The Quality of Life

The Quality of Life

The Quality of Life

The Quality of Life


This book addresses issues of defining and measuring the quality of life. Recent developments in the philosophical definition of well-being are discussed and linked to practical issues such as the delivery of health care, and the assessment of women's quality of life. Leading philosophersand economists have contributed to this volume to consider the problems the subject raises. This volume reflects the growing need for interdisciplinary work as economists become more sensitive to the importance of facing fundamental philosophical questions and of the importance of linking their theoretical enquiries to an understanding of complex practical problems. Contributors: E. Allardt, J. Annas, C. Bliss, S. Bok, D. Brock, G. A. Cohen, R. Erikson, W. Gaertner, J. Griffin, S. Hurley, C. M. Korsgaard, L. Kruger, M. C. Nussbaum, O. O'Neill, S. Osmani, D. Parfit, H. Putnam, R. A. Putnam, J. Roemer, T. Scanlon, P. Seabright, A. Sen, C. Taylor, M. Valdes, B. M. S. van Praag, M. Walzer, B.-C. Ysander


These papers derive from a conference that took place at the WIDER in Helsinki in July 1988. It was organized by Martha Nussbaum and Amartya Sen. The organizers wish to thank Dolores E. Iorizzo for her invaluable role in looking after every phase of the conference and the preparation of this volume of essays, and would also like to acknowledge the help received from Iftekar Hossain and Richard L. Velkely.

An important part of WIDER'S mandate-symbolized indeed in the acronym 'WIDER'-was to engage in interdisciplinary research. What is meant by the 'quality of life', and what is required in terms of social policy for improving it, has been a common preoccupation of both economics and philosophy, and an obvious focus of WIDER's work was a conference that would bring scholars together from both these disciplines. At the aggregative level, economists work with a crude measure of per capita income as indicative of human welfare, and a number of questions are begged here which require closer investigation. Similarly, at the micro level, the notion of maximizing an individual's utility underlies much of conventional demand theory. But this raises two questions: is utility measurable? And is utility the right thing to be measuring, when we are interested in assessing the quality of human lives?

Philosophers have been debating both these issues from a variety of points of view, providing sophisticated new perspectives on them. At the aggregative level, they have been critical of the single crude measure provided by per capital income, insisting that we need to consider the distribution of wealth and income as well, and that we need to assess a number of distinct areas of human life in determining how well people are doing. There have been a number of different proposals about how this should be done, and the most prominent of these are represented in the papers in this volume. At the individual level, the notion of measurable utility has been criticized in several difficult ways. Even those philosophers who would still defend utility as the best measure of quality of life argue that this notion must be refined in a number of ways, especially by discounting preferences that are formed in an inappropriate manner. Others have more profoundly criticized the notion of utility, suggesting that we should instead measure people's capabilities, that is, whatever they are able to do and to be in a variety of areas of life. Again, several prominent approaches to these questions are represented in this volume.

The introduction to the present volume by Martha Nussbaum and Amartya Sen focuses in greater detail on the way in which contributors to the conference have analysed these issues. My purpose in this foreword is to look, as it were, beyond the conference to see how far the objective of getting the two disciplines together was in fact achieved, namely, encouraging debate between philosophers and economists on the issue of improving the quality of life, and, more specifically, encouraging further co-operative inquiries between members of

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