Skip to main content
×
Home

A Critique of Sumner's Account of Welfare

  • ANTON TUPA (a1)
Abstract

Wayne Sumner, in the first six chapters of his excellent book Welfare, Happiness and Ethics, argues for what he calls an authentic life satisfaction theory of welfare. Somewhat generally, Sumner's theory of welfare is a sophisticated subjective account that treats one's happiness of a certain sort, and in the right conditions, as enhancing one's welfare. In this essay, I critically explore Sumner's account of welfare. I argue that Sumner's arguments for his own account of welfare, when followed to their logical conclusion, support a position which is slightly, but significantly, different from his own position. Additionally, I argue that Sumner's account of welfare has several counter-intuitive implications. I conclude that his account is seriously flawed.

Copyright
References
Hide All

1 Sumner L. W., Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics (Oxford, 1996), pp. 143–9.

2 Sumner, Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics, p. 145.

3 Desire-satisfaction theories have been criticized along these lines as well. Desire-satisfaction theories, generally, treat the satisfaction of one's desires of the relevant sort as enhancing one's welfare. However, the criticism goes, one can have desires about things not sufficiently related to one's life in order to be relevant to one's welfare.

4 Nozick Robert, Anarchy, State, and Utopia (New York, 1974), pp. 42–3.

5 Sumner, Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics, pp. 94–6.

6 Sumner, Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics, p. 139.

7 Sumner, Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics, p. 158, his italics.

8 Sumner, Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics, pp. 158–9, his italics.

9 Sumner, Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics, p. 159.

10 Sumner, Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics, p. 160, his italics.

11 Additionally, one's life satisfaction must be autonomous. Let us set this additional requirement aside for now.

12 Sumner, Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics, p. 161.

13 Recall what Sumner says in his rejection of the justification version of the information requirement: ‘Once again it presumes to dictate to individuals how much their deviation from an ideal epistemic standpoint should matter to them. But that is for them to decide’ (Sumner, Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics, p. 159).

14 Sumner, Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics, p. 160.

15 For a development of an ideal advisor theory, see Railton Peter, ‘Facts and Values’, Facts, Values, Norms: Essays towards a Morality of Consequence (Cambridge, 2003), pp. 4368. For criticism of such a view, see David Sobel, ‘Full-Information Accounts of Well-Being’, Ethics 104.4 (July 1994), pp. 784–810. See also, Connie Rosati, ‘Persons, Perspectives, and Full Information Accounts of the Good’, Ethics 105.2 (Jan. 1995), pp. 296–325.

16 Sumner, Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics, p. 160.

17 Sumner, Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics, p. 160.

18 Sumner, Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics, p. 171.

19 I do not mean to assert that Sumner is offering a decision procedure for determining what in fact enhances one's welfare. Rather, I only mean to say that a criterion ought to be a guide for those who are ideally epistemically situated. Compare with standard accounts of utilitarianism. Utilitarians do not, in general, propose that before each action, one do a utility calculation to determine which act maximizes utility (for one would never get out of bed in the morning). Rather, they propose only that if one were to be ideally epistemically situated, then one could follow the utilitarian principle. Sumner cannot propose such a thing if version (a) were to be what he has in mind.

20 Sumner, Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics, p. 160.

21 Moreover, construal (c) allows for those who do not have the concept of welfare to have some welfare, such as if there were to be people in a culture without such a concept, or infants and small children. It seems quite plausible to say that most adults, infants and small children have desires – at least if desires are taken to be complex dispositions.

22 Sumner, Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics, p. 171.

23 Sumner, Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics, p. 160.

24 Sumner, Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics, p. 160.

25 See Sen Amartya, On Ethics and Economics (Oxford, 1987), and elsewhere.

26 Sumner, Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics, pp. 161–71.

27 Sumner, Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics, pp. 170–1.

28 David Boonin rightly takes it for granted that the rape of a woman who later never comes to know of it, surely, results in a diminution of her welfare. Boonin's topic broadly is the moral justification, or lack thereof, of a system of punishment. Nevertheless, the example is relevant. See Boonin David, The Problem of Punishment (Cambridge, 2008), pp. 238–40.

29 I would like to thank Peter Barry, David Copp, and John Tresan for their very helpful comments on an earlier draft of this article.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Utilitas
  • ISSN: 0953-8208
  • EISSN: 1741-6183
  • URL: /core/journals/utilitas
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Metrics

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 1
Total number of PDF views: 24 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 207 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 24th November 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.