Western Historical Traditions of Well-Being

Part of the International Handbooks of Quality-of-Life book series (IHQL)


This chapter provides a brief historical overview of Western philosophical views about well-being from the eighth century before the Common Era to the middle of the twentieth century. We explain different understandings of the concept of well-being, including our preferred understanding of well-being as the subjective states and objective conditions that make our lives go well for us. Although this review is necessarily incomplete, we discuss some of the most salient and influential contributions to our subject. To that end, we cover some key views from ancient Greece, including the aristocratic values that were considered central to leading a good life, notions of personal and more expansive harmony as they key to well-being, and the idea that the experience of pleasure is all we should really care about. We also explain some of the major religious conceptions of the good life and their progression through the Middle Ages and beyond. We further consider more recent secular conceptions of well-being, including several views on the importance of personal and public happiness. Finally, we discuss views to the effect that happiness is not enough for the good life and that we should strive for loftier goals.


Well-being Doing well Eudaimonia Nature Western Happiness History 


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Further Reading

  1. Annas, J. (1993). The morality of happiness. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. McMahon, D. M. (2006). Happiness: A history. New York: Grove Atlantic.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Northern British ColumbiaPrince GeorgeCanada
  2. 2.Department of PhilosophyCalifornia State UniversitySacramentoUSA

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