Interpersonal Comparisons of Well-Being, Feelings, and Mind-Brain Identity
J. P. Sevilla
affiliation not provided to SSRN
June 4, 2009
Interpersonal comparisons of well-being (ICWs), a classic and unresolved issue at the heart of welfare economics, seem to necessarily require looking inside people’s heads to know the intensities of their feelings, specifically of their pains, affective states, and evaluative judgments. This in turn requires confronting the longstanding and unsolved epistemic problem of other minds (EPOM): the problem of achieving objective knowledge of people's subjective mental states. This problem is faced by the most philosophically plausible accounts of well-being (experiential, goal fulfillment, and substantive good theories), non-welfarist accounts based on freedoms, and methods that base interpersonal comparisons on folk theory of mind, self-reports, choices and behaviors, biomarkers, and all-purpose primary goods. All existing empirical approaches base ICWs on observables that are only contingently and therefore non-specifically related to the relevant feelings: equality with respect to the observables does not necessarily imply equality with respect to feelings. A solution to the problem is provided by the dominant view in contemporary philosophy of mind and neuroscience that particular phenomenal properties are spatiotemporally, causally, and nomologically co-extensive with particular neural properties, at least among statistically typical humans in the actual universe. This co-extensiveness - a form of relative identity - is compatible with reductionist physicalism, multiple realizability, functionalism, non-reductive physicalism, emergentism, epiphenomenalism, modern dualism, and panprotopsychism. This view implies that there exist neural observables that are non-contingently related to the feelings: equality with respect to the former necessarily implies equality with respect to the latter. Interpersonal ordinal and interval comparisons with respect to such neural observables are the sole non-contingent and epistemically accessible basis for interpersonal ordinal and interval comparisons of the feelings. The practical import of this principled solution to ICWs may be low in the short run but may grow over time, reducing our reliance on existing methods. It also provides the basis for a non-question-begging empirical assessment of the extent to which folk theory of mind, self-assessments, choices and behaviors, biomarkers, and all-purpose goods reflect the feelings they are currently taken to reflect. Social policies are often motivated intrinsically by well-being yet operationalized in terms of observables that are only contingently related to it. Over time, it may be possible for social policies to be operationalized in terms of non-contingently-related ones.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 42
Keywords: interpersonal comparisons, well-being, mind-body problem, supervenience, type identity
JEL Classification: A12, B30, D63, I30, I31working papers series
Date posted: December 11, 2009 ; Last revised: December 6, 2011
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