Chris Heathwood's Papers and Books



Happiness and Well-Being Cambridge University Press (2021).

This short book provides an opinionated introduction to the debate in moral philosophy over identifying the basic elements of well-being and to the related debate over the nature of happiness. The question of the nature of happiness is simply the question of what happiness is (as opposed to what causes it or how to get it), and the central philosophical question about well-being is the question of what things are in themselves of ultimate benefit or harm to a person, or directly make them better or worse off.

Published and Forthcoming Papers

From the Perspective of Prudence, Is It Just as Reasonable to Change Your Desires to Fit the World as It Is to Change the World to Fit Your Desires? (part of a book symposium on Dale Dorsey's A Theory of Prudence) Res Philosophica 101 (2024): 131-141.

Dale Dorsey's wide-ranging A Theory of Prudence contains ideas and arguments worthy of our attention on quite a variety of self-interest-related normative topics. In this essay I focus on Dorsey's theory of prudential rationality, which is designed to deliver a negative answer to this essay's titular question. Dorsey's negative answer may be more intuitive, but I believe the positive answer is more defensible. From the perspective of prudence, it is just as reasonable to change your desires to fit the world as it is to change the world to fit your desires.

Ill-Being for Desire Satisfactionists Midwest Studies in Philosophy 46 (2022): 33-54.

Shelly Kagan notices in a recent, influential paper how philosophers of well-being tend to neglect ill-being -- the part of the theory of well-being that tells us what is bad in itself for subjects -- and explains why we need to give it more attention. This paper does its part by addressing the question, If desire satisfaction is good, what is the corresponding bad? The two most discussed ill-being options for theories on which desire satisfac- tion is a basic good are the Frustration View and the Aversion View. I aim to show that the Frustration View is more plausible than Kagan and others think; to introduce and evaluate two additional desire-oriented theories of ill-being worth considering, the Pluralist View and the Deflationary View; and to present a new line of argument for the Aversion View.

Happiness and Desire Satisfaction Nous 56 (2022): 57-83.

This paper develops and defends a novel version of a relatively neglected category of theory of the nature of happiness: the desire-satisfaction theory. My account is similar in its fundamentals to Wayne Davis's theory of happiness-as-subjective-desire-satisfaction. After arguing that this is the best general way to proceed for the desire-based approach, I develop an improved version of subjective desire satisfactionism in light of recent arguments in the happiness literature.

An Opinionated Guide to "What Makes Someone's Life Go Best" in A. Sauchelli (ed.), Derek Parfit's Reasons and Persons: An Introduction and Critical Inquiry (Routledge, 2020),  94-113.

Derek Parfit's monumental 1984 book Reasons and Persons contains a little appendix called "What Makes Someone's Life Go Best," a mini-essay on well-being that has taken on a life of its own apart from the body to which it is attached.  This paper serves as a critical guide to that appendix.  Topics include: the nature of pleasure and pain and its relation to theories of well-being; the unrestricted desire-fulfillment theory and the problem of remote desires; whether a person's actual preferences should determine their counterfactual well-being; summative vs. global desire-fulfillment theories; the single-life repugnant conclusion; and objective vs. subjective vs. hybrid theories of well-being.  Opinions being defended include: that Parfit's solution to the problem of remote desires fails; that his view on actual preferences and counterfactual well-being is right; that his arguments for global over summative desire-fulfillment theories fail; and that the single-life repugnant conclusion should be accepted.

Which Desires Are Relevant to Well-Being? Nous 53 (2019): 664-688. 

The desire-satisfaction theory of well-being says, in its simplest form, that a person's level of welfare is determined by the extent to which their desires are satisfied.  A question faced by anyone attracted to such a view is, Which desires?  This paper proposes a new answer to this question by characterizing a distinction among desires that isn't much discussed in the well-being literature.  This is the distinction between what a person wants in a merely behavioral sense, in that the person is, for some reason or other, disposed to act so as to try to get it, and what a person wants in a more robust sense, the sense of being genuinely attracted to the thing.  I try to make this distinction more clear, and I argue for its axiological relevance by putting it to work in solving four problem cases for desire satisfactionism.  The theory defended holds that only desires in the latter, genuine-attraction sense are relevant to welfare.

Epistemic Reductionism and the Moral-Epistemic Disparity in C. Kyriacou and R. McKenna (eds.), Metaepistemology: Realism and Anti-Realism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 45-70.

In previous work, I defend the following disparity between moral and epistemic facts: whereas moral facts are irreducibly normative, epistemic facts – facts such as that some subject is epistemically justified in believing something – are reducible to facts from some other domain (such as facts about probabilities).  This moral-epistemic disparity is significant because it undercuts an important kind of argument for robust moral realism.  My defense of epistemic reductionism and of the moral-epistemic disparity has been criticized by Richard Rowland (2013) and by Terence Cuneo and Christos Kyriacou (forthcoming). This paper aims to rebut these criticisms and, more generally, to clarify and strengthen the case for epistemic reductionism and the moral-epistemic disparity.

Unconscious Pleasures and Attitudinal Theories of Pleasure Utilitas 30 (2018): 219-227.

This paper responds to a new objection, due to Ben Bramble, against attitudinal theories of sensory pleasure and pain: the objection from unconscious pleasures and pains.  According to the objection, attitudinal theories are unable to accommodate the fact that sometimes we experience pleasures and pains of which we are, at the time, unaware.  In response, I distinguish two kinds of unawareness and argue that the subjects in the examples that support the objection are unaware of their sensations in only a weak sense, and this weak sort of unawareness of a sensation does not preclude its being an object of one's attitudes.

Desire-Fulfillment Theory in G. Fletcher (ed.) The Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Well-Being (Routledge, 2016), 135-147.

A 7,500-word essay explaining the desire-fulfillment theory of well-being, its history, its development, its varieties, its advantages, and its challenges.

Irreducibly Normative Properties Oxford Studies in Metaethics 10 (2015): 216-244.

Metaethical non-naturalists maintain that normative or evaluative properties cannot be reduced to, or otherwise explained in terms of, natural properties.  They thus have difficulty explaining what these irreducibly normative properties are supposed to be, other than by saying what they are not. I offer a partial, positive characterization of irreducible normativity in naturalistic terms.  At a first pass, it is this: that to attribute a normative property to something is necessarily to commend or condemn that thing, due to the nature of the property attributed.  This theory characterizes normativity in terms of the natural phenomenon of performing certain familiar speech acts.  The hypothesis does other explanatory work as well: it provides for an account of the "queerness" of normative properties, one superior to other accounts; it explains why metaethical reductionism is bound to fail, in a way friendly to non-naturalism (as opposed to non-cognitivism); and it can help deflect arguments against non-naturalism from the "essential practicality" of normativity.

Monism and Pluralism about Value in I. Hirose and J. Olson (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Value Theory (Oxford University Press, 2015), 136-157.

This essay discusses monism and pluralism about two related evaluative notions: welfare, or what makes people better off, and value simpliciter, or what makes the world better.  These are stipulatively referred to as 'axiological value'.  Axiological value property monists hold that one of these notions is reducible to the other (or else eliminable), while axiological value property pluralists deny this.  Substantive monists about axiological value hold that there is just one basic kind of thing that makes our lives or the world better, while substantive pluralists hold that there is more than one such thing.  A more radical kind of pluralism holds that each of the plurality of good things is good in its own way, thus raising questions concerning value comparability and compensability.  The essay elucidates these theories and discusses important arguments for and against them.

Faring Well and Getting What You Want in R. Shafer-Landau (ed.), The Ethical Life: Fundamental Readings in Ethics and Moral Problems, Third Edition (Oxford University Press, 2014), 31–42.  (reprinted in Fourth Edition, 2017)

An introductory-level article defending a desire-satisfaction theory of welfare.  About 5,000 words; no footnotes, citations, credits, etc.

Subjective Theories of Well-Being in B. Eggleston and D. Miller (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Utilitarianism (Cambridge University Press, 2014), pp. 199-219.

Subjective theories of well-being claim that how well our lives go for us is a matter of our attitudes towards what we get in life rather than the nature of the things themselves.  This article explains in more detail the distinction between subjective and objective theories of well-being; describes, for each approach, some reasons for thinking it is true; outlines the main kinds of subjective theory; and explains their advantages and disadvantages.

Hedonism in H. LaFollette (ed.), International Encyclopedia of Ethics (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013).  [penultimate draft]

An encyclopedia entry on hedonistic theories of value and welfare -- the view, roughly, that pleasure is the good.  5,000+ words.

Reductionism in Ethics in H. LaFollette (ed.), International Encyclopedia of Ethics (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013).  [penultimate draft]

An encyclopedia entry on the issue of whether morality is reducible -- that is, whether moral facts are identical to facts that can be expressed in non-moral terms.  3,000+ words.

Organic Unities in H. LaFollette (ed.), International Encyclopedia of Ethics (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013).  [penultimate draft]

A short encyclopedia entry on the issue of whether the value of a whole is equal to the sum of the values of its parts.  About 1,000 words.

Could Morality Have a Source? Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 6 (2012): 1-19.

It is a common idea that morality, or moral truths, if there are any, must have some sort of source, or grounding.  It has also been claimed that constructivist theories in metaethics have an advantage over realist theories in that the former but not the latter can provide such a grounding.  This paper has two goals.  First, it attempts to show that constructivism does not in fact provide a complete grounding for morality, and so is on a par with realism in this respect.  Second, it explains why it seems that morality in fact couldn't have a source.

Desire-Based Theories of Reasons, Pleasure, and Welfare Oxford Studies in Metaethics 6 (2011): 79-106.

One of the most important disputes in the foundations of ethics concerns the source of practical reasons.  On the desire-based view, only one's desires provide one with reasons to act.  On the value-based view, reasons are instead provided by the objective evaluative facts, and never by our desires.  Similarly, there are desire-based and non-desired-based theories about two other phenomena: pleasure and welfare.  It has been argued, and is natural to think, that holding a desire-based theory about either pleasure or welfare commits one to recognizing that desires do provide reasons for action -- i.e., commits one to abandoning the value-based theory of reasons.  The purpose of this paper is to show that this is not so.  All of the following can be true: pleasure and welfare provide reasons; pleasure and welfare are to be understood in terms of desire; desires never provide reasons, in the relevant way.

The Significance of Personal Identity to Abortion Bioethics 25 (2011): 230-32.

In "The Insignificance of Personal Identity to Bioethics," David Shoemaker argues that, contrary to common opinion, considerations of personal identity have no relevance to certain important debates in bioethics.  My aim is to show that Shoemaker is mistaken concerning the relevance of personal identity to the abortion debate -- in particular, to Don Marquis's well-known anti-abortion argument.

The Relevance of Kant's Objection to Anselm's Ontological Argument Religious Studies 47 (2011): 345-57.

The most famous objection to the ontological argument is given in Kant's dictum that existence is not a real predicate.  But it is not obvious how this slogan is supposed to relate to the ontological argument.  Some, most notably Alvin Plantinga, have even judged Kant's dictum to be totally irrelevant to Anselm's version of the ontological argument.  In this paper, I argue, against Plantinga and others, that Kant's claim is indeed relevant to Anselm's argument, in the straightforward sense that if the claim is true, then Anselm's argument is unsound.

Preferentism and Self-Sacrifice Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 92 (2011): 18-38.

According to the argument from self-sacrifice, standard, unrestricted desire-based theories of welfare fail because they have the absurd implication that self-sacrifice is conceptually impossible.  I attempt to show that, in fact, the simplest imaginable, completely unrestricted desire-based theory of well-being is perfectly compatible with the phenomenon of self-sacrifice -- so long as the theory takes the right form.  I go on to consider a new argument from self-sacrifice against this simple theory, which, I argue, also fails.  I conclude that, contrary to popular opinion, considerations of self-sacrifice do not pose a problem for preferentist theories of welfare.

Welfare in J. Skorupski (ed.), Routledge Companion to Ethics (Routledge, 2010), 645-655.

An introduction to the philosophical debate over what makes a person's life go well. It attempts to clarify the question of welfare and to explore several of the most important answers, while displaying the main contours of the dialectic.

Moral and Epistemic Open-Question Arguments Philosophical Books 50 (2009): 83-98.

An important and widely-endorsed argument for moral realism is based on alleged parallels between that doctrine and epistemic realism -- roughly the view that there are genuine epistemic facts, facts such as that it is reasonable to believe that astrology is false.  I argue for an important disanalogy between moral and epistemic facts. Epistemic facts, but not moral facts, are plausibly identifiable with mere descriptive facts about the world.  This is because, whereas the much-discussed moral open-question argument is compelling, the little-discussed epistemic open-question argument is not.  This paper is a critical notice of Terence Cuneo's The Normative Web: An Argument for Moral Realism (Oxford University Press, 2007).

Fitting Attitudes and Welfare Oxford Studies in Metaethics 3 (2008): 47-73.

The purpose of this paper is to present a new argument against so-called fitting-attitude analyses of intrinsic value, according to which, roughly, for something to be intrinsically good is for there to be reasons to want it for its own sake.  The argument is indirect. First, I submit that advocates of a fitting-attitude analysis of value should, for the sake of theoretical unity, also endorse a fitting-attitude analysis of a closely related but distinct concept: the concept of intrinsic value for a person, i.e., the concept of welfare.  Then I argue directly against fitting-attitude analyses of welfare.  This argument, which is the focus of the paper, is based on the idea that whereas whether an event is good or bad for a person doesn't change over time, the attitudes there is reason to have towards such an event can change over time. Therefore, one cannot explain the former in terms of the latter, as fitting-attitude analyses of welfare attempt to do.

On What Will Be Erkenntnis 67 (2007): 137-142.

Jonathan Westphal's recent paper attempts to reconcile the view that propositions about the future can be true or false now with the idea that the future cannot now be real.  I attempt to show that Westphal's proposal is either unoriginal or unsatisfying. It is unoriginal if it is just the well-known eternalist solution. It is unsatisfying if it is instead making use of a peculiar, tensed truthmaking principle.

The Reduction of Sensory Pleasure to Desire Philosophical Studies 133 (2007): 23-44.

One of the leading approaches to the nature of sensory pleasure reduces it to desire: roughly, a sensation qualifies as a sensation of pleasure just in case its subject wants to be feeling it.  This approach is, in my view, correct, but it has never been formulated quite right; and it needs to be defended against some compelling arguments.  Thus the purpose of this paper is to discover the most defensible formulation of this rough idea, and to defend it against the most interesting objections.

Desire Satisfactionism and Hedonism Philosophical Studies 128 (2006): 539-563.

Hedonism and the desire-satisfaction theory of welfare ("desire satisfactionism") are typically seen as archrivals in the contest over identifying what makes one's life go best.  It is surprising, then, that the most plausible form of hedonism just is the most plausible form of desire satisfactionism. How can a single theory of welfare be a version of both hedonism and desire satisfactionism?  The answer lies in what pleasure is: pleasure is, in my view, the subjective satisfaction of desire.  This thesis about pleasure is clarified and defended only after we proceed through the dialectics that get us to the most plausible forms of hedonism and desire satisfactionism.

The Problem of Defective Desires Australasian Journal of Philosophy 83 (2005): 487-504.

This paper defends the actualist desire-satisfaction theory of welfare against a popular line of objection -- namely, that it cannot accommodate the fact that, sometimes, it is bad for a person to get what he wants. Ill-informed desires, irrational desires, base desires, poorly cultivated desires, pointless desires, artificially aroused desires, and the desire to be badly off, are alleged by objectors to be defective in this way. I attempt to show that each of these kinds of desire either is not genuinely defective or else is defective in a way fully compatible with the theory.

The Real Price of the Dead Past Analysis 65 (2005): 249-251.

Non-presentist A-theories of time (such as the growing block theory and the moving spotlight theory) seem unacceptable because they invite skepticism about whether one exists in the present, which is absurd.  To avoid the absurd implication, Peter Forrest appeals to the "Past is Dead hypothesis," according to which only beings in the objective present are conscious.  We know that we exist in the present because we know that we are conscious, and that only present beings can be conscious.  I argue that the dead past hypothesis undercuts the main reason for preferring non-presentist A-theories to their presentist rivals, rivals which straightforwardly avoid skepticism about the present.

Book Reviews

Review of Roger Crisp, Reasons and the Good Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews (2007).

Book Note on Mark Timmons, Moral Theory Ethics 117 (2007): 797-798.

Review of Stephen Darwall, Welfare and Rational Care Australasian Journal of Philosophy 81 (2003): 615-617.


My Dissertation

Desire-Satisfaction Theories of Welfare, University of Massachusetts Amherst (2005).