Theories of Well-being: The Foundations

  • Annie AustinEmail author
Part of the Wellbeing in Politics and Policy book series (WPP)


This chapter discusses foundational ethical theories that provide diverse answers to Socrates’ question of what constitutes a good, flourishing life. Classical utilitarianism employs a hedonistic account of well-being, while classical liberalism and rights-based accounts are grounded in a conception of well-being as individual freedom. Aristotelian approaches typically rest on background theories of well-being as living well in the social-political world. The first three candidates for universals of well-being are therefore Happiness (from Hedonism); Freedom (from Liberalism); and Sociality (from Aristotelianism). The Aristotelian-inspired Capabilities Approach (CA) conceptualises well-being as people’s capabilities “to live the lives they value - and have reason to value” Sen (1999). The CA will provide the analytical framework for this study. The aim is to discover what people value, as grounds for proposing that, if people across the world universally value particular aspects of life, then this is evidence that there is good reason to value those aspects of life. This strategy amounts to making a strong claim about the first part of Sen’s definition (What people do in fact value), and a more modest claim about the second part (What people have reason to value).


Flourishing Well-being Happiness Capabilities Approach 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of ManchesterManchesterUK

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