could deny that happiness is active in this way. But I do not want to get into the
debate here. All that I am claiming is that whether we treat happiness or pleasure as
6 So, what is it that makes both the sensation from the beer and the sensation from the music both fall into
the same category of pleasure? Presumably it is not because they are the same feeling. They are the same
type of feeling; that is to say, that they fall into a type called pleasure. But then what makes the category of
pleasure? The same can be asked of the attitudinal view as well-what makes all of those attitudes
pleasure or happiness?
7 Actually, if happiness is active, those who are happy that x is the case (on this active interpretation, x
must really be the case), strictly speaking, are also happy in the thought that x is the case. I qualify this by
smincil speaking" because when one says that someone is happy in the thought that x is the case, it might
be conversationally implied that x is not the case; but, of course, implication and literal meaning are two
different things. So on the active view, it could be argued that what is important is happiness in the
;i,. ,irit that x is the case, whether x it actual or not. In any case, the result is the same, that the state of
mind is what is important.
active mental states or not, the important thing is the mental state as such. So, even if
happiness is active, happiness that x is the case and happiness in the thought that x is the
case are both treated as increasing well-being.8
Something to keep in mind regarding mental state accounts is that they do not
necessarily have to play down to the lowest and basest human inclinations. Often, critics
of mental state accounts, especially when attacking views that associate well-being with
pleasure, chastise the views for pandering to the lowest common element in people; for
example, sheer sensory pleasures one gets from food, sex, and even drugs.9 But the
relevant class of mental states can be construed as far more inclusive than this objection
implies. Of course, as the class of relevant mental states expands, getting right the
account of what makes all of the disparate feelings and attitudes pleasures becomes
The key attractions of the mental state accounts are, I think, two-fold. The first is
that the presence of the right kind of mental state plays a crucial role in how, pre-
philosophically, we evaluate our own lives. Very often it is the case that, in an ordinary
conversational context, when a person is asked how well so-and-so is doing, his reply
involves some comment on how so-and-so is feeling. The second attraction of the mental
state accounts is that, according to them, each person has a very good idea of how well
8 Later in this dissertation, though not in this chapter, I will study a theory that treats only active happiness
as increasing well-being. However, such a theory is no longer a pure mental-state theory, as it includes a
reference to something outside the mental realm. I must put the "mixed" theory aside for now.
9 This objection to the hedonistic accounts of well-being could be characterized as the "fit for swine"
10 Of course, one could say that nothing holds them together as pleasure or happiness. This would be to
take the strategy as found in the fourth footnote of this chapter.
off he or she is.1 This tight connection between a person's beliefs and his or her well-
being is intuitively attractive because well-being, seems, in a strong sense, to be in and of
the person's lived experiences-well-being and a person's experiences seem closely
2.1.2 Desire Satisfaction Views
The desire satisfaction account of well-being is-to a first approximation-that
one's level of well-being is set by the extent to which one's desires are satisfied. A desire
is satisfied if the desired state of affairs obtains. For example, if my desire is that the
Royals win the pennant, then my desire is satisfied if the Royals win the pennant. It is
worthwhile to note the possibility that a desire can be satisfied and yet the agent not
know, or even believe it. For example, I can desire that the Royals win today's baseball
game and it can be true that the Royals have won today's game. In this case, the desire
might be satisfied without my knowing or believing it.12
Just as the mental state theories take great pains to characterize which kind of
happiness is important for well-being, so too does the desire-satisfaction proponent take
great pains to characterize which desires matter. Desires are often characterized quite
broadly here to include anything from whims one might have to life-long plans and
projects. Sometimes all of these states are referred to as pro-attitudes. So a desire, on
11 Now, sometimes one hears of people saying "I thought I was happy, but I wasn't" or "I didn't know how
happy I was." If indeed these are real cases of the person being wrong about how happy he or she was,
then the connection between the person's mental awareness and her happiness is less than perfect. I tend to
think that they rarely should be taken literally, though there do seem to be at least some instances when
they hold true. However, the connection between a person's judgments about her well-being and her actual
well-being still seems strong in most cases and that is something that, at least intuitively, favors the mental
12 Additionally, one can come to desire something that is already the case. For example, someone, call her
"A," can come to desire that her friend have a romantic interest in her when A's friend already has such an
interest. In this case, A's desire is satisfied immediately.
this view, is not just a felt tug or pull at a given moment-though of course, tugs and
pulls are still desires. It is important to be charitable to those who endorse mental state
accounts by not construing the relevant mental states as just base sensory pleasures.
Similarly, it is important to understand desires to be far broader than just the urgings that
someone feels at any given moment. So, on this broader view of desires, one could have
a desire for x without, at that very moment, having some urge to go out and get x.
The desire-satisfaction theory is different from the mental state theory in one very
important way. Whereas the mental state theory takes a person's well-being at a time to
be composed entirely of occurrent mental states, the desire theory only treats desires as
necessary conditions. Desire-satisfaction theories then look to the world to see whether
the desired states of affairs obtain or not. If the desired states of affairs do obtain, then
the agent's well-being is enhanced.13
As we will see in the next chapter, some desire-satisfaction accounts give a
counterfactual analysis of well-being in terms of what an agent would desire under
certain conditions, so they do not even treat actual mental states as necessary conditions
of well-being. This means that there is a family of desire-satisfaction accounts rather
than merely one. Yet I will simplify my discussion for now by talking as if there is only
the one simple view. The more complicated views are better left for a later time.
The attractions of the desire-theory are, I think, two-fold. First, like mental state
accounts, desire and desire satisfactions play a key role, pre-philosophically, in how we
see and judge our own lives. For example, countless stories in the literary and religious
traditions count desire-satisfaction as one of the central aspects of a life's going well-
13 1 will discuss a slightly different account of desire-satisfaction in Chapter 7 of this dissertation. For now,
I merely want give the reader an idea of in what desire-satisfaction consists.
(e.g., Job, who looses his wealth and children and is struck with boils, is someone who
looses what he desires most and is often thought to have his life go prudentially worse
thereby). There is also the tale of the Jinii who grants wishes in such a way that it leads
to the thwarting of other wishes and thereby make "the wisher's" life go worse. Both
mental state theories and desire-satisfaction theories seem to match up very nicely with
our pre-philosophical intuitions about how well lives go.
Now I will move on to what I take to be the second key advantage of the desire-
satisfaction theory. Please recall that desire satisfaction theories require no belief, on the
part of the agent, that the desire is satisfied or that object proposition is true. That is, for
the satisfaction of a desire thatp to enhance well-being it is not required that the agent
believe thatp. Moreover, according to the desire-satisfaction theory, one's well-being
could diverge from one's thoughts about one's well-being, just because one could be
wrong about whether one's desires are satisfied. For example, someone could desire that
her friend be a sincere and genuine friend and believe that her friend is sincere and
genuine and yet be mistaken in that belief. On the "simple" desire-satisfaction account,
her well-being is lower in virtue of that thwarted desire.14 With the desire-satisfaction
account, there is a tight connection between a person's well-being and aspects of her
psychology. But the desire theory does not go so far as to make well-being constituted
wholly by a set of mental states; there must be some connection to the world. Given the
above example, there seems to be a great advantage in that connection to the world.
14 Quite probably, there are other closely-related desires that are thwarted as well; such as the desire not to
be lied to, etc. So, the agent's well-being could be lower still in virtue of some other desires not being
2.1.3 Explanatory Objective Theories
Explanatory objective theories have a long history of supporters in philosophy, and
have had a relatively recent renaissance in the literature. They typically base well-being
in human nature. Given its recent revitalization, there are not many recent full-blown
expositions of this view.15 In light of this, my strategy in 2.1.3 will differ from those in
2.1.1 and 2.1.2. Whereas in 2.1.1 and 2.1.2 I rarely mentioned any particular author, in
the present part, I will do so liberally.
Before getting into the details of objective accounts and human nature, I would like
to remind the reader of my preferred terminology and the theories associated with each
term. Philip Kitcher in his paper "Essence and Perfection" distinguishes between bare
objectivism and explanatory objectivism. Explanatory objectivism unifies the various
things that make one's life go well by citing a fundamental element that figures centrally
in the account of what constitutes well-being. Human nature plays this role for most
objectivists of this sort. Bare objectivism, in contrast, has no single unifying element;
each element contributes to well-being. So bare objectivism is non-explanatory
objectivism. Bare objective theories are sometimes called "objective list theories."16
What Kitcher calls "bare objectivist" theories and what others call "objective list"
theories, I prefer to call "pluralistic" theories. I prefer to stick with the descriptor
"pluralistic," because is captures something more about the set of theories under
discussion than does "objective list" and "bare objective." When the word "objective" is
used to identify a class of conceptions of well-being, one might confuse it with
15 Hurka's book Perfectionism is one recent notable exception.
16 "Objective List" as a name for the theories under discussion was popularized by Parfit in his "What
Makes a Life Go Best" in his Reasons and Persons. Several philosophers have followed Parfit in his
choice of terminology. I find the name "pluralism" to be preferable.
explanatory objectivist accounts. The motivation for explanatory objectivism and
pluralism differ so much that grouping them together would no doubt rely on some
arbitrarily chosen similarity between the groups, instead of identifying and distinguishing
the groups based on core or central characterizations.
Most explanatory objective theories claim that increases in well-being come from
developing and acting in accordance with human nature. There could be other sorts of
explanatory theories, but alternatives to human nature theories are rarely defended.17
Theories of human nature are, of course, numerous. Some have thought that human
nature is that which is distinctively human, but it seems that distinctiveness is not all that
important. For if distinctiveness is understood as biological, then it seems relatively
unimportant (especially for a theory of well-being). Take for example, the distinctive
aspect of humans as featherless bi-peds. It is hard to see how this could play a role in an
account of well-being. Alternatively, if distinctiveness is taken to be some higher level
human functioning that is intuitively much more relevant to well-being, then it is not
clear why other possible creatures could not have that level of functioning as well. For
example, take rationality. Being rational seems much more relevant to well-being than
does being a featherless biped, but it could be that there are other creatures who are
Rather than focus on distinctiveness, a better focus is on the human essence if there
is such a thing. The human essence, on one proposal, consists of a bodily essence and
1 Thomas Carson in his Value and the Good Life provides a contemporary defense of a divine preference
theory, according to which one's life goes well to the extent to which one lives in accordance with what
God wants for one (pg. 239-254). I treat Carson's theory as a sort of desire-satisfaction account, though of
an unusual pedigree, instead of an alternative sort of explanatory objective account.
rational activity, both practical and theoretical rational activity.18 Bodily essence could
be described as that which humans share with other animals. To develop it, one needs
food and exercise. The two kinds of rationality are perhaps not completely unique to
humans. But certainly the level of rationality of humans is almost incomparably greater
than that of the other known creatures. Practical rationality is reasoning about what to
do. Theoretical rationality is reasoning about what to believe. The view of this kind of
objectivism is that one's life goes well to the extent to which one exercises and develops
these elements. According to the theory under discussion, development and exercise of
one's bodily and rational capacities only counts as increasing well-being because they are
the components of human nature. If human nature were to be different, then one's well-
being would not be enhanced by the development and exercise of these capacities. Thus,
although the theory may appear pluralistic in that it picks out two features as relevant for
well-being, it really is monistic because those features are relevant to well-being only
because they fit into an account of human nature.
This is all, of course, controversial. The temptation to give an evolutionary or
socio-biological account of human nature is very strong here. There is a great deal of
primafacia intuitive plausibility to an evolutionary account of human nature because
after all, an evolutionary account would involve a story of how humans came to be as
they now are. There are serious problems with any theory that treats well-being as
consisting in the development and exercise of one's nature when one understand human
nature as given by an evolutionary or socio-biological account. I will discuss this issue in
18 This is drawn from Hurka's Perfectionism: to my mind, the most plausible and detailed of the objective
Interestingly, some recent proponents of human nature theories have suggested that
there is room for substantial individual difference in what makes a life go well.19 There
are very deep questions about whether human nature is set as one nature for all members
of the group of humans or whether there is room, with the correct account of human
nature, for there to be substantial individual difference. There might be a single human
nature, on some accounts, but a theory of well-being might still allow for variation. The
risk, of course, is that in the accounts that allow for substantial differences in what makes
people's lives go well, the accounts might not be of human nature any more, but of some
other feature. I must leave critical discussion of this topic for 2.2.2.
The intuitive plausibility of explanatory objective accounts is two-fold. Well-
being, on most explanatory objective accounts, consists in living life in accordance with,
and developing, one's nature. The first advantage is that the accounts make reference to
the essence of the person. What could be a better account of one's well-being, so the
thought goes, than whether one is living his or her life developing and exercising what is
at the very center of the person? This connection to the essence of the person does not
have the pre-theoretical and pre-philosophical intuitive pull of the mental-state and
desire-satisfaction theories, because so much groundwork must be laid to get the idea of a
human essence even on the table. However, with a plausible account of human nature,
the connection to one's nature is attractive. The second intuitive advantage of
explanatory objective theories is that they have a characteristic that is very similar to
19 Rasmussen, in his "Human Flourishing and the Appeal to Human Nature" is an excellent example of
someone who is what I call a explanatory objectivist and yet thinks that there is a great deal of room for
individual differences in human nature. As the title of his article indicates, Rasmussen is after the concept
of human flourishing-which seems a different and broader concept than the concept of prudential well-
being. I will treat Rasmussen's work as if it were about the narrower concept however, as I do with several
of the so-called explanatory objectivists.
desire-satisfaction theories; they both tie well-being to the world in which the person
lives. One's well-being, according to human nature and desire-satisfaction theories,
depends on the state of the person and the state of the real world. Both theories make
well-being not depend entirely on mental states, as do the mental state theories. The
mental state theories have attractions of their own, but a connection to the outside world
is surely something that helps make human nature theories initially plausible.
2.1.4 Pluralistic Theories of Well-Being
Pluralistic theories are quite different from the monistic accounts discussed above.
Pluralistic theories have a very different structure and motivation. I will discuss two
notable recent accounts of pluralistic conceptions of well-being.
James Griffin in his Value Judgement, offers a list of five items that make a life go
well. Griffin sets up his list with the following comment: "To see anything as
prudentially valuable, then, we must see it as an instance of something generally
intelligible as valuable and, furthermore, as valuable for any (normal) human. Prudential
deliberation ends up, I think, with a list of values" (Griffin 1996, pg. 29). Griffin's
account of prudential value makes it necessary for the valued thing to be intelligible as
valuable-"intelligible to whom?" is of course a big question.20 Also, what role
"normal" and "human" play is also quite open ended. But what should be clear is that
Griffin is generating a list with normal humans in mind.
20 Griffin's comment makes me think of a character from Jane Austen's Emma, Mr. Woodhouse (Emma's
father). Mr. Woodhouse complains that his son-in-law is too rough with his children-always tossing them
up in the air. Emma replies "But they like it, papa; there is nothing they like so much. It is such enjoyment
to them, that if their uncle did not lay down the rule of their taking turns, whichever began would never
give way to the other." Mr. Woodhouse says "Well, I cannot understand it" to which Emma replies "That
is the case with us all, papa. One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other (Austen,
Emma, ch 9, pg. 624).
Griffin's list has five items: (a) accomplishment, (b) the components of human
existence (autonomy, capability, and liberty), (c) understanding, (d) enjoyment and, (e)
deep personal relationships. Griffin thinks of his list as being a something like a rough
draft of the list; with possible amendments to come later (Ibid, pg. 30).
John Finnis, in his Natural Law and Natural Rights, offers a list of things as an
account of "'good,' 'basic good,' 'value,' 'well-being'" (Finnis, pg. 86). Finnis' list is:
(1) life, (2) knowledge, (3) play, (4) aesthetic experience, (5) sociability (friendship), (6)
practical reasonableness, (7) religion. Finnis characterizes the items on the list very
broadly. For example, Finnis describes knowledge as: "the activity of trying to find out,
to understand, and to judge matters correctly" (Ibid, pg. 60). Finnis is far more certain
about his list than is Griffin, Finnis thinks of his list as something like a final draft.
Finnis claim that each element is non-reducible to any other and that the list is exhaustive
of well-being. Finnis takes himself to be providing a list of items for human well-being
(Ibid, pg. 92-95).
Notice that Griffin's and Finnis' theories appear to be pluralistic theories. One
thing that Griffin and Finnis are not clear on, frustratingly, is whether they are full-bodied
pluralists. Recall that what is meant by "pluralism" here is that each element on the list
is, by itself, sufficient for at least some well-being. If they are pluralists in this sense then
a person could have some amount or degree of just one of the items on the list and
thereby have some amount or degree of well-being. Perhaps, though, Finnis and Griffin
are not pluralists in this full-bodied sense. Perhaps one needs to have at least a little of
each item on the list to have any amount of well-being. On this construal, some degree of
each item is a necessary, rather than a sufficient, condition for having some degree of
well-being. I cannot resolve these problems here. I will treat the authors as pluralists.21
The motivation for accepting pluralistic theories of well-being is that they are so
very inclusive. A pluralist of the sort I have in mind has the strategy of "having one's
cake and eating it too." If the mental state, desire-satisfaction, and explanatory objective
theories each leave something out (in different ways), then a pluralist can include aspects
from each theory and with luck, do away with any shortcomings.
Each of the types of conceptions has what we might think of as an attractive
starting point. There is at least an air of initial plausibility with each. That is not to say
that one is just as good as the next, but there is something to each of them. What I will
do in 2.2 is to take a deeper look at the advantages and disadvantages of each of the
conceptions. Once the skin is peeled away, desire-satisfaction theories will turn out to be
2 Might Griffin and Finnis really be explanatory objectivists disguised as pluralists? This is an
intriguing question. There is some chance that they are. Presuppositions about human nature and the world
in which humans live play a role in each philosopher's thinking. Griffin, in a very helpful footnote on this
My own list is very much out of a particular tradition: modern, Western, and atheist. But
take someone with a radically different list: instead of enjoyment, the mortification of
the flesh; instead of deep personal relationships, cloistered solitude; instead of autonomy,
submission to the will of God. But of course one's list will change with one's
metaphysical views. If I believed in a certain kind of God, I too might have a different
list. But this makes lists relative not to culture, but (unsurprisingly) to one's judgements
about the world one thinks one is living in. (Griffin, pg. 15)
Griffin's footnote is quite frank in expressing the difficulties in coming up with a list of items. Perhaps
Griffin does presuppose an account of human nature when coming up with his list. Finnis explicitly states
that his list is only for humans (Finnis, pg. 92-95). Griffin, in a quotation above, makes a similar claim. So
there is some reason to believe that they are really explanatory objectivists at some deep level. However, at
this point, I will treat Griffin and Finnis as full-bodied pluralists.
2.2 Critical Discussion of Conceptions
2.1.1 The Story
Monte Cristo's life is not a great case study for critically assessing different
conceptions of well-being. This is because the four different conceptions diverge only
slightly in what they would say about Monte Cristo's well-being. Given the purpose of
Chapter 1 (to isolate the narrow concept of prudential well-being), the example was
suitable. Now, however, I need cases where the different conceptions come apart.
Things will seem more controversial, and one's intuitions should not be so definite here.
To fit my needs, I have chosen one of the greatest stories of internal and external conflict
The case study I have in mind is of the two primary protagonists in Mary Shelley's
Frankenstein. The first thing I would like to do is to dispel the common thoughts about
the book and characters. If the reader is not familiar with the book, forget all that you
think you know about Frankenstein. Victor Frankenstein, the scientist, is the creator of
his "monster," who is never given a name. Frankenstein, a genius chemist and
physiologist, discovers a method of bringing dead human matter back to life. He gathers
parts from different corpses and then composes something of a super-human. He brings
his "creation" to life, though without the aid of lightning. The monster is extremely
strong and agile and is very intelligent. He is superior to normal humans in all of these
respects. However, the monster is also repulsively ugly. Frankenstein, upon bringing life
to his monster, panics and abandons the creature.
Frankenstein's monster is left to fend for himself. He manages not only to survive,
but also to become a master of language and learn a great deal of history and some of the
other liberal arts. All of this learning is accomplished without direct assistance from
humans, although he "eavesdrops" on a family that lives in a cottage. When he tries to
confront people, they are repulsed by his ugliness and he is driven away. The monster,
created with a very strong longing for companionship and a great sensitivity to rejection,
eventually tries to find his creator, Frankenstein.
The purpose of the monster's search is to convince Frankenstein to create another
being-another monster, but this time a female monster who is also ugly and super-
human in many ways. The monster finds Frankenstein and convinces him to make
another being.22 Frankenstein, out of fear of horrible consequences, and at the last
minute, tears up the still life-less body of the monster's would-be companion. The
monster then becomes enraged (again), and kills several members of Frankenstein's
family including Frankenstein's bride on their wedding night. Frankenstein dedicates the
rest of his life to destroying his monster but dies in the effort. The monster, whose sole
aim towards the end of his life was to torment Frankenstein, then goes off to die alone.
The idea I have here is that if we take the first three conceptions of well-being
(mental state, desire-satisfaction, and explanatory objectivists) and apply them to the two
life-stories, we will have different accounts of how well the lives are going. We can
compare the accounts and try to decide which is the more plausible. I will criticize
pluralistic accounts as well, though I think that pluralisms suffer from a general
theoretical defect and so I will not argue against them using our intuitions based on the
stories from Frankenstein.
22 This is slightly oversimplified, after the monster is rejected by everyone, he kills one of Frankenstein's
family members and frames another family member for the murder. Then the monster finds Frankenstein
and convinces him to try to create a companion for him.
2.2.2 The Application of Explanatory Objectivism to the Story
There is a significant section of Frankenstein dedicated to the monster's acquisition
of language and the learning of the liberal arts (chapters 12-15). It is in those chapters
that the monster tells his tale of how he learned most of what he will ever know. He is
able to find a hovel beside a cottage where a family of farmers lives. The family consists
of a father (de Lacey) who is blind, and two children, a son (Felix) and daughter
(Agatha). The monster is able to learn language by secretly observing the behavior of
the family. He teaches himself to read and then goes on to read Plutarch's Lives,
Paradise Lost, Sorrows of Werther, among a few other things. After this period of
learning, he is extremely intelligent and is able to give lucid explanations of his history
and very persuasive arguments to get what he wants.23
Let us look first at the explanatory objective accounts that ground well-being in
human nature. Such theories typically maintain that one's life goes well with the extent
to which one exercises or develops one's human nature. In order to apply such theories
of well-being, we have got to look at the nature of the Frankenstein monster. The
monster is unusual, but any adequate account of well-being must be able to say
something about him. For surely, his life can go better or worse. I think that the case of
Frankenstein's monster will be a good test case precisely because it is such an unusual
case. One might object that a dog's life can go better or worse as well and yet examining
a dog's well-being will do little to assist our understanding of human well-being. I think
that is true, but Frankenstein's monster and relevantly similar beings have lives that go
23 He is so persuasive that after he has killed one of Frankenstein's relatives and framed another relative for
the murder, he is still able to persuade Frankenstein to do a favor for him by making him a bride. The
monster gives something of an explicit threat that if Frankenstein does not create a bride for the monster, he
will harm him and his family. But this threat is accompanied by the argument that Frankenstein has an
obligation to his creation to make him happy and that having a wife will pacify his great anger.
well or poorly in that they, too, have lives that can go better or worse with respect to
prudential well-being. After all, they are rational and have many of the same mental
states that human being have.
A good place to begin is with an examination of the monster's nature. Let me
return to an issue that was raised in the discussion of human nature earlier in this chapter.
One's nature is given by one's essence, it seems. What is one's essence? There is a
strong temptation to appeal to an evolutionary biological account, because such an
account would involve a story about how we came to be the particular way we are.24
There is a very serious problem, however, for any account of well-being that makes
essential reference to human nature when human nature is understood in terms of
evolutionary biology. There very well could be an evolutionary disposition to sacrifice
oneself for one's genetic offspring. At first glance the thought may seem perplexing.
However, especially in cases where there are sufficient numbers of offspring who could
reproduce, or at least a few offspring who have a high chance of reproduction, and in a
case where the parent could no longer reproduce, the greater chance of traits,
characteristics, or genes continuing into the next generation is for the parent to sacrifice
herself for her offspring. There are, of course, some species which reproduce so easily
that dispositions of the parent to sacrifice for her offspring would not be selected in a
competitive environment. However, humans do not reproduce at a high rate and must put
a great deal of resources into each child. So humans could be the sorts of creatures that
have a disposition for parental sacrifice. On the evolutionary account of human nature
24 Indeed, the story is even more interesting for Frankenstein's monster because his story is a combination
of evolution and scientific manipulation. But I leave that aside for the moment, in order to get to the nerve
of a particular criticism.
and on the human nature account of well-being, such a sacrifice would not really be a
sacrifice of well-being, but would merely seem so. The self-sacrifice would be merely
illusory, according to the account under discussion, because the person would be living in
accordance with his nature and would increase his well-being thereby. But, this is
implausible. If one kills oneself for one's offspring, there normally would be a net
decrease in one's well-being from the previous level of well-being. So, if one appeals to
an evolutionary account of human nature, then human nature could not plausibly be
viewed as playing a central role in what makes for well-being.25 It is possible for one to
act in accordance with his nature, on this account of human nature, and decrease his or
her well-being, so acting in accordance with one's nature cannot always lead to increases
in well-being. So the evolutionary biological account of human nature must be rejected
by the most common sort of explanatory objectivists; though many people find such an
account of human nature compelling.
Let us set aside these worries and, for the sake of argument, explore Thomas
Hurka's account of human nature. Hurka thinks that one's life goes well to the extent
that one exercises and develops one's human nature.26 The best account of human nature
treats human essence as central, according to Hurka. Human essence, on Hurka's view,
has two components: physical essence and rational essence. Let us start by trying to find
out the monster's physical essence. There are many difficulties here. The monster is a
one-of-a-kind being, not a member of a type; more accurately, he is a single member of
25 For a more detailed discussion of these issues see Kitcher's "Essence and Perfection."
26 Strictly speaking, Hurka claims that he is not offering an account of welfare or well-being: according to
him, he is offering an account of the human good. For what it is worth, I think that Hurka relies on too
narrow a construal of welfare or well-being-he think that it is essentially subjective in some way.
Regardless of whether Hurka relies on too narrow a construal of well-being, I adopt what he says to my
discussion of well-being in this dissertation.
his own type. At least in many aspects, he is sui generis.27 The fact that the monster is
one of a kind does not mean he lacks a well-being. Indeed, the monster biologically
human-though a composite of sorts. An account of human nature, such as Hurka's,
must be able to explain the monster's physical essence. But what is it? Hurka's account
of physical essence would seem to apply to the monster. Hurka thinks that minimally,
the physical essence is good functioning of the organs and systems (Hurka, pg. 37).
Each system in our body has a characteristic activity. The respiratory system
extracts oxygen from air, circulatory system distributes nutrients, and so on. For a
human to remain alive, each system must perform its activity to some minimal
degree; for her to achieve reasonable physical perfection, it must do so to a
reasonable degree. But a system does this when it is free from outside interference
and operating healthily. So the basic level of physical perfection is good bodily
health, when all our bodily systems function in an efficient, unrestricted way.
(Ibid, pg. 38).
I do have some minor concerns about Hurka's account of physical perfection thus far.
Presumably, medications that help the systems perform their characteristic activity or
even improve the characteristic activity, such as medications that reduce blood pressure,
increase physical perfection. And yet such medications surely constitute outside
interference and these medications do restrict the systems in a significant way. So I not
entirely satisfied with the way in which Hurka explains the basic level of physical
perfection. But let me set aside concerns of this kind.
The account of physical perfection I have given so far is incomplete. There
remains yet a higher form of physical perfection. Hurka thinks that great athletic feats
count for more intrinsic value in a life. He says:
27 Although he is extremely ugly, concerns of beauty are irrelevant here-they may play a role in the
broader concept of well-being that I do not discuss in detail in this dissertation, but that is another issue.
Aesthetics aside, he is far superior physically to anyone in existence.
Higher physical perfection comes in vigorous bodily activity. Here our major
physical systems perform to higher degrees, processing more air, carrying more
nutrients, and moving greater weights longer distances. This activity occurs most
notably in athletics, and the Aristotelian perfectionism finds the highest physical
good in great athletic feats. (Ibid, pg. 39)
Hurka admits that great physical feats also often embody practical rationality, but leave
that aside for now. Hurka's examples of great athletic feats are the record-setting
instances of the 100 meter dash and the long-jump. I am not entirely satisfied with how
Hurka explains the highest kind of physical perfection. Some of his examples seem too
broad; for example, it is not clear that in the case where one can process more air that
one's well-being is thereby enhanced. Some of his examples seem too socially
influenced; it is not clear why Hurka did not pick, say, the record-setting for hotdog
eating instead of the record-setting long jump. I do not see any clear way to pick which
of one's physical abilities it is in one's self-interest to develop apart from appealing to
social norms, but this would mean appealing to something other than human nature.
To pick an example from Frankenstein to illustrate my problem with Hurka's
theory, the monster speaks of having an excellent digestive tract. Perhaps that physical
attribute should be developed and exercised on the perfectionist theory. I can see why
developing and exercising his digestive tract is instrumentally good for the monster; then
he could each just about anything. But how could developing it be intrinsically good?
The worry is that Hurka's account must pick out the features of one's nature to be
developed, and this "picking" will either be arbitrary or we will be loading the questions
about one's nature by relying on social norms. This is not meant to be a conclusive
refutation of Hurka's account, but it is a worry that I think requires an answer.
Now let us move on to the non-physical aspects of the monster's nature. Does the
monster have theoretical and practical rationality? Yes, and what is more, he is more
intelligent than normal humans. This is not the Frankenstein monster we grew up with in
movies and television. He is more sensitive and quicker to learn than the vast majority of
An objective account, such as Hurka's, would measure his well-being to be
extremely high throughout much of the novel. This is because the monster learns at an
incredibly fast rate and he reasons extraordinarily well. Hurka's account implies that a
person's well-being will increase with well exercised theoretical and practical rationality.
In Hurka's own words:
For theoretical perfection I will take this category [in which perfections occur] to
be that of beliefs. A person's theoretical good at a time will depend on the number
and quality of (some of) the propositions she believes at that time, so the issue is
whether all her beliefs count or only those that are, say justified or true. On the
practical side, the general category will be intentions. The relevant facts will
concern the ends a person intends at each time or has resolved actively to pursue.
(Hurka, pg. 101)
Hurka finds the number and quality of one's beliefs to be relevant to one's theoretical
perfection. He finds the number and quality of one's intentions to be relevant to one's
Hurka is disinclined to treat all beliefs as enhancing one's perfection. He identifies
four categories of belief an agent can have: (1) belief, (2) justified belief, (3) true belief,
and (4) justified true belief (Ibid, pg. 103). These are, of course, not meant to be
mutually exclusive categories; a mental state that meets (1) could also meet (4), for
Hurka has an analogous categorization for intentions. He says that there are (1)
intentions in the belief that one will achieve the end, (2) intentions in the justified belief
that one will achieve the end, (3) intentions in the true belief that one will achieve the end
and (4) intentions in the justified true belief one will achieve the end (Ibid, pg. 103).
Hurka, for both beliefs and intentions, calls members of set (1) "attempts," members of
set (2) "deserving attempts," members of set (3) "successful attempts," and members of
set (4) "deserving successful attempts."
As mentioned above, Hurka does not hold that all beliefs and intentions count
towards one's perfection equally. He mentions two possible accounts of how much
perfection one could attain in having a belief or intention in set (1) through (4). The first
account treats members of (1) as counting for some enhancement of well-being and each
higher kind of belief and intention as counting for more. The second account treats only
some subset of the members of sets (1)-(4) as counting for any enhancement of well-
being. He prefers the second option and suggests, but does not argue for, an account that
treats only members of (4) as counting towards one's perfection (Ibid, pg. 112-113).
There is yet a further aspect of Hurka's theory. He thinks that even within the
members of (4), there can be variations in the amount of perfection attained. He says that
there is a quality to each member of (4) that must be taken into account (Ibid, pg. 114).
Those beliefs and intentions with the greater quality, according to Hurka, are those that
are general. The generality of a belief or intention, on Hurka's account, is set by the
breadth of the state of affairs it describes and, by its role within a hierarchical and
explanatory system (Ibid, pg. 115).
I will turn now to a critical discussion of Hurka's account. I am ambivalent as to
whether Hurka's account of theoretical perfection is plausible. However, I am certain
that even if he has the correct account of perfection, human perfection could not serve in
an account of well-being in the way he supposes. There are some problems that seem
particular to Hurka's favored version of human nature which do not necessarily apply to
all human nature accounts of well-being. There are more central problems, as well,
which seem to be significant obstacles to Hurka's main arguments for the human nature
account of well-being. I will explore these sorts of problems in turn.
Hurka's account seems too narrow in that it excludes too many beliefs from
increasing one's well-being. The countless generations who believed, falsely, in some
unifying scientific principle had a low level of theoretical perfection thereby, on Hurka's
theory. It is not clear what principled reason there is for excluding justified, though false,
beliefs in some contexts. A somewhat related problem is that people who generated what
we now know to be false scientific theories, such as Newton, count as less theoretically
rational than many who come after him, many of whom were much less good at science,
even though Newton sure seems like a paradigm of the rational individual.28 Theoretical
rationality seems to involve more than just having beliefs of the right sort.
Now, Hurka could just expand his account to include merely justified beliefs as
enhancing well-being. And he could even expand the account to include all true beliefs
as enhancing well-being. Hurka does not give an explanation of why he prefers to restrict
the set of beliefs and intentions to deserving successes, so it is hard to formulate a
specific criticism on this issue. If Hurka were to expand the circle of which beliefs and
intentions are relevant for well-being, it is not clear that there would not be new
problems. Also, Hurka could change his position to include more than the mere holding
of beliefs of the right sort in his account of theoretical perfection. It is because there
seems to be some room to maneuver, that I do not think that these problems are
28 If Newton is a poor example for some reason or another, then there are many others who could serve as
Here is a criticism that hits Hurka's account more centrally. Hurka's account of
well-being, given the role of human nature as described by Hurka, seems to fail to meet
the necessary conditions of prudential well-being. Recall that interests that are relevant
to one's prudential well-being are those that are non-moral, non-aesthetic, and self-
involving. It is hard to see a principled way of ruling out counter-intuitive examples of
beliefs that, on Hurka's account, end up counting as relevant to one's well-being. For
example, knowing the number of blades of grass in Central Park, it turns out, increases
one's theoretical perfection on Hurka's account. Now, the belief may have very little
quality, to use Hurka's terminology, and thus might not increase one's amount of
perfection by very much. But, it is an utter mystery how a true justified belief about the
blades of grass in Central Park, in itself, could increase one's well-being at all. The
belief fails to be sufficiently self-involving or self-regarding to count as relevant to one's
well-being. It is not that having the beliefs under discussion decrease one's well-being,
but these beliefs simply do not contribute to one's well-being.
Much of my criticism of Hurka has focused on his account of theoretical
rationality, so let me turn to a problem with Hurka's account of practical rationality. As I
say in the first chapter of this dissertation, any account of well-being must be able to
explain acts and intentions of self-sacrifice. Hurka, given what he says about practical
rationality, cannot explain self-sacrifice. The intention to spend one's entire life feeding
the starving only increases one's well-being, when, in Hurka's language, it is a successful
and justified attempt. That is, on Hurka's account, so long as one's plan to feed the
starving works and one is justified in believing that the plan will work, one's perfection,
and so one's well-being, is increased. But this is false.29 This would be an instance of
self-sacrifice, not a way of enhancing one's own well-being.
It is hard to see how accounts of theoretical and practical rationality, given the
assigned role of rationality in Hurka's theory of well-being, are sufficiently self-involving
to serve as accounts of prudential well-being. With theoretical rationality, it is hard to
see why merely having beliefs of the right sort intrinsically enhances someone's
prudential well-being. Having true and justified beliefs will often lead to increases in
prudential well-being-that is, instrumentally. After all, if one has good means/ends
reasoning, one is more likely to get what one is after. However, on Hurka's view, merely
to have such a belief itself brings about an increase in well-being, which seems
implausible. With practical rationality, Hurka's inability to explain self-sacrifice is very
problematic; he is committed to saying that all of one's successful and justified projects
are in one's self-interest. This goes directly against the intuition that there are acts of
I think that the story of Frankenstein's monster is a good illustration of my
criticism of Hurka's account of well-being. With this example, I hope to do two things:
(a) show at least some reason for thinking that beliefs, as such, are not relevant to well-
being and (b) show that there are other states of mind, loosely speaking, that are much
more relevant to well-being. As I mentioned in the brief account of the novel above, after
the monster's creation, he learns a great deal very quickly. To use Hurka's language, the
monster increases the size of his set of deserving successful belief and intention attempts
29 This problem comes from Hurka's choice to treat only "formal" considerations as relevant to the
restriction of the set of beliefs and intentions that increase one's perfection. "Formal" criteria, according to
Hurka, cannot make reference to the content of the belief and intention (Ibid, pg. 114).
very quickly. According to Hurka's account, his well-being should increase dramatically
during this period. And yet intuitively, this is not the case. Throughout the time of
learning, the monster is simply wretched. Here are some reflections by the monster on
I was not even of the same nature as man. I was more agile than they and could
subsist upon coarser diet. My stature far exceeded theirs. When I looked
around, I saw and heard of none like me. Was I then a monster, a blot upon the
earth, from which all men fled and whom all men disowned? I cannot describe to
you the agony that these reflections inflicted upon me. I tried to dispel them, but
sorrow only increased with knowledge. .. (Ibid, pg. 139)
There are many other instances in which the monster expresses hatred of his own
existence. He likens himself to Satan in one passage, because he has been "cast down"
by his creator, and then claims that he is worse off than Satan in another, because he has
been left alone whereas Satan has some company. The kind of anguish he experiences
evokes a great deal of sympathy. He states: "Of what a strange nature is knowledge! It
clings to the mind, when it has once seized on it, like a lichen on the rock. I wished
sometimes to shake off all thought and feeling, but I learned that there was but one means
to overcome the sensation of pain, that was death" (Ibid, pg. 140). The monster is clearly
During this period, the monster is physically healthy and develops his theoretical
and practical rationality significantly. But, intuitively, his life is simply not going well
for him. Now, to be fair to Hurka, the low level of the monster's well-being is not
intrinsic to the new beliefs, but instead, is caused by those beliefs. The low level of well-
being is caused by the beliefs under discussion because his holding and reflecting on
these beliefs causes him great deal of unhappiness. So I think it would be incorrect to say
that the monster's life is going poorly simply in virtue of having the "successful" and
"deserving" beliefs. But Hurka's account is committed to claiming that the monster's life
is going quite well, and this just does not seem to be the case. This example is not
conclusive, I understand, but it does seem compelling.
The above discussion raises the question as to what makes the monster's life go
poorly, at least intuitively. Either his unhappiness or his frustrated desires seem to be two
good candidates that could figure into an explanation of why, intuitively, his life is going
poorly. He is living his life in accordance with Hurka's account of nature and yet has a
poor life. Some other theory must explain the monster's low level of well-being.
Hurka's account of human nature is not the only explanatory objective account out
there. Perhaps another account could do better. One of the reasons I work with Hurka's
account is that it is the best account of human nature I have found; both in terms of how
well-developed it is and in terms of how good the arguments are for it.30 So I do not
think that any other account of human nature could serve better for the perfectionist
2.2.3 Application of Happiness to the Story
We turn now to a darker part of the story of Frankenstein. Though the above may
evoke sympathy for the monster, perhaps what follows will not. The monster, after being
rejected by everyone he comes across, and after having his hopes of having a spouse
dashed, turns on his creator and makes the ruin of Frankenstein the goal of his life.
Unbeknownst to Frankenstein, the monster is present when he tears apart the still lifeless
body of his monster's spouse-to-be. As the two part ways, the monster says to
Frankenstein "I shall be with you on your wedding night" (Ibid, pg. 202). Frankenstein
30 Note as well that I exclude evolutionary accounts of human nature from consideration at this stage
because they could not plausibly serve in a theory of prudential well-being.
takes this to be a threat against him; that is to say, Frankenstein thought the monster was
threatening to kill him on his wedding night. However, the monster's intention was to
kill Frankenstein's new bride, Elizabeth.31
Not wanting his wife to see a fatal battle between himself and his monster,
Frankenstein sends his wife to their bedroom. Frankenstein wants her to be safe, but she
is not. He is very nervous and agitated, but is not unhappy. He does not fear for the life
of his new bride. The monster sneaks into their bedroom and kills her. Frankenstein
finds out very soon thereafter that she has been killed.
Frankenstein, in recollecting this sad tale, remarks: "Great God! If one instant I
had thought what might be the hellish intention of my fiendish adversary, I would rather
have banished myself forever from my native country, and wandered a friendless outcast
over the earth, than have consented to this miserable marriage. But, as if possessed of
magic powers, the monster had blinded me to his real intentions and when I thought that I
had prepared only my own death, I hastened that of a far dearer victim" (Ibid, pg. 231).
Frankenstein's life goes worse when his new bride's life is threatened and even
worse when she is killed. But the mental state account does not account for this.32 It has
it that Frankenstein's life goes worse when he "finds out" about Elizabeth's death. The
gap between her death and Frankenstein's finding out about her death is extremely short
(the time it takes for Frankenstein to run to their room). But there are larger gaps of time
in the other murders. Days, perhaps weeks, in the case of one of Frankenstein's relatives
31 No doubt, the monster sees this as a more fitting punishment for Frankenstein's decision to abort the
creation of another being to be the monster's wife.
32 A newer kind of mental state account, such as that of Sumner (1996), requires that happiness and
unhappiness be informed to count toward or against one's well-being. Sumner's account is what I would
call a "mixed theory," and discussion of it must be put off till later.
who is killed by the monster. Of course it is conceivable that Frankenstein would never
find out about some of the murders. Yet the mental state accounts say that Frankenstein's
life would go well so long as he never found out about them. The objective account and
the desire account have something going for them here that the mental state account
lacks: namely, that there are cases where peoples' lives go poorly for them despite the
fact that they are not aware of this. I do not take this point to be conclusive against the
mental state conception, but it does show a weakness.
For a more telling objection, I must modify the story slightly. In Shelley's story,
Frankenstein's creation gets angry when he is rejected and gets depressed when he feels
utterly alone and isolated. He lashes out at Frankenstein and all of society in his rage.
Frankenstein wants to pacify his monster and so, let us say, to modify Shelley's story, he
creates an experience machine. The experience machine generates experiences for the
monster such that he will have whatever mental state a mental state theory takes to
constitute well-being. This idea, of course, is drawn from Robert Nozick's famous
thought experiment found in his Anarchy, State and Utopia. Nozick frames the issue as
one about whether people would choose to go into the machine. This element of choice
needlessly complicates the matter. I will make the story such that Frankenstein just
places the monster in the machine without the monster's knowledge. We must think
about whether the monster's life is going better when he is in the machine.
Once in the machine, Frankenstein's monster has whatever mental state is relevant
to well-being according to any given mental state conception, whether it is pleasure,
happiness or some third alternative. The monster can be made to believe that all of his
wishes are granted and he could turn out quite content and happy. Has the monster's
well-being been increased thereby? It is implausible to think that merely putting the
monster in the machine increases his well-being.
Nozick offers three reasons for thinking that the mental states which result from
living in an experience machine could not be all there is to well-being; life in the
experience machine leaves something important out of the life. The first reason is that
people want to do things rather than just experience them (Nozick, pg. 43). The
experience machine does not distinguish between doing something and experiencing it.
The second is that people want to be a certain way rather than just to experience things
(Ibid, pg. 43). It is a bit difficult to tell what Nozick has in mind with this second idea,
but the way he expresses the concern is that, once inside the machine, we will not be any
particular sort of person (Ibid, pg. 43). The third reason is that living in the machine
limits one's "reality" to a man-made "reality" and people want to be connected to the
deeper reality (Ibid, pg. 43-44). Nozick suggests that once in the machine, there is no
"actual contact" with any deeper reality (Ibid, pg. 43). Perhaps Nozick has misstated the
problem just a bit; there could still be some connection to a deeper reality when in the
machine. But even if there is some connection to a deeper reality, it is less substantial
than we would prefer. So I think Nozick's third point needs to be modified a bit, but still
maintains much of its original force.
Nozick's three points about the inadequacies of life in the machine are generally
quite convincing. A person's life in the machine, even Frankenstein's monster's life,
would be so separated from his "mental life" that his life cannot plausibly be said to be
going better. There must be, as it were, some change in the world external to his
psychology in order for his life to go better at least some times.33 There might be some
cases where we might think that something that happens in the experience machine does
make one's life go better or worse, but that certainly will not be the case across a full
range of examples. With the mental state theories, no such external changes are
necessary; thereby making the theory counter-intuitive.
Now the experience machine poses less of a challenge to the theories that base
well-being in human nature or desire-satisfaction than to mental state accounts. The
monster's beliefs will be false and his intentions will rarely succeed and so, according to
Hurka's account of which beliefs matter for perfection, the monster's well-being would
be low. As I mentioned earlier in this chapter, Hurka mentions other accounts of which
beliefs matter for perfection (such as justified beliefs) and so there might be some
flexibility in the matter. My thinking on this is that so long as there is flexibility in the
issue, human nature accounts will be able to account for experience machine cases with
at least a minimum of adequacy.
Desire-satisfaction accounts do not imply counter-intuitive results in experience
machine examples. Now, some desires can be satisfied within the experience machine,
such as desires to have certain experiences. So according to at least many desire-
satisfaction theories, one's well-being could increase when the experience machine
produces the desired pleasure. However, I do not think that these sorts of examples are
counterintuitive for the desire-satisfaction theories.
Here is just a simple example meant to illustrate a point about desire-satisfaction
theories and experience machines. Imagine that an agent wants to experience the taste of
33 In a later chapter, I will examine a theory that combines mental states with facts outside of the mental life
of the agent. Such a theory is a mixed theory rather than a pure mental state theory.
mint chocolate chip ice cream and, lacking any ice cream of that sort, opts for the
experience machine. The agent's well-being could thereby increase according to desire-
satisfaction accounts. Those who think such examples problematic for desire-satisfaction
accounts of well-being need to pay careful attention to what the agent's desires are and
which desires are satisfied. Compare the content of three closely related, but different,
desires: (1) to experience the taste of mint chocolate chip ice cream, (2) to taste mint
chocolate chip ice cream, or (3) to eat mint chocolate chip ice cream. Of these three
desires, only the first could be satisfied within the experience machine, as the machine is
usually understood. Strictly speaking, the second and the third could not be satisfied
when in the machine. The second and third desires cannot be satisfied because the person
does not actually taste any ice cream, nor does he actually eat ice cream, when in the
experience machine as it is normally understood. Although the example is simple, it
illustrates something about the content of our desires. Though people often speak loosely
about the content of their desires, careful attention to the content of desires is necessary
when dealing with such cases. Very close attention to the content of the desires in these
cases makes the experience machine cases unproblematic for the desire-satisfaction
account of well-being.
The three problems that I mention Nozick thought the experience machine posed
for certain theories do not show that all accounts of well-being that treat well-being as
increasing in the machine are problematic. The three problems only show that any theory
which treats well-being as consisting entirely in states produced by experience machine is
inadequate. So the experience machine shows that mental state theories are inadequate.
But desire-satisfaction and human nature theories have no special problems dealing with
experience machine cases. We can allow for some increases in well-being, according to a
theory of well-being, within the experience machine without implausible consequences
for that theory. We just have to be able to say what else makes a life go well besides
So, there are serious problems with pure mental state accounts. Later in this
dissertation, in Chapter 6, I will examine more sophisticated theories of well-being that
get around the experience machine cases. But for now, note that desire-satisfaction
accounts seem to avoid the objections to which mental state and explanatory objective
theories fall prey. In the next chapter I will develop what I take to be the most plausible
desire-satisfaction account. In 2.2.4, however, I will examine a different kind of account
of well-being; an account which does not pick out just one thing that makes a life go well,
but instead, picks out many different things.
2.2.4 Pluralistic Conceptions of Well-Being
An account is pluralistic if it treats two or more factors as each being partly
constitutive of well-being. With pluralisms, each factor is a well-being "maker;" i.e. each
factor is at least partly constitutive of well-being-the presence of each enhances well-
being. Pluralisms are not to be confused with mixed theories. A mixed conception takes
several different factors and adds them together as necessary conditions. Sumner's view,
discussed briefly above as proposing a combination of mental states and states outside
one's mental life to constitute well-being, is a mixed theory. Pluralisms differ from
34 Nozick himself states the three problems for mental state theories stemming from the experience machine
cases in a way that is very friendly to desire-satisfaction theories. I paraphrase him above, but I stay true to
his language of putting the objections in terms of what we want for ourselves. For example, Nozick states,
roughly, that we want to do certain things and be certain sorts of people (Ibid, pg.43). Desire-satisfaction
accounts have no trouble including these desires in the account of well-being. Indeed, they actually
account for the missing elements quite well.
mixed theories in that each factor is sufficient for at least some amount or degree of well-
being. Assessing mixed theories can be quite complicated because the mixed theories
start with one of the above discussed conceptions but then change it in a quite
fundamental manner, thereby losing either one or both of the characteristics that make it
plausible in the first place. I must put off discussing mixed theories until a later chapter
in this dissertation because they are so sophisticated. When one draws up a list and does
not unify the items on the list, one way of understanding the list is in the pluralistic way.
John Finnis, in his Natural Law and Natural Rights, offers a list of things as an
account of "'good,' 'basic good,' 'value,' 'well-being'" (Finnis, pg. 86). As I said
before, Finnis lists the following factors as relevant to well-being: life, knowledge, play,
aesthetic experience, sociability, practical reasonableness and religion. Griffin has a
Finnis claims that the fact that these element belong on his list is "indemonstrable"
and "self-evident" (Finnis pg. 59, 65, and 85). Sometimes views like Finnis' are
dismissed quite quickly. For example, Kitcher in his essay "Essence and Perfection"
Distinguish two varieties of objectivism. Bare objectivism simply offers a list of
the things that make human lives go well. When asked what qualifies the items for
inclusion, bare objectivists have no explanatory theory to offer; it's simply a brute
fact that these things are good for us ... Clashes between bare objectivists seem
doomed to immediate stalemate. (Kitcher, pg. 59-60).35
I think that a lot of the criticism of so-called "objective list" theories is due to the claim
their advocates often make that such lists are self-evident. Other authors disagree with
them and do not like to be told that their "faculty of perception" of well-being is
35 See also Sumner's Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics (pg. 24, 46).
malfunctioning. However, there is no need to accept Finnis' claim that his list is self-
The items on the list, then, should be thought of as having an epistemic status
relevantly like the status of the set of mental states, or satisfactions of the desire set, or
the aspects of human nature, in other kinds of theory.
So I propose to read Finnis as a pluralist and ignore his claim to self-evidence.
Griffin's latest book, Value Judgement, contains a somewhat similar list that can also be
interpreted as pluralistic. These theories are to be evaluated just as the other theories are,
by engaging in critical reflection-looking at the implications of the theory and then
reexamining the theoretical underpinnings of the conception.
These pluralistic accounts look very attractive at first because they seem to solve at
least some of the problems that the other theories face. In fact, though I do not know of
anyone who does this, one could generate a pluralistic theory that combines the factors
referred to as enhancing well-being in each of the three types of monistic conception-
some mental states, desire satisfaction, and whatever accords with human nature.36
Generally, pluralists offer six or seven items on a list with the claim that no item on the
list is reducible to any other and that none is more important than any other.
Let us just look at one example where it seems that a pluralist can fix the problems
that beset an explanatory objectivist such as Hurka. Think back to the example of
Frankenstein's original monster in the unaltered story. Frankenstein's monster is
36 Amartya Sen in his "Plural Utility" discusses the possibility of a consequentialism that treats utility as
composed of both mental states and desire satisfaction in a pluralistic fashion. Scanlon comes close to
accepting a theory that treats mental states, desire-satisfaction and other features as each constituting at
least some well-being (Scanlon, pg 124-125). However Scanlon claims that his account of well-being is
still incomplete in that it does not give a final way of deciding between conflicts of the various factors that
make a life go well; it is not a theory of well-being in the full sense (Ibid, pg. 125).
developing his natural talents but is nevertheless extremely miserable. A pluralist could
include some subjective elements to account for our intuition that the monster's life is
going poorly. The fifth element on Finnis' list, sociability (friendship), is missing from
the monster's life. In this way, it seems that a pluralist could account for some of the
counterintuitive results of an explanatory objective theory.
There is one complication here: it appears that the pluralist who endorses Finnis'
list must claim that the monster's life is going quite well because he has nearly every
element on the list (and in high amounts), but that his life would go better if he had social
relations. This is counterintuitive, because it looks like the monster's life is going very
poorly. What this might mean is that Finnis' list is suspect. However, it is open to the
pluralist to change the list to make it more plausible. So this is not an objection to
pluralists per se. One could just draw up a list containing mental states, desire-
satisfaction, and perhaps friendship.
So pluralistic theories, it seems, have some plausibility in virtue of their
inclusiveness. If, intuitively, there is something missing in someone's life that thereby
makes the person less well-off, one could add whatever is missing to the list. However,
this permissive inclusivity, which at first seems like a great virtue of this kind of theory,
turns out to be a significant liability. Let me explain.
Any monistic conception of well-being picks out just one factor and says that well-
being varies with that factor, no matter how complexly that factor is characterized. As I
have already mentioned, mental state, desire-satisfaction and explanatory objective
theories are all monistic. Pluralistic theories, on the other hand, pick out two or more
things. For the pluralist, some actions will enhance one factor but diminish another
factor. For example, going to church on a regular basis may increase the "religiosity
factor," but decrease the amount of play in one's life. Both play and religion are on
Finnis' list. What the pluralist needs is an account of the weighing and measuring of the
various different factors that make a life go well in order for the theory to give definite
assessments of well-being-a principle of adjudication that makes commensurable the
factors that constitute at least some well-being.37 The principle of adjudication would say
when one's life is going better than, worse than, or equally well as the life of another
person (or perhaps another time-slice of the same person).
There are two sorts of problems for the pluralist resulting from the lack of a
principle of adjudication; metaphysical problems and epistemological problems. The
metaphysical problem for pluralistic theories is that without such a principle, there is no
fact of the matter about how much well-being someone has when she has two or more of
the factors constitutive of well-being. The epistemological problem for pluralistic
theories that arises from the absence of a principle of adjudication is that we have no way
of knowing how much well-being one has when she possesses two or more of the
features that could contribute to one's well-being.
Now, I think that the metaphysical problem is much worse than the epistemological
problem, but both seem to be significant problems. In everyday judgments, people assess
levels of well-being and make choices in cases of tradeoffs. What the pluralist needs to
do is to vindicate the idea that there are really are amounts of well-being and so solve the
metaphysical problem. But we also would very much like a philosophical account of
what epistemological tools one could use to make such judgments. However, it is
37 One interesting issue is whether the principle of adjudication will then turn what looked like a pluralistic
conception into a monistic conception. This is an interesting issue, but too far off my course.
because the epistemological problem is not unique to pluralistic theories that I think it is
less significant problem.38
Thus far, no principle of adjudication has been given and none seems forthcoming.
Suppose that the pluralist admits that a principle of adjudication cannot be given and
claims instead that intuition can solve the problems. Intuition, on this account, could then
determine the amount of well-being someone has (to solve the metaphysical problem) or
intuition could at least serve as a guide in discovering or detecting the level of well-being
one has (to solve the epistemological problem). The appeal to intuition will certainly not
work to solve the metaphysical problem and it probably will not work to solve the
epistemological problem. People differ so widely in their intuitions on the same cases.
There is not a clear reason for thinking anyone's intuitions are superior and even if one
were to grant that there could be authorities in such an issue, there is not a clear reason
for picking out the authority.
The pluralist might grant that there is no principle of adjudication, and that relying
on individual intuition will not work. He could simply admit that there is a radical
incommensurability involved. This incommensuration is especially troubling when
viewed as metaphysical incommensuration. There simply would be no fact as to how
much well-being someone has when she possesses two or more features on the list of
thinks that make a life go well. This option amounts to the claim that people in some
cases do not have any definite total amount of well-being at any given time. The pluralist
38 All of the monistic theories discussed in this chapter have at least some epistemological problems. For
example, a proponent of Hurka's perfectionist theory would no doubt have problems identifying a person's
entire belief set: the epistemological problems for Hurka's perfectionism are much worse if trying to
determine which beliefs are true or false. As I say, I believe other monistic conceptions have
epistemological problems too.
of this sort admits that there are many cases where there is no answer to questions about
whether one's life is going better, worse, or remains the same. But this is problematic,
for then our conception of well-being fails to live up to our ordinary judgments about
well-being.39 This kind of incommensurability is of a different order that is, say,
interpersonal incommensurability. This kind of incommensurability is what could be
called intrapersonal incommensurability. At least in many cases, it would make it
impossible for there to be any fact of the matter as to whether someone's life is
improving or getting worse overall. All that the pluralist could say about some cases is
that "insofar as A has feature x, A's life is better; but insofar as A hasy, A's life is worse."
Intuitively, we make ordinary judgment about overall well-being and think that there is a
fact of the matter regarding overall well-being. Pluralism that accepts
incommensurability must reject such ordinary, everyday judgments.
Pluralisms are inclusive in that they bring in to the theory many components that
can make a life go well. The cost, however, is that pluralisms result, in a way, in a sort of
fragmentation of well-being. If all one can say is that one's life goes well in virtue of x,
but poorly in virtue of y, then the overall assessment of a life that should be intuitively
fairly clear, at least in many cases, is missing.
We have looked at two methods of making the items on the list commensurable;
using a principle of commensuration and using intuition to commensurate. No principle
of commensuration is forthcoming and there is no account of whose intuitions are
39 We have been looking at the difficult cases lately. But I ask the reader to go back to the "easy" cases;
those discussed with the Count of Monte Cristo or commonsense everyday judgments. It is difficult to test
one's intuitions in cases where the various conceptions of well-being differ. The examples from the first
chapter are better (in that one's intuitions in such cases should be clearer) because all of the plausible
conceptions of well-being "agree" about what to say regarding well-being in those cases.
authoritative. If the pluralist accepts incommensurability of the factors on the list, then
the pluralist cannot vindicate ordinary judgments of well-being in simple cases, either
metaphysically or epistemologically.
Perhaps there may be a way to save pluralism, however. There has been an
intriguing proposal by Ruth Chang in her "Introduction" to Incommensurability,
Incomparability, and Practical Reason. Chang claims that there is a fourth positive value
relation in addition to "worse than," "equal to," and "better than." This fourth relation
can be described as "on par with" (Chang, pg. 27-28). The "on par with" relation is
"positive" in the sense that it is a kind of comparability as opposed to incomparability. If
two things, ) and x are on a par, and a third thing, )+, is better than ), there is still room
for )+ and x to be on a par as well (Ibid, pg. 24). The "on par with" may seem
paradoxical in some ways. Chang does not think that the "on par with" relation is a kind
of vagueness and so cannot mean "roughly equal to" or anything similar. Furthermore,
judgments involving the "on par with" relation are not merely those involving ignorance
about the "true" value of the things in question. Chang's "on par with" relation is
supposed to be a relation in the metaphysics of value and so looks like it might go some
way to solving the metaphysical problems that pluralisms face.40 Whether a fourth
positive value relation of the sort Chang has in mind exists is controversial. Chang's
proposal can be argued against on several fronts. Rather than go into the arguments
about whether there indeed is a fourth positive value relation however, I would like to
40 If a pluralist adopted Chang's "on par with" relation, perhaps some of the force of the epistemological
problems could be lessened as well. For, if there is no concrete fact of the matter that one has more or less
well-being than another in some situation, we should not demand that any theory have an account of how
one is to, or at least could, decide such cases.
explore the prospects of using the "on par with" relation to solve the problems of
commensurability for the pluralist about well-being.
Chang's "on par with" relation seems, at first glance, like it might be able to solve
the incommensurability problem pluralisms face. 41 What a pluralist could say is that the
amounts of well-being enhanced by having some of either of two items on a list are on
par with each other. For example, the pluralist could say that, other things being equal,
the level of well-being of someone with a minimum amount of religiosity is on par with
the level of well-being of someone with a minimum amount of friendship.42 The pluralist
could claim that many lives are on par with each other.
Adopting Chang's on par relation does not really help, however, in that it does not
solve the fundamental problem for the pluralist about well-being. For, even if we treat
lives that have minimal amounts of each of the items on the list as being on par with each
other (other things being equal), the deep metaphysical and epistemological problems
remain. There is still nothing about a pluralistic theory that could, even in principle,
solve the remaining metaphysical and epistemological problems. Let me explain.
Presumably for an account of well-being to be adequate, there must be a fair range of
cases where one life is worse than, better than, or equal to another life in regards to well-
being. Even with Chang's proposal in place, the pluralist has nothing in his theory that
41 1 should note that Chang does not offer the "on par with" relation as a solution to the problems that the
pluralisms about well-being face. Instead, I have taken what she says about two things being on a par and
will examine whether it can help the pluralist out of his problem with incommensurability.
42 Interestingly, perhaps the applicability of the "on par with" relation could be extended. Perhaps a
pluralist could say that an agent's well-being at a time is on par with his past level of well-being, when the
person has at least some of the two different factors that make a life go well and one changes over time.
For example, at time tl, A has a great deal of friendship and a little bit of religiosity; later at t2, A has the
same amount of friendship but a bit more religiosity. A's level of well-being at tl and t2 could be on par
with each other. I will not explore this possible extension.
could settle the matter except for in a few rare instances. The pluralist who accepts
Chang's "on par with" relation would still need a sort of principle of adjudication or a
sort of intuition to determine when two lives are on par. The pluralists, even if he accepts
Chang's "on par with" relation, must still provide an account of weighing and measuring
for many of the ordinary lives. This is a tall order, perhaps not as daunting a task as the
fully precise principle of adjudication or intuition, but nevertheless an extraordinarily
Let me illustrate how the central problem still remains for a pluralist who adopts
Chang's "on par with" relation. Suppose someone has one and only one item on the list,
say, friendship. According to a simple version of pluralism with the "on par with"
relation, his life will be on par with many other possible lives, such as the possible life in
which he has a great amount of pleasure. Both possible lives will be on par, according to
the simplistic theory under discussion, because the person in the examples has a bit of
each of the items on the list. Too many lives will be on par according to a pluralist who
adopts the on par relation. Perhaps, by adopting the "on par with" relation, a pluralist
could explain how one life with a little bit of an item on a list is worse than a life with
more of the same item, but the problem remains about how to distinguish between lives
that have differing, perhaps many, items on the list. A principle of adjudication is still
necessary. Perhaps with the "on par with" relation, only a rough principle of adjudication
is necessary. But even a rough principle is a very tall order.
At first glance, pluralisms look attractive. It seems like they may be able to solve
the problems the various monisms face. Their inclusiveness is very appealing initially.
However, upon further examination, they come with a set of insurmountable problems of
their own. In the absence of a method that makes the items on the list commensurable,
whether by principle of adjudication (which does not seem forthcoming) or intuition
(which does not seem up to the task), they have striking difficulties dealing, in a
philosophical way, with seemingly easy judgments of well-being. The pluralist who
adopts Chang's "on par with" relation does not solve the central problem.
Desire-satisfaction accounts of well-being seem to come out ahead of its
competitors at this point of the critical discussion of conceptions of well-being.
Explanatory objective theories have a hard time excluding the evolutionary account of
human nature, which could not plausibly serve in an account of prudential well-being.
Non-evolutionary accounts of human nature, such as Hurka's, also face serious problems.
His account of physical nature has at least minor problems, but the bigger problems are
with his account of rationality. Developing and exercising one's theoretical and practical
rationality fails to be self-involving enough to meet the conditions of the concept of well-
Mental state theories have problems too. Their initially attractive feature, the
dependence on the psychology of the agent, turns out to be an enormous liability when
we think of actual and hypothetical cases where one's psychology can be easily
manipulated. Thought experiments involving the experience machine illustrate these
problems quite clearly and convincingly.
Although I think that pluralisms have not been sufficiently explored and
appreciated, they come with huge problems of their own. Given that no principle of
commensuration has been forthcoming, there is not any obvious way to vindicate many
ordinary judgments of well-being. Adopting Chang's idea that two possible lives can be
on par when two or more items on the list are had by the agent-or the idea that two
possible lives can be on par when an agent has some amount of two different items on the
list-is initially intriguing, but leaves us no better off in assessing ordinary lives; for most
lives have multiple items on the list to varying degrees and, at least in many cases, we
have straightforward intuitions on such matters.
To be fair, I have only shown how the desire-satisfaction account is not susceptible
to the problems of the other conceptions. I have not addressed problems that are specific
to desire-satisfaction accounts. I will do that in chapters 3-6, where I develop and defend
what I take to be the best version of the desire-satisfaction account.
DEVELOPING A DESIRE-SATISFACTION CONCEPTION OF WELL-BEING
3.1 Actual Desire Accounts Critically Discussed
3.1.1 Some Introductory Remarks
There is a lot to be said in favor of desire-satisfaction accounts of well-being. We
have seen some of their plausible features in play in the previous chapter. Before we
move on to discuss the more sophisticated mixed views of well-being, it is necessary to
develop the most plausible version of the desire-satisfaction conception of well-being.
Let us use the term "relevant desire set" to refer to the set of desires the satisfaction of
which increase well-being. Some may say, somewhat implausibly, that the relevant
desire set for an agent includes all actual desires of that agent. Most desire-satisfaction
theorists have thought that the relevant desire set is something different from the set of
total actual desires. The project of this chapter is to identify the relevant desire set. The
project of the next chapter (Chapter 4) is to defend that account against recent criticisms.
The project of Chapter 5 is to make sure that the desire-satisfaction account developed
and defended in the third and fourth chapters meets the conditions of prudential well-
being as set out in the first chapter.
So this chapter is dedicated to identifying the most plausible set of desires the
satisfaction of which increase well-being. It is because the desire-satisfaction account
will be modified slightly in the third and fourth chapters that the reader should think of
the theory developed in this chapter as a "rough draft." The final version of the central
theory should be made clear by the end of Chapter 5, but we must start somewhere. In
this chapter I will first examine whether the relevant desire set ought to be restricted to
intrinsic desires or whether the satisfaction of instrumental desires ought to count in favor
of one's well-being as well. I conclude that restricting the desire set to intrinsic desires
makes for a more plausible account of well-being. Then I will go on to discuss whether
we should think of the relevant desire set as being composed of actual intrinsic desires or
intrinsic desires one would have in counterfactual situations. I conclude that intrinsic
desires one would have under counterfactual conditions (which I will specify) are best.
3.1.2 Intrinsic and Extrinsic Desires
As mentioned above, I will argue that only intrinsic desires are relevant to well-
being. Before I get into the arguments, it makes sense to provide an account of intrinsic
and extrinsic desires. It is commonly said that intrinsic desires are desires for things in
themselves. This common way of understanding intrinsic desires will do for now, though
it will be made clearer after the discussion of extrinsic desires below. No desire can be
intrinsic and extrinsic; things can be intrinsically desired and extrinsically desired, but no
desire can be both intrinsic and extrinsic.
I will discuss three types of extrinsic desires: (1) instrumental desires, (2) whole-
constitutive desires, and (3) part-constitutive desires. A desire is instrumental if and only
if one has it because one believes that the satisfaction of it will be a means to some end.
For example, Frankenstein may have a desire for money. This would be an instrumental
desire if he has it because he believes that the satisfaction of it will help in satisfying his
desire to create his monster.
Secondly, a desire is whole-constitutive if and only if one has it because one
believes that the satisfaction of it constitutes the satisfaction of another desire entirely.
For example, Frankenstein may have a desire to bring a corpse to life because he believes
that in doing so he will do something God-like. The satisfaction of Frankenstein's desire,
he believes, simply constitutes doing something God-like. Let me return briefly to
intrinsic desires. It may seem, at least at first glance, that whole-constitution desires are
intrinsic. This is a mistake. If Frankenstein really desires to bring a corpse alive because
he believes that in doing so he will do something God-like, then Frankenstein's desire to
bring a corpse to life makes reference to some other desire. If Frankenstein desires
something because of some other desire, then the desire is extrinsic.
Thirdly, a desire is part-constitutive if and only if the agent has it because he
believes that satisfaction of it partly constitutes the state of affairs that is the object of
another desire. For example, Frankenstein may have a desire to have a brain (not the
brain in his head, mind you, but another brain). He has the desire for a brain because he
believes that having it will achieve part of having a whole corpse. Strictly speaking, it is
not that the brain is a means to having a corpse: rather, it is that having a brain is part of
having a corpse. Frankenstein's desire for a brain would be part-constitutive in this case.
I wrote above that an intrinsic desire, roughly, is a desire for something in itself.
An agent has an intrinsic desire for something, on my account, if the agent desires that
thing without some other desire playing a role as a reason for the desire. Now, an agent
may have an intrinsic desire that her desires are satisfied; so her intrinsic desires might
make reference to desires. But she cannot have an intrinsic desire because of some
There is one last thing to note about intrinsic and extrinsic desires. It seems
entirely possible that a desire could begin as an extrinsic desire and then change to an
intrinsic desire. Frankenstein's desire for money, which begins as an instrumental desire
could change to a desire he has intrinsically. The "because" in the above formulations is
not supposed to capture something about the generation of a desire. Rather, the
"because" should be thought of as invoking a reason or justification from the agent's
point of view. So, even if someone desires something in itself and she has the desire
"because" (in an historical way) she had an extrinsic desire of a particular sort, her desire
should still be thought of as intrinsic.
Should the satisfaction of extrinsic desires count towards one's well-being? As I
have put it, should extrinsic desires be in the relevant set? I do not think that they should
be in the relevant set and in 3.1.3 and 3.1.4, I argue for that conclusion.
3.1.3 Problems for Total Desire Satisfaction Accounts
Total desire accounts take the satisfaction of all one's desires as increasing one's
well-being, whether extrinsic or intrinsic. As I suggest above, I believe that actual
desires, at least in some cases should not be in the relevant desire set, but let me set aside
the issue for now. On total desire accounts, both extrinsic and intrinsic desires matter.
They do not have to matter equally. Desire sets can have a hierarchy. An outcome can
be desired because it is instrumental to another outcome, which itself might instrumental
to some further desired state of affairs. Hierarchy matters on these accounts, insofar as
there are differing "weights" that can be placed on the desires. 1 Some will be more
important than others. Even taking hierarchy into account, I think that total desire-
satisfaction accounts have significant problems as a theory of well-being.
Imagine Frankenstein is working in his laboratory (this does not happen in the
book). He is tired and exhausted, but thirsty. Water will quench his thirst, he thinks. He
1 There could be other forms of hierarchy as well-even between different intrinsic desires. At this point, I
only want to focus on one sort of hierarchy as a resource for the total desire view.
reaches out to what he believes is a glass of water in front of him. He pulls it to his
mouth and takes a drink. On this imagined example, he has an intrinsic desire to quench
his thirst and an extrinsic desire to drink from the glass in front of him. Frankenstein's
desire to drink from the glass in front of him is satisfied. Has Frankenstein's well-being
increased as a result of his desire-satisfaction? Well, that depends, I take it, on whether
the glass in front of him contained water or not. Let us suppose that it did-that seems a
case where it is plausible and intuitive to say that his well-being has been thereby
increased. However, let us suppose that it did not contain water. Not to expose the
reader to an example that is too disgusting, let us say the glass contained alcohol. So
Frankenstein really drank alcohol when he satisfied his desire to drink from the glass in
front of him. It seems clear here that this cannot be a case of improved well-being, but
We cannot put the total desire theory in the coffin just yet. Frankenstein's desire to
drink from the glass in front of him is just one of his desires among many. He has other
desires as well in the case where the glass contains alcohol. Maybe the satisfaction of
this one desire has caused the others to be thwarted (such as the desire to be clear-
headed). The person who favors a total desire-satisfaction theory could argue that, in the
story so described, Frankenstein's well-being suffers a net decrease as a result of the
action-so the example does not have counter-intuitive results. Call this response the
"swamped desire" response. The desire to drink from the glass can be swamped by other
desires both in number and in importance. But I think that the swamped desire response
will not work, for it grants the person who favors total desire-satisfaction far too much.
The result (after the net is calculated) comes out all right, but the way of getting to that
result is still unacceptable. The following thesis still holds for a total desire satisfaction
theory: Insofar as Frankenstein drank from the glass in front of him, his well-being was
improved. Given that it contains alcohol and not water, this is counter-intuitive.
Additionally, the "swamped desire" response only works if one has enough desires (or
enough strong desires) thwarted. There will be cases where there are no such
countervailing desires and in those cases, an agent's desire satisfaction will increase his
Frankenstein's desire to quench his thirst seems to be relevant to his well-being.
Furthermore, let us suppose that his desire to drink from the glass in front of him is
derived from beliefs that are highly justified: Frankenstein has not been a careless
reasoner. The problem then would lie in counting the desire to drink from the glass in
front of him as relevant to his well-being. There are two ways to block this undesired
consequence: (1) remain with actual desires, but restrict the relevant set to only intrinsic
desires, and exclude extrinsic desires: this is to abandon total desire views or (2) to move
away from an actual desires account to a counterfactual account of the desires, the
satisfaction of which, improve one's well-being: this is compatible with remaining true to
total desire views. I will discuss these two strategies, or ways of responding to the
objections, in turn.2
3.1.4 Intrinsic Desires
Restricting the relevant class of desires to intrinsic desires would solve the above-
mentioned problem. On the story given, Frankenstein intrinsically desires to quench his
2 Sometimes writers on this topic will look at problems structurally similar to the "thirsty Frankenstein"
example and immediately conclude that the way to solve the problem it to go with (2), but this is to miss an
important possible solution to this problem. For an example of someone who immediately goes with (2),
see Griffin, 1986. I think it very probable that Griffin understands the deeper issues, but his example is
thirst. His desire to drink from the glass in front of him is merely instrumental to the end
of quenching his own thirst. He has no intrinsic desire to drink from the glass in front of
him. Even though he drinks from the glass in front of him, his well-being is not
increased thereby. In fact, with plausible background values put into place, presumably
his well-being is decreased by drinking alcohol because he has intrinsic desires to stay
healthy, clear-minded, and so on.
It might seem one could solve the problem-alcohol-by restricting the desire set
to exclude desires based on false beliefs-i.e. by going to hypothetical fully informed
desires. Let us take a look at the hypothetical Frankenstein example again, but modify it
slightly. Let us go with a case where there are true beliefs that link up the intrinsic with
the extrinsic desire (the idea being here that we should look at instrumental desires when
they are at their best and see whether satisfaction of them increases one's well-being). So
in this newly described, but similar case, Frankenstein is thirsty, desires to drink from the
glass in front of him, but this time, there is water in the glass in front of him.
Frankenstein drinks and both desires are satisfied.
I am far from sure that even on this newly described case, we should think that
there is something to be said for the idea that the satisfaction of one's instrumental
desires increases one's well-being. Frankenstein, so described, has two desires both of
which are satisfied: the one to quench his thirst and the other one to drink from the glass
in front of him. Does this mean that the successful completion of his action counts twice
in favor of his well-being? That does not seem quite right. Suppose now that he has to
move a sheet of paper that is on top of the glass and he desires to move the sheet of paper
to drink from the glass. Does the satisfaction of all three desires count toward his well-
being? It seems the improvement in his well-being is the same in the case where he does
move the paper and in the case where there is no paper to move.3 The driving intuition in
all of these cases is that what matters is the quenching of the thirst, not grasping the glass,
or moving the glass closer to his face or whatever. So, even if we look at instrumental
desires in their best light (when they are correctly related to our intrinsic desires),
satisfaction of them does not seem to improve our well-being.
We are looking for an account of the set of desires the satisfaction of which lead to
an increase in well-being (the so-called "relevant set"), and total desire views do not
seem plausible. This is so when we go with actual desires and even extrinsic desires that
are correctly connected to the intrinsic desires. Now that the relevant set has been
restricted to intrinsic desires, let us look to see whether one's actual intrinsic desires can
be in error and whether there is a way of correcting for this error in the relevant desire set
by moving to a hypothetical desire set.
3.1.5 A Critical Discussion of Actual Intrinsic Desire Views of Well-Being
My immediate project is to critically assess actual intrinsic desire views of well-
being. I will argue that actual intrinsic desire views are inadequate in two ways: they do
not explain cases that involve ignorance in an intuitively attractive way and they do not
explain our intuitions about cases where one would cease to have an intrinsic desire upon
confrontation with facts. If actual intrinsic desires constituted the best relevant desire set,
the resulting desire-theory of well-being would be relatively simple. However, and
3 There is an interesting slightly modified case where the glass of water is trapped in a box and
Frankenstein would have to spend two hours getting it out of the box (there is no other way to quench his
thirst). One might think that getting it out of the box constituted an achievement of sorts and ought to count
in favor of his well-being. But I think that this is mistaken. I think that what is going on in the background
is our presupposition that Frankenstein, like the rest of us, desires to achieve his goals with as little effort as
is required or that he desires and enjoys exercising of ingenuity, etc.
unfortunately, actual intrinsic desires prove inadequate as constituting the relevant desire
set. A desire-satisfaction theory can deal with the two lines of criticism that the actual
intrinsic desire theory faces if it treats the relevant desire set as made up of the desires
one would have under certain counterfactual conditions. I will leave the specification of
the counterfactual conditions for later. Here, I will show that such a counterfactual
specification is desirable by showing that actual intrinsic desire views are inadequate.
I think that actual intrinsic desire views fail to account for an agent's well-being
when the agent is ignorant, at least in some situations. Let me explore a few hypothetical
cases. Imagine a case in which an agent is faced with a choice between eating some
pineapple and eating some watermelon. In this example, let us suppose that the agent has
never heard of pineapple, much less tasted it. She has tasted watermelon and likes it,
though not strongly. In this case, she desires to eat the watermelon and she does not
desire to eat the pineapple. Now, let us suppose further, that if she had tasted pineapple,
she would prefer it to watermelon. It seems that a theory of well-being should say that
her well-being would improve more if she were to eat the pineapple than if she were to
eat the watermelon.
Actual intrinsic desire views have trouble explaining the hypothetical case under
discussion, because the agent has no desire for the pineapple. Hence, her well-being, it
seems, can only increase if she eats the watermelon. Perhaps a proponent of an actual
intrinsic desire view would respond that what accounts for our intuitions in cases such as
the one just discussed is that there is some other intrinsic desire that we are presupposing
the agent has. For example, we might be presupposing that the agent has a desire for
pleasurable experiences and that, were she to taste the pineapple, she would have a
pleasurable experience. So, the reply by the proponent of an actual intrinsic desire view
goes, our intuitions about well-being do not conflict with an actual intrinsic desire view
in this case because we can presuppose intrinsic desires that everyone shares in our
thinking about the "pineapple" case.4
The reply under discussion is clever, but unfortunately it will not work in every
example. To show that it will not work, consider a case of a desire for a life-long project
where there is not another desire that one can point to in order to explain our intuitions in
the case. Take for example, a librarian who does not prefer to be a lawyer even though
he would if he knew more about how his life would go if he were a lawyer. In this case,
there is no plausible alternative desire that one can point to, in all of the various more
fully-detailed explanations of the example, in order to explain the intuition that the man's
life would go better if he were to be a lawyer. So even though the librarian does not
desire to be a lawyer, the intuition goes, his life would go better if he were to be a lawyer.
Later, I will discuss what I take to be driving our intuitions in the cases discussed in this
part. But for now, it is enough to be clear that there is something wrong with actual
intrinsic desire views.
I think there is another problem with actual intrinsic desire views. I will draw from
Richard Brandt's book, A Theory of the Good and the Right, where he argues one's
intrinsic desires can be lost if one were to be informed with propositional knowledge.5
Brandt thinks that if someone were to undergo cognitive psychotherapy then it would be
41 do not mean to commit myself to the claim that absolutely everyone shares the desire for pleasurable
experiences. Certainly people might not share such a desire. An ascetic, roughly, is someone who
renounces material comforts. An ascetic, it seems, might not desire pleasurable experiences. For
simplicity, I have granted the universal holding of the desire.
5 Although many parts of the book touch on this subject, Chapter VI "The Criticism of Pleasures and
Intrinsic Desires" is most apt.