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Philosophical Quality of Life and Ethical Dimensions

Sources Of Controversy, To What Does Quality Of Life Refer?, Philosophical Theories Of Quality Of Life

The phrase ‘‘quality of life’’ is almost always controversial. The basic idea behind the concept of quality of life is that some characteristics of the person and his or her surrounding environment are better than others from the point of view of the human good or human flourishing. Nearly all the major thinkers of the Western tradition, from Plato and Aristotle through Jeremy Bentham, Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, and John Dewey have given their preferred accounts of the good or the best human life, as have the world’s great playwrights, poets, and novelists. In recent years the Nobel Prize–winning economist Amartya Sen has made important contributions to the topic. Nonetheless, no single account has ever won universal agreement. Many of these accounts overlap, however, and the outlines of at least three general orientations can be discerned. These are: hedonic theories, rational preference theories, and theories of human flourishing. Despite its difficulty and frequent lack of clarity, the concept of quality of life seems to be an indispensable one, particularly in the domain of health care and social services.

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