Well-being and the shape of a life
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In the previous chapters we examined theories of well-being, theories of which things have prudential value and why. These theories were implicitly focused on the kinds of prudential goods and bads that someone might have at a point in time (pleasure, pain, friendship) and so helped us to think about the question of how well someone is doing at some point in their life. A distinct question that we have so far neglected is how the well-being or prudential value of a whole life is determined. In this chapter we turn to that question. In particular we will examine a recent claim that a person’s lifetime well-being is not straightforwardly determined by their level of well-being at each point in their life (something called the ‘shape of a life hypothesis’, to be further explained shortly). We will begin by looking at what the phenomenon is supposed to be. We will then examine various arguments that attempt to debunk or explain away the phenomenon. Finally we will ask what it would mean if the shape of a life phenomenon is genuine.