Publication Date



Open access

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Philosophy (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Harvey Siegel

Second Committee Member

Michael Slote

Third Committee Member

Bradford Cokelet

Fourth Committee Member

Richard Kraut

Fifth Committee Member

Daniel Haybron


Two thoughts dominate much of the literature on well-being: “What is good for an individual depends upon what that individual is like” and “In some cases an individual is worse off because she is deprived of some putatively essential or basic good even if she cannot be brought to appreciate this fact.” This work is an attempt to capture both of these intuitions to a greater extent than prior theories of well-being. Many well-being theorists call the first thought “the subjective intuition” and consider the latter to concern our intuitions about “deprivation.” While many theories of well- being are able to capture the subjective intuition, e.g., Railton’s desire-satisfactionism or Crisp’s sensational-hedonism, they often do so at the cost of not being able to explain and justify our intuitions about deprivation. Conversely, objective theories of well-being, e.g., objective-list and Eudaimonist accounts, offer substantive accounts of “the good life” which, while allowing them to explain and justify our intuitions about flourishing and deprivation, do so at the cost of failing to capture the subjective intuition. In light of this, one might wonder whether it is possible for a theory of well- being to completely cohere with both intuitions. I argue that there are two incommensurable standards underlying each intuition, i.e., the standard set by either an individual’s idiosyncratic makeup (i.e., “what she is like”) or the standards that apply to a particular class to which she belongs (e.g., what deprivation consists in, for members of that class), and that appeals to them yield conflicting judgments. An important upshot of this is that there is a sense in which no theory can entirely capture both the subjective intuition and our intuitions about deprivation. In light of this, it is my view that philosophers must come to terms with the tension that exists between the two intuitions and work to develop a theory that best accommodates them both at the same time to the greatest extent possible. My approach, treating well-being as self-realization, does just this. I defend a novel, broadly subjectivist, theory of well-being which is motivated by the idea that what is good (i.e., prudentially valuable) for an individual depends upon what that individual is like, e.g., what she cares about, attaches importance to, regards as mattering, structures her life around, i.e., what she values. I argue that the best way to capture this idea is to maintain that an individual’s well-being consists in that individual’s “self-realization,” specifically, the realization of that individual’s values. The primary virtue of this approach, and an important gap that it fills in the literature on well-being, is its ability to capture to a greater extent than competitor theories both the subjective intuition and our intuitions about deprivation. It is able to do this because of its focus on individuals’ values. By focusing on an individual’s values, which I describe as those aspects of her psychological and volitional makeup that she is autonomous in relation to and which are properly attributable to her, well-being as self-realization is able to capture the subjective intuition. This is because a person’s values are central to “what she is like.” Well-being as self-realization is able to respect and capture our intuitions about deprivation because, like many objective theorists in the Neo-Aristotelian tradition, e.g., Foot, Hursthouse, Kraut, etc., it recognizes the importance of the development and exercise of cognitive, affective, and volitional capacities (e.g., a capacity for autonomy), which are constitutive of personhood and of an individual’s well-being qua person.


Philosophy; Ethics; Well-Being; Autonomy; Subjectivism; Objectivism