T. Scanlon (What we owe to each other, ch. 3) Scanlon assumes that the concept of well-being and the concept of choiceworthiness are not the same concept. Scanlon has many reasons to distinguish the two concepts. Some of these reasons are peculiar to his views about the relation about value and reasons. For example, choiceworthiness can be understood as the life "one has most reasons -all things considered - to choose". Scanlon argues in a different place (ch. 2) that some of our reasons are not teleological (i.e. not reasons to produce some thing or some more thing of value). Posted by Michele at 8:02 PM
How can we argue that the concept of well-being most philosophers talk about does not exist?First of all: does such a project make sense? Consider Quine's argument in "two dogmas". He tried to show that the alleged distinction between analytic and synthetic judgments is untenable. How does he do it? he shows that every attempt to explicate what the supposed distinction means turns out to be meaningless or viciously circular.
Maybe something similar can be said about the concept of well-being, if it is understood in such a way that its meaning is based upon a previous conceptual distinction, and that this distinction turns out to be empty in the same sense as the analytic-synthetic distinction is, according to Quine. For example many philosophers identify the notion of well-being with the notion of "what is good for a particular subject". They think that when we say that something is “good for p” we appeal to a different concept from the concept(s) we appeal to when we say, for example "you made a good choice by choosing to live like that", “this would be a good and fulfilling life – a life that human being is supposed to lead”, “that is the life that is most desirable or worth aiming at”.
If it can be shown, for example, that we cannot make sense of this distinction, or that, if we make sense of it, neither terms turns out to coincide with the mongrel of intuitions that philosophers are trying to characterize by using the word “well-being”, we have something like a possible line of attack.
I made explicit reference to “the mongrel of intuitions that philosophers are trying to characterize by using the word “well-being”. But how can there be such intuitions, if the concept of well-being does not belong to our conceptual repertory? What we have is really a mongrel of ideas that do not cohere into a concept. But we can still characterize “what philosophers are trying to characterize by using the word ‘well-being’” by describing the peculiar goals such philosophers have in mind, the goals that motivate them to introduce the term. And one of these goals is the goal of making certain distinction, the goal of making sense of some thoughts which seems to be indubitable. We can define this goal, this distinction, and these thoughts without a commitment to their truth and meaningfulness.
Therefore, first of all one needs to identify some salient feature about the concept that philosophers are trying to characterize. I am clearly considering well-being as a technical word, a word that does not have necessarily anything to do with what the man or the woman in the street (or in the wellness centre) calls well-being. This assumption of mine is justified by scepticism about the idea that we could ground a theory of well-being upon the linguistic intuitions that surround the usage of that very term. (A suspicion shared by Griffin. See this post, quote 4.)
The first step in this project consist in the identification of the salient features that a philosophical theory must have in order to present itself, relatively uncontroversially, as a theory of well-being, and not as a theory of something else. Posted by Michele at 6:30 PM Thursday, January 11, 2007