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In the fields of law, economics, and philosophy, the leading conception of human welfare is preference-satisfaction — getting what one wants. An important rival is an objective list approach to ethics — possessing an enumerated set of capabilities. This Article argues against both major views and in favor of a third, defining welfare as subjective well-being — feeling good. We reject the leading approach on the ground that preferences are often mistaken or else involve goals independent of the individual’s own welfare. When sophisticated preference-satisfaction theories launder out such preferences, those accounts reduce to our happiness-based approach. We reject objective list theories on the ground that they impose objective criteria, whereas an individual’s well-being is a purely subjective concept. How good a person’s life is for her cannot be judged by how well she satisfies someone else’s standards of virtue or flourishing. By contrast with these theories, our hedonic approach captures the ordinary understanding of what it means for someone to have well-being, and it stands up better to analytical challenges than do its rivals. As a result, we advocate that administrative agencies replace cost-benefit analysis (the tool of the preference-based approach) with well-being analysis. Groundbreaking new research in hedonic psychology makes this possible, and we discuss how it can be accomplished.
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You can download the paper for free here. For more Situationist posts about some of those authors’ previous work, see “Happiness and Punishment – Abstract,” and “The Situation of Civil Settlements – Abstract.” To read other releated Situationist posts, see “Something to Smile About,” “Happiness Rankings by Country,” “Miscalculating Welfare – Abstract,” and “Situating Emotion.”