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​​Well-Being Indices and Values in Policy

Many alternative indicators and measures of well-being have been developed over the last years. Policy-makers increasingly rely on a variety of such indicators and measures of well-being. But how can they do so in a way that is (i) scientifically sound, and well-justified (ii) ethically and (iii) politically? This project will use the debates about the measurement of well-being in philosophy to answer this question. It will also move forward the philosophical literature by challenging it with a practical, policy-oriented perspective.

A key focus of the project will be on a particularly significant recent development, that of so-called well-being dashboard indicators, such as the OECD’s Better Life Index (BLI) dashboard. Crucially, these dashboard indicators contain complex information, leave space for different values, and allow for political deliberation. Are well-being dashboard indicators (i) scientifically, (ii) ethically, and (iii) politically superior to any single index measure approach? They do seem to be scientifically superior as they preserve the complexity of well-being by not reducing it to a single number. They also seem ethically superior because they leave undetermined how different aspects of a life ought to be weighted. Finally, they seem politically superior because they leave space for political deliberation among people who disagree on what constitutes well-being. How do these advantages compare to the advantages of the standard single-number indicators and measures, which are more simple and leave less room for different values and deliberation?

Answering these questions, the project will move forward: (i) debates in the philosophy of science on measurement and value-ladeness, (ii) debates in value theory on what constitutes the good life, and (iii) debates in political philosophy on legitimacy and the importance of political deliberation. The philosophical examination of these indices will improve our understanding of their legitimacy, scope, and usefulness.

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