The question of whether a personal life is going well is often answered in terms of that person’s well-being. Since physical, mental, and emotional health are all intertwined and one issue in one field has a negative effect on the others, well-being mainly refers to a person’s physical, mental, and emotional health. A person’s well-being is described as the complete integration of their social, occupational, spiritual, intellectual, and emotional components as a result of personal effort. A person’s well-being is measured not only by the state of their closed entity, but also by the importance of their entire life. Different theories describe what makes a person’s life run smoothly. Hedonistic Theories assert that what makes a person’s life go well are the things that make his life happiest. The Desire-Fulfillment Theories claim that what would make a person’s life go well are the things that would best fulfill his desires throughout his life. Lastly, the Objective List Theories assert that various things are either bad or good for human beings, regardless of whether they want to avoid the bad things or wish to have the right things.
The proponents of the Hedonistic theories assume that pain and pleasure are two different kinds of experience. Narrow Hedonists insist on preferences that lack any distinctive standard quality. Such preferences include satisfying and intense thirst, solving an intellectual problem, being sure that one’s child is happy, reading about a tragedy and listening to music among others. According to the Preference-Hedonism however, what pleasure and pain have in common is their relation to human desires (Feldman, 2002). In reference to pleasure, for anything to bring pleasure, it has to be wanted, and these things are greater or better the more they are wanted. Similarly, for something to bring pain, it has to be unwanted, and the pain is greater or worse the more it is unwanted. According to Stuart Mill, freedom of pain and pleasure are only desirable as ends. All desirable things promote a person’s well-being either as a means of preventing pain and promoting pleasure or due to the pleasure inherent in themselves (Mill, 1859). Critics of the Hedonistic Theories give an example of a person who aims at carrying out his daily activities while having little mental disturbance and feel neither pain nor pleasure. This person is therefore connected to a machine that creates constant feelings of pleasure to counteract all the feelings of pain. This person conducts his daily activities and consumes only the bare minimum to survive. According to the Hedonist, if the person remains connected to the pleasure-generating machine for his entire life, then he has had a good life since it was filled with pleasure and was devoid of pain. The Hedonistic Theories are shallow because they only bring instrumental value rather than intrinsic value. In this regard, happiness and pleasure are not the only things that are essential to good life. There are various forms of subjectivism such as value-realization theories, aim-achievement theories, and happiness theories including other types of hedonism.
While discussing the Desire-Fulfillment Theories, the Unrestricted Theory simply asserts that what is best for a person entails all the things that best fulfill his desires in his entire life. This, therefore, means that if a person was to meet with a sick stranger with a fatal disease such as cancer and his sympathy for this person is strongly aroused, if this person if cured in the future, then the event was good and makes life go better for the sympathetic person. The Success Theory appeals only to personal desires in life and is different from the Preference-Hedonism in only one way. While the Success Theory of Desire-Fulfillment appeals to a person’s preferences regarding their lives, the Preference-Hedonistic theory only appeals to the preferences concerning present features of a person’s life that are introspectively discernible. For instance, if a person vehemently hates being deceived by other people, then on Preference-Hedonism, the person would better believe that they are not being deceived. Whether the person is being deceived or not is irrelevant if their belief is false because it makes no difference to their state of mind. On the other hand, on Success Theory, it would be worse for the person if their belief if not true.
Most of the Desire-Fulfillment proponents would agree that when a person strongly desires something, then the more beneficial it is but also brings the worst frustration when it is not fulfilled. Regarding how good an entire person’s life would be, two ways can be used to examine if the desire led to good life. First, one can sum up the values of all the times the desires were satisfied and all the frustrations of that life and second, one can examine the person’s desires regarding their entire life and conclude that the best life is what the individual desires to lead. Perspectives can differ while using these two approaches since an individual can prefer to lead a life with less preference satisfaction (Kraut, 1994). The Desire-Satisfaction Theories are a form of subjectivism concerning a person’s well-being in the sense that, it asserts that achieving a good life has to do with a person’s attitude towards what life offers to that person rather than the nature of these things. Objective theories of well-being including the objective-list theories and the perfectionism theory hold, by contrast, that some things are intrinsically bad or good for us and may not specifically involve a person’s pro-or con-attitudes. Desire satisfaction plays a significant role in some advanced theories of well-being that consist both the objective and subjective elements.
Various philosophers such as Peter Raiton (1986) argue that what is intrinsically valuable for an individual should have a connection with some compelling degree of attractiveness if the person was aware and rational. In this regard, since desire is a paradigm way of finding something that had the compelling attractiveness, then the principle suggests a connection between desire and welfare. Another argument for the Desire-Fulfillment theories is based on the idea that they fit well with the naturalistic metaethics thus making the naturalistic worldview more general. Thirdly, proponents argue that well-being is a form of an internalistic or desire-based theory of reasons for actions. This means that the only thing a person has to have his reasons for satisfying a desire. Additionally, proponents of the Desire-Satisfactory theory support the intuitive idea that getting what a person wants is at least a good thing for them.
The Objective-List theories are often understood as theories that outline items constituting a person’s well-being and cannot be explained regarding merely pleasurable experiences or desire fulfillment. Examples of such items may include friendships or acquiring knowledge. From the Objective-List Theories, if one claims that only pleasure and friendship are important, then the list is unsatisfactory if another person can adequately demonstrate that knowledge is also essential in making a person’s life better. According to Aristotle and Thomas Hurka, Perfectionism makes things constituents of well-being in what they see as perfect human nature (Crisp, 2008). They assert that, if it is part of the human nature to acquire wisdom, for example, then a perfectionist should hold that wisdom is a constituent of well-being. However, there is no single thing preventing an objective-list theorist from claiming that all the items on the list have their way of advancing well-being. A person should, therefore, work towards that deliverance of reflective judgment to decide what goes on the list. However, a person should not argue that using a reflective judgment or intuition makes the objective less satisfactory than the other theories.
Well-being plays a significant role in all the moral theories. It is very tempting for some people to conclude that well-being; in some ultimate is all that matters morally. According to Joseph Raz in his humanistic principle, the justification and explanation of badness or goodness of something derive from it actual or possible contribution to human life and quality which contribute to a person’s well-being. People who are concerning with good or rights may hold that right are not certain neither good things nor do they describe that absence of bad things like suffering or freedom (Ross, 2002). This is so because a good thing may bring harm to some people and bring happiness to another group of people. In examining well-being and virtue, Plato supports the rationality of moral self-sacrifice. Aristotle, on the other hand, does not recommend sacrifice since he believed that he could defend a virtuous choice as being in the interests of the individual. This is so because Aristotle believed that a person’s only reasons for carrying out a particular action are firmly grounded in the well-being. Various features can be used to examine the credibility of an objective list. This includes autonomy, effective relationships, meaningful achievements, knowledge, pleasure, and self-respect. Independence is crucial since it gives a person a choice to make a rule for themselves and follow it without pressure. Autonomy is associated with self-governance and making rational and unconstrained decisions. In effective relationships, one should examine the kind of relationships that are more important than others whether in society, in places of work or within the family since they all contribute to a person’s well-being in different ways. Meaningful achievements or accomplishments describe what benefits a person intrinsically and examples include being a successful parent, writing a great novel, contributing towards the goodness of the society among others. Next, knowledge is an important aspect of personal well-being since it involves justified beliefs about essential truths to a person. Although pleasure may be understood subjectively since its value depends on the mental state of an individual, it has an essential feature which can be called pleasantness. Lastly, self-respect refers to some things including self-confidence, having fundamental rights guaranteed, the ability to feel self-worth and acting appropriately to not to expose oneself to ridicule. Self-respect contributes to maintaining personal dignity which is an essential requirement in well-being.
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Feldman, F. (2002). The good life: A defense of attitudinal hedonism. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 65(3), 604-628.
Kraut, R. (1994).Desire and the human good.In Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association (Vol. 68, No. 2, pp. 39-54).American Philosophical Association.
Mill, J. S. (1863). Utilitarianism. London: Parker, Son and Bourn.
Ross, W. D. (2002).The right and the good.Oxford University Press.