Radical pluralist theory of well-being: towards a new pluralist conception of welfare
The philosophy of well-being has generally assumed that only a weak form of pluralism could be true about prudential value: one which posits a plurality of constituents of well-being. The main exponent of theories espousing this form of pluralism are pluralist objective list theories. In this thesis I argue for the need to explore stronger forms of pluralism about well-being. In Chapter 1, I begin by arguing that pluralist objective list theories should develop an account of ill-being. Doing so, however, reveals a particular phenomenon about the relation between objective list goods and ills. This is that they appear to form pairs: each good is a counterpart to a particular and distinct ill (and vice versa), e.g. pleasure and pain, such that the two stand in a special relationship to each other. In Chapter 2 it is argued that objective list theories lack the ability to appropriately explain pairing. In particular, though they can develop accounts of how members of a pair are related, they cannot explain why the pairing relation obtains. This, it is argued, is a serious problem for objective list theories. Following this, in Chapter 3 I argue that perfectionism, an alternative objectivist account of welfare, provides an intuitive explanation of (most of) the objective list theory’s goods and ills as well as of the nature of pairing. However, perfectionism itself encounters a serious problem in its inability to appropriately account for the goodness of pleasure and badness of pain. A broader, eudaimonist solution is then introduced that can save some degree of the perfectionist view. However, this is itself heavily suggestive of the stronger pluralist theories defended by this thesis. Chapter 4 introduces and explains Heathwood’s distinction between different kinds of monism and pluralism. In particular, I employ his proposed notion of radical pluralism in articulating a radical pluralist theory of well-being. On top of postulating a plurality of goods and ills, this theory proposes a plurality of kinds of prudential values (or value properties), i.e., that different goods and ills are good and bad for us in different ways. This will be shown to not only survive initial scrutiny, but also explain pairing in an intuitive way: by postulating a distinct value property for each good-ill pair, such that each good-ill pair is good and bad for us in the same kind of way, while other pairs are good and bad for us in different kinds of ways. In Chapter 5 I introduce a serious problem facing the radical pluralist theory of well-being, arising from the threat of the incomparability of instances of different values. This would mean that, under radical pluralism, instances of achievement cannot be compared with instances of pleasure. As such bearers of prudential value do seem to be comparable, this constitutes an important obstacle for the theory to overcome. In addressing this, I consider both incomparabilist and comparabilist solutions, dismissing the former and developing a version of the latter based on the articulation of normative relations between such prudential values and of their grounds. Chapter 6 turns to argumentation in favour of the radical pluralist theory of well-being, primarily focused on arguing that there are cases where we can rationally regret not choosing the worse of two (or more) options, even when both options are exclusively prudentially valuable. This, it is maintained, cannot be explained by weaker forms of pluralism, but only by stronger ones like radical pluralism. Finally, in Chapter 7 the radical pluralist theory is applied to three important issues in current discussions of well-being: the formulation of explanatory theories, the variabilism-invariabilism debate, and the problem of alienation faced by at least some objectivist theories. In each case, it is argued that the radical pluralist theory offers novel approaches and insights into these questions, further providing a case for its careful consideration in future discussions of well-being.