The Best Expression of Welfarism<sup>1</sup>

Christian Coons

in Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics

Published in print December 2012 | ISBN: 9780199662951
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191745195 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Studies In Normative Ethics

The Best Expression of Welfarism1

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Welfarism is a general view about value and the foundations of morality: it is the view that only well-being is intrinsically valuable, and nothing but well-being matters, basically or ultimately, for ethics. This chapter argues that the best normative theory of this type is a kind of caring ideal observer theory. Its inspiration is not nostalgia for the benevolent spectators of early proto-utilitarian history, but Elizabeth Anderson, Steven Darwall, and David Velleman's insight that there is a difference between valuing well-being and valuing well-being for the sake of those to whom it accrues. Valuing well-being in this second way is valuing it out of “sympathetic concern” or care for those to whom it accrues. The chapter explains how reflection about when and why well-being matters reveals that we value well-being in this second way. Welfarists, it is argued, should conclude that though well-being remains the only intrinsic good it is only conditionally good; specifically, it is worth promoting only insofar as it is worth promoting for the sake of individuals who merit care. Recognizing this fact about well-being's value allows welfarists to finally address their deepest challenge: developing an axiology that can avoid Parfit's Repugnant Conclusion and Non-Identity Problem while retaining the transitivity of the better-than relation. This axiology uses the preferences of an idealized carer to rank states of affairs. Furthermore, it is argued that welfarists should appeal to the idealized carer not just at the axiological level but also in accounting for different categories of moral assessment, including the right, the permissible, the optimal, and the supererogatory. Finally, appealing to the dispositions of an ideal carer offers unique epistemic advantages; it does not require independent knowledge of what well-being consists in or how to measure it intra- or inter-personally. The chapter closes with a discussion of how epistemic access to the responses of the idealized carer is possible.

Keywords: welfarism; axiology; well-being; theory x; theory of beneficence; priority of the good; impartial spectator; interpersonal utility comparisons; Sumner; Parfit; Anderson; Darwall; Velleman

Chapter.  13176 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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