Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement

Research Article

Well-Being, Adaptation and Human Limitations*

Mozaffar Qizilbash

Philosophical accounts of human well-being face a number of significant challenges. In this paper, I shall be primarily concerned with one of these. It relates to the possibility, noted by Martha Nussbaum and Amartya Sen amongst others, that people’s desires and attitudes are malleable and can ‘adapt’ in various ways to the straitened circumstances in which they live. If attitudes or desires adapt in this way it can be argued that the relevant desires or attitudes fail to provide a reliable basis for evaluating well-being. This is, what I shall call the ‘adaptation problem’. Nussbaum and Sen have—in different ways used this argument to motivate their versions of the ‘capability approach’. However, questions remain about the implications of adaptation for philosophical accounts of well-being.

(Online publication July 31 2006)