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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-S067-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 13, 2024, from

Article Summary

Notions of welfare occur widely in political philosophy and political argument. For example, utilitarianism is a social ethic that may be interpreted as giving a pre-eminent place to the idea that the welfare of society should be the overriding goal of public policy. Discussion of the ethics of redistribution focuses upon the institutions and practices of the so-called welfare state. Even those not convinced that we can validly speak of animal rights will often accept that considerations of animal welfare should play a part in legislation and morals. Moreover, the concept of welfare is clearly related to, and indeed overlaps with, concepts like ‘needs’ or ‘interests’, which are also central to public decision making and action.

Welfare can be thought of in three ways. Firstly, there is a subjective sense, in which to say that something contributes to a person’s welfare is to say that it makes for the satisfaction of a preference. However, people can adapt their preferences to their circumstances, and happy slaves might be better off changing their preferences than having them satisfied. This thought leads on to the second sense of welfare as doing well according to some objective measure, like the possession of property. However, this conception can ignore subjective differences between people and fail to account for their capacity to take advantage of their objective circumstances. Hence, a third conception of welfare would make the capacity to take advantage of one’s possessions an essential element of welfare. A satisfactory overall conception will have to bring these ideas together.

Citing this article:
Weale, Albert. Welfare, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-S067-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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