How Much Philosophy Does Measurement of Well-Being Really Need? Anna Alexandrova (Seminar, Durham, 27 May 2015)

How Much Philosophy Does Measurement of Well-Being Really Need?
Anna Alexandrova (Cambridge University)
CHESS Seminar in Science and Values
May 27, 5-6:30PM
Seminar Room, IAS, Palace Green.

Abstract: If all theories of measurement agree on a single requirement it is that a measure of a phenomenon should be informed by our best theory of this phenomenon. But what is the relevant theory when the phenomenon in question is well-being, or indeed any other picked out by a thick concept? On the current practice in the social and medical sciences, measures of well-being are validated by checking the psychometric properties of questionnaires. Though ostensibly this process validates these questionnaires against a full range of background knowledge about well-being, it is in an important way theory avoidant. This is because psychometrics can ignore or even override any normative considerations we might hold about well-being and the related concepts such as happiness and quality of life. To anyone who takes well-being to be a thick concept this status quo looks wrong. Yet bringing in constraints on measures of well-being from philosophy raises worries: who are philosophers to tell people what their well-being is, and to tell scientists how to measure it? In this talk I first present an interpretation of the current validation procedures and, second, reflect on how to strike the right balance between, on the one hand, acting like a philosopher-queen and, on the other, treating the scientific process uncritically.


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