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Human Well-Being and Economic Goals

Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Well-Being
Overview Essay

Neva R. Goodwin

As an overview and introduction to the topics of the whole book, Part 1 will give examples of an ongoing dialogue between philosophy and economics in which the former poses the "big questions" -- What is the good life? What is happiness? What is well-being? -- while economics, even in its most philosophical mode, rarely goes beyond the narrower question: What is economic well-being (or material prosperity, or a good standard of living)? The purpose of this overview essay is to present t his dialogue in such a way that the reader can make a solid start on our larger project: to explore the notion of well-being and its relationship to economic concepts and concerns.

The essay will begin with two fairly abstract sections. The first will present three different ways in which one might understand how economic growth relates to human well-being. The second section will indicate how the term economic growth is being used here, while providing some definitions for that concept and for human well-being.

With these frameworks in mind, the next section will raise a topic that will recur throughout this book: the issues of measurements and indicators. How much do we actually know -- in a "scientific" manner -- about well-being? The answer is that there has been real progress in this area of study. Some conclusions will be cited, going beyond the works summarized here. The final section will emphasize what philosophy has to contribute to the question of how economics should define its concerns.

Abstractions Rendered Visually: Three Worldviews
As a starting point for thinking about the interface between the philosophical and economic questions cited above it will be useful to consider some schematic frameworks for our subjects.

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