In this dissertation, I will proceed with the analysis of the ideal desire fulfilment theory and the objective list theory to conclude that the latter is more plausible as a theory of well-being. In the process of doing this, I will clarify the key theories, draw out the objections faced by both and determine if these objections are valid before concluding. Before discussing on the different theories, it will be helpful to start with the clarifications and definitions of key concepts. The three traditional theories of well-being are split into having either a subjective necessity, an individual having pro-attitude towards the good, or an objective necessity, a given thing is only good if they prove substantive value (attitude-independent). According to the simplest form desire fulfilment theory, well-being is achieved through the satisfaction of desires in terms of one’s psychological state (subjective necessity).
In this paper, the ideal desire fulfilment theory will be analysed instead. The theory states that well-being is the fulfilment of the desires formed under ideal conditions, instead of actual desires. Ideal conditions include all relevant true information, free of prejudice, emotional stability and moral excellence. Peter Railton claims “an individual’s good consists in what he would want himself to want, or to pursue, were he to contemplate his present situation from a standpoint fully and vividly informed about himself and his circumstances, and entirely free of cognitive error or lapses of instrumental rationality”. Richard Brand supports and proposed that rational desires are those that survived “cognitive psychotherapy” where desires were criticised and corrected through facts and logics, should one be fully informed. A standard characterisation can then be stated as: “X is intrinsically good for Person A because ideally informed A would want “non-ideal” A to have X and the fulfilment of X allows A to be better off in well-being. ”Therefore, the misinformed desires and inauthentic preferences objections should not be applicable when the “ideal” self makes choices for the actual, non-ideal self. Yet, objections against still arise from (1) the disbelief of all base, malicious, inauthentic and adaptive desires completely disappearing under ideal conditions, (2) whether these ideal desires will benefit (non-ideal) individual and lastly, (3) Euthyphro worry. Before the plausibility of this theory is discussed, let’s address the objective list theory.
The objective list theory holds that well-being is elevated when it contains the plurality of basic goods that are objectively valuable. These objective goods do not require subjective attraction for it to have intrinsic value to an individual’s well-being (objective necessity). Basic goods such as loving relationships, knowledge, health, accomplishment and pleasures can be included in objective lists. The standard characterisation of objective list theory can be: “X is intrinsically good for Person A because it is objectively valuable, and the possession of X allows A to be better off in well-being. ”Now it begs the question of which theory is more plausible than the other.
The first goal of this paper is to argue against the objections of an objective theory of well-being before proceeding to analyse the plausibility of ideal desire fulfilment theory. The appeal of objective list theory is that attitude-independent goods of any sorts, constitutes to one’s well-being, even if they are not desired. A strength of objective list theory is individuals’ considered judgements in which they value without thinking these goods as mere instances of desire fulfilments or means to an end. This insists that life is richer or fuller by any means should one be engaged in these basic goods because these goods benefit them. For instance, if someone lacks the basic desire for relationships through cognitive and informed analysis, the ideal desire fulfilment claims that a relationship will not constitute to her well-being. The idea that an individual’s life will be better with loving relationships is implausible. Loving relationships benefits individuals as they involve reciprocal love which constitutes to well-being even without desire being present. Idealists might respond to my argument in several ways. They might bring the concept of endorsement constraint and alienation objection. They protest that objective list theories wrongly imply that something is a constituent of well-being despite the individual lacking positive attitude towards it. For example. Railton claims that “it would be an intolerable alienated conception of someone’s good to imagine that it might fail in any way to engage him”. Fletcher also endorse a list claiming that having pro-attitude is a necessary component. If one lives well according to objective list but fails to satisfy the endorsement constraint, she will be miserable. This notion can be supported by the idea of autonomy and the sense of an individual.
Sumner believes that it is up to an individual to determine how well she is faring in the past. The well-being should focus on an individual and her own attitudes and beliefs, instead of concerning someone’s well-being as the category she is (a human being). This emphasises on how well-being is a personal value which reflects that what is prudentially good or bad for an individual must positively or negatively connect to her own psychology. In other words, embracing the form of prudential internalism is important as one should have some power to determine what constitutes their own well-being and confer prudential value on things that they care about.
Although I acknowledge that every individual is unique, the rival’s response is yet weakened with Brad Hooker’s counterargument. He embraces that achievement of worthwhile goods still contributes to a person’s well-being even if they were not pursued or resented or rejected. Supposed Person A gains some important wisdom that is not in A’s goals and in the present time, A does not appreciate the value of the wisdom as A did not desire for the wisdom until very late in life. When this wisdom is valued, A might have the possible thought of her life being better off than she thought. It might be a proposition that an individual might be better off than realised, because of an unappreciated good in her life. This proposition is still plausible without depending on the individual’s ever coming to terms with it. Supposed A dies without considering such proposition, the proposition might still be true. And if it is true, the subjective necessity of a good might not be a necessary condition. However, it must be acknowledged while this states that objective goods, even if not desire, can constitute to a little well-being, if resented will also cause the decrease of well-being. The overall balance of the contribution will depend on the importance, nature of relationship and distress caused to an individual. Based on Hooker’s claim, both the subjective necessity and objective necessity is individually sufficient for a good to be constituted to well-being. Thus, the endorsement constraint, that claims that nothing constitutes to an objective attainment unless it is subjectively affirmed, is weakened.
A caveat raised by idealists is that objective list is based on several unsystematic intuitions as it has trouble predicting intuitions that determine which goods is of prudential value. The reliance on intuitions may endorse flawed or biased welfare views. Sumner counters that there is no logical guarantee for the “most developed” person to be faring better than their undeveloped peers or that one option is more likely to make a greater contribution to happiness. However, it must be acknowledged that unsystematic intuitions are prominent in various philosophical theories and thus this objection is weak. Having argued for objective list, I will now discuss the plausibility of ideal desire fulfilment theory and its appeal. The ideal desire fulfilment theory may be more appealing to rivals as it embraces internalism which characterise intrinsic goods to individuals’ desires and avoid alienation. However, I will now present how it is implausible that perfect information will reduce (1) all base, malicious, inauthentic and adaptive desires. Firstly, true information can still lead of false beliefs. Loeb gives an example of how a subject with all the information about present day science may still lead to reasonable yet false conclusions. Another possibility would be an individual with all information, may treat them as irrelevant or irrelevant information being process instead. The intuition thus boils down to tying the concept of an individual’s good to her intellectual capabilities at the end of the day. There is an assumption that individual’s cognitive capabilities are unique to make this claim.
Lastly, framing biases may affect the impact on full-information views. Railton himself notes the differences in order of presentation will carry differing impacts yet argues that the differential effects will be minimised with the on-slew of information. In addition, in ideal conditions, an individual will be aware of her susceptibility, further diminishing on the difference in impact. This response is weak as there are evidence in the stubbornness of beliefs and even Railton agrees that individual’s beliefs are often resistant to change. This “belief perseverance” further undermines the appeal of internalism. At this point, we can also consider the stand of well-informed desires and perfect reasoning, it will be realised that the improvement of desires is not affected or changed by information due to the motivational nature of the individual itself. It is known that there are individuals whose desires are either base or malicious. Idealizers assumes that through idealisation, the process also rids of the desires for goods that are not “good to get”. This contradicts the subjective necessity as it requires there to be desire-independent welfare goods. Even if idealizers counter with the argument of “biting the bullet”, by intuition, an average person would criticise the malicious or base desire of an individual.
Coming back to the objection whether these ideal desires will benefit (non-ideal) individual. Subjectivists may evade this worry by maintaining a significant sincerity, claiming that ideal self will not do something if one should be non-ideal unless ideal self would in actuality do something if one were no-ideal. However, it is implausible for sincerity and idealisation to be consistent with each other. If an individual is to desire the information, she must be able to receive the information. Rosati argues that through surveying possible lives in all permutations, she must have traits that appreciate each experience and “even if we assume that we are still imagining a person at the end of this process, it is surely a person radically different from (albeit continuous with) the person who underwent idealisation. ” For example, should Person A’s ideal self of learning be strong enough, she might want non-ideal self to pursue learning despite non-ideal self’s lack of desire. The failure of identification between “ideal” and “non-ideal” renders appeal of internalism weak as the internalism condition is too demanding.
Lastly, Euthyphro worry. The goods that are objectively valuable are worth having and an idealised version of an individual may well be able to recognise which things have objective value and these them accordingly. Thus, seeing it is good for one to have them. This response again contradicts the subjective necessity appeal to ideal desire fulfilment theory. After the analysis of the objections of each theory, I will then pit the ideal desire fulfilment theory against the objective list directly by imagining a scenario where an individual has a life that contains a plurality of objective goods but poor in the ideal desires fulfilment aspect. Suppose Person A is ambitious and wishes to excel in all areas she is passionate about, from learning all the recipes of different cuisines to becoming a Broadway legacy. However, what she cares most about does not come true while on the other hand, she achieved the highest degree of objective goods. Should accomplishment be in her objective list, it is still outweighed by her overwhelming loving relationships, knowledge, friendship and health. For A to fail to endorse any of these shows that she fails to endorse her great riches and reflects the defective desire of not properly appreciating their riches. An average person would intuitively acknowledge that she has a good life, reflecting the notion that the objective list theory is more compelling to an average person. The same would hold for other objective goods. In real life, doctors are truthful to their patients despite the latter’s reluctance to know; scientists, historians and journalists publicising disturbing truths. The support of knowing the truth and meaningful knowledge is stronger than ‘ignorance is bliss’ mentality. This is also reflected in the sharing of unwelcome news to those we care about as we tend to believe that people are better off knowing the truth and news than not knowing them at all, even if it is not desired for in the first place.
To reiterate, while I will offer support for the greatest well-being is constituted by objective goods, it is acknowledged that both theories have their flaws, thus leading to some philosophers developing new subjective-objective theories to explain well-being. However, as aforementioned, I have argued that there is no strong objection to reject the objective list theory relative to the objections of ideal desire fulfilment that renders the theory weaker.
In conclusion, I believe that the objective list theory emerges as the more plausible theory.