Journal of Economic Methodology (2023), 30:4, 322-336.
It is an open question whether well-being ought to primarily be understood as a temporal concept or whether it only makes sense to talk about a person’s well-being over their whole lifetime. In this article, I argue that how this principled philosophical disagreement is settled does not have substantive practical implications for well-being science and well-being policy. Trying to measure lifetime well-being directly is extremely challenging as well as unhelpful for guiding well-being public policy, while temporal well-being is both an adequate indirect measure of lifetime well-being, and an adequate focus for the purposes of improving well-being through public policy. Consequently, even if what we ought to care about is lifetime well-being, we should use temporal measures of well-being and focus on temporal well-being policies.
A New Well-Being Atomism (with Daniel Weltman)
Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (2023), 107: 3-23.
Many philosophers reject the view that well-being over a lifetime is simply an aggregation of well-being at every moment of one’s life, and thus they reject theories of well-being like hedonism and concurrentist desire satisfactionism. They raise concerns that such a view misses the importance of the relationships between moments in a person’s life or the role narratives play in a person’s well-being. In this article, we develop an atomist meta-theory of well-being, according to which the prudential value of a life depends solely on the prudential value of each moment of that life. This is a general account of momentary well-being that can capture different features of well-being that standard atomistic accounts fail to capture, thus allowing for the possibility of an atomism that is compatible with a variety of well-being theories. Contrary to many criticisms leveled against momentary well-being, this well-being atomism captures all of the important features of well-being.
The British Journal for Philosophy of Science (2022), 73(4): 1045-1065.
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.
No Theory-Free Lunches in Well-Being Policy
The Philosophical Quarterly (2020), 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.
The Narrowed Domain of Disagreement for Well-Being Policy
Public Affairs Quarterly (2018), 32(1): 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.
Ignoring Easterlin; Why Easterlin’s Correlation Findings Need Not Matter to Public Policy
Journal of Happiness Studies (2018), 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.
Motivationally Balancing Policy (invited)
SOCIETY (2016), 53(3): 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.
Can an Evidential Account Justify Relying on Preferences for Well-Being Policy?
Journal of Economic Methodology (2015), 22(3): 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.