Volume 90, Issue 3, July 2013
Happiness and Well-Being
Human Diversity and the Nature of Well-Being
Reflections on Sumner’s Methodology
In Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics, L. W. Sumner argues that theories of well-being must not pick out some kinds of human lives as richer in prudential value
than others. I argue that we should reject this methodological stricture, but should embrace his insight that many kinds of lives are good for people to live. I also reject his claim that a theory of well-being would fail if it took the form of a list of things that are good for us. Nonetheless, I argue, if we construct such a list in a way that caters to the diversity of good human lives, we will be led to the conclusion that they are united by their relationship to the flourishing of our natural capacities. I distinguish between bottom-up and top-down strategies for defending this Aristotelian conception of well-being, and argue in favor of a bottom-up approach.