Many among philosophers and non-philosophers would claim that well-being is important in moral theory because it is important to the individual whose well-being it is. The exact meaning of this claim, however, is in need of clarification. Having provided that, I will present a charge against it. This charge can be found in the recent work of both Joseph Raz and Thomas Scanlon. According to the latter the concept of well-being plays an unimportant role in an agent’s deliberation. As I will show, to claim this much is to undermine our initial claim; and to do that is to undermine some of the most central theories in normative ethics. I will focus on Scanlon’s discussion in particular because it affords us with two criteria for the assessment of the importance for a person of a value-concept such as well-being. I will claim that much of Scanlon’s case rests on the idea that well-being is an inclusive good, a good constituted by other things that are good in and for themselves. Then, I will put forward a case against Scanlon’s challenge by (1) showing that inclusiveness, when properly understood, does not lead to the conclusion Scanlon is led to and (2) showing that on at least the reading Scanlon prefers, his criteria are inappropriate.
Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 2008, Vol 11, Issue 2, p. 197-212