Well-Being Coherentism

The British Journal for Philosophy of Science, forthcoming.

Philosophers of well-being have tended to adopt a foundationalist approach to the question of theory and measurement, according to which theories are more basic than measures. By contrast, social scientists have tended to adopt operationalist commitments, according to which they develop and refine well-being measures independently of any philosophical foundation. Unfortunately, neither a foundationalist approach nor an operationalist approach help us overcome the problem of coordinating between how we characterize well-being and how we measure it. Instead, we should adopt a coherentist approach to well-being science.

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No Theory-Free Lunches in Well-Being Policy

The Philosophical Quarterly, 70(278): 43-64.

Generating an account that can sidestep the disagreement among substantive theories of well-being, while at the same time still providing useful guidance for well-being public policy, would be a significant achievement. Unfortunately, the various attempts to remain agnostic regarding what constitutes well-being fail to either (a) be an account of well-being, (b) provide useful guidance for well-being policy, or (c) avoid relying on a substantive well-being theory. There are no theory-free lunches in well-being policy. Instead, I propose an intermediate account, according to which well-being is constituted by endorsed veridical experiences. This account refers back to theories of well-being but does so as agnostically as possible. An intermediate account of well-being is meant as a policy guiding compromise between the different theories of well-being that make claims regarding what constitutes well-being. An intermediate account does as well as can be hoped for in providing a basis for well-being policy.

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The Narrowed Domain of Disagreement for Well-Being Policy

​Public Affairs Quarterly, 32(1) 2018: 1-20.

In recent years, policy-makers have shown increasing interest in implementing policies aimed at promoting individual well-being. But how should policy-makers choose their well-being policies? A seemingly reasonable first step is to settle on an agreed upon definition of well-being. Yet there currently is significant disagreement on how well-being ought to be characterized, and agreement on the correct view of well-being does not appear to be forthcoming. Nevertheless, I argue in this paper that there are several reasons to think that the domain of well-being in the public policy context is narrower than that of well-being in general, which makes agreement on how to understand well-being in the public policy context more likely.

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Ignoring Easterlin; Why Easterlin’s Correlation Findings Need Not Matter to Public Policy

Journal of Happiness Studies, 19(8): 2225-2241.

Many believe that the lack of correlation between happiness and income, first discovered by Richard Easterlin in 1974, entails the conclusion
that well-being policies should be made based on happiness measures, rather than income measures. I argue that distinguishing between how well-being is characterized and how that characterization is measured introduces ways of denying the conclusion that policies should be made based on happiness measures. It is possible to avoid the conclusion either by denying that well-being hedonism is true or by denying that happiness measures are a better way of operationalizing hedonism than income measures are. By making these possibilities explicit, we find that less hinges on whether income and happiness are correlated than is usually thought.

Sharedit access

Motivationally Balancing Policy (invited)

SOCIETY, 53(3) 2016: 268-268.

In response to Amitai Etzioni’s paper “Happiness Is the Wrong Metric” I argue several points. First, arguing against a view of humans as seeking only pleasure is a strawman, and `satisfiers’ should be more broadly understood as seeking to satisfy their preferences by maximizing utility. Second, the idea that humans have multiple motivations is not new, but is nevertheless important for understanding and guiding behavior. Third, the standard economic practice of methodological utility-maximization is beneficial in the short-term, while it has some potential downside in the long-term.

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Can an Evidential Account Justify Relying on Preferences for Well-Being Policy?

Journal of Economic Methodology , 22(3), 2015: 280-291.

Policy-makers sometimes aim to improve well-being as a policy goal, but to do this they need some way to measure well-being. Instead of relying on potentially problematic theories of well-being to justify their choice of well-being measure, Daniel Hausman proposes that policy-makers can sometimes rely on preference-based measures as evidence for well-being. I claim that Hausman’s evidential account does not justify the use of any one measure more than it justifies the use of any other measure. This leaves us at a loss as to which policy should be chosen in the non-trivial cases for which there is substantial disagreement between the different measures in their assessment of policy.
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Applied Ethics


You Can Bluff but You Should Not Spoof

Business and Professional Ethics Journal, 39(2): 207-224.

Spoofing is the act of placing orders to buy or sell a financial contract without the intention to have those orders fulfilled in order to create the impression that there is a large demand for that contract at that price. In this article, I deny the view that spoofing in financial markets should be viewed as morally permissible analogously to the way bluffing is permissible in poker. I argue for the pro tanto moral impermissibility of spoofing and make the case that spoofing is disanalogous from bluffing in at least one important regard—speculative trading serves an important economic role, whereas poker does not.

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The Irrelevance of Unsuccessful Traders

Business Ethics Journal Review, 6(8) 2018: 41-46.

Alasdair MacIntyre argues that moral virtues are antithetical to what is required of those who trade in financial markets to succeed. MacIntyre focuses on four virtues and argues that successful traders possess none of them: (i) self-knowledge, (ii) courage, (iii) taking a long-term perspective, and (iv) tying one’s own good with some set of common goods. By contrast, I argue that (i-iii) are, in fact, traits of successful traders, regardless of their normative assessment. The last trait—caring about the common good—is often counterproductive in most for-profit ventures, including trading, and so singling out traders is inappropriate.

Educational Equipoise and the Educational Misconception; Lessons from Bioethics

Teaching and Learning Inquiry, 6(2) 2018: 3-15.

Some advances in bioethics regarding ethical considerations that arise in the context of medical research can also be relevant when thinking about the ethical considerations that arise in the context of SoTL research. In this article, I aim to bring awareness to two potential ethical challenges SoTL researchers might face when playing a dual role of teacher and researcher that are similar to the challenges physicians face in their dual role of physician and researcher. In this article, I argue that two commonly discussed concerns in bioethics---the need for clinical equipoise and the possibility of a therapeutic misconception---have analogies when conducting some types of research on students. I call these counterparts educational equipoise and the educational misconception.

Experimental Economics

From Models to Experiments (invited, with Daniel Houser)

in James M. Buchanan: A Theorist of Political Economy and Social Philosophy. Ed. Richard E. Wagner. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018: 921-37.

Buchanan’s work, and in particular The Calculus of Consent, which he wrote with Gordon Tullock, has been foundational in the field of public choice. One of his students, Charles Plott, became a pioneer with multiple seminal contributions in the field of experimental public choice. In this chapter we focus on Buchanan’s work on decision making under majority rule, and any influence it may have had on Plott. While Buchanan and Tullock address environments with single decisions, they focus much more on decision making under repeated votes, a topic they found of great interest. Plott’s seminal 1978 paper with Morris Fiorina, however, focuses on single decisions. It may seem puzzling, then, that Plott has often suggested Buchanan’s influence on his work. We offer a resolution to this puzzle.

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Experimental Economics’ Inconsistent Ban on Deception

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A, 52 2015: 13–19.
According to what I call the ‘argument from public bads’, if a researcher deceived subjects in the past, there is a chance that subjects will discount the information that a subsequent researcher provides, thus compromising the validity of the subsequent researcher’s experiment. While this argument is taken to justify an existing informal ban on explicit deception in experimental economics, it can also apply to implicit deception, yet implicit deception is not banned and is sometimes used in experimental economics. Thus, experimental economists are being inconsistent when they appeal to the argument from public bads to justify banning explicit deception but not implicit deception.

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Ancient Philosophy

The Need for Governmental Inefficiency in Plato's Republic
Journal of History of Economic Thought, 43(1) 2021: 103-117.
In book II of Plato’s Republic, Socrates discusses the cities of necessity and luxury (372d-373a). Discussions of these cities have often focused on citizens desiring more than they need, which creates a demand for luxury. Yet the second part of the equation, which is not usually recognized, is that there must be sufficient supply to meet this demand. The focus of this article is on the importance of supply in the discussion of the first two cities in book II of the Republic. This article argues that the way Plato models the cities makes it the case that a surplus above levels of necessity will be generated from time to time. That the unwanted surplus cannot be spontaneously disposed of entails that the first two cities are institutionally incomplete. A government is needed in order to coordinate the disposal of the surplus supply the city will produce.

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