Many debates about moral philosophy focused on the concept of “well-being” flow from the difficulty in nailing down whether well-being is an objective or subjective concept. On the one hand an overly objective theory of well-being risks imposing controversial values upon people who do not share them. One argument in the debate over international human rights suggests that the rights approach takes an attitude that is too controversially objective in this way.
On the other hand, an overly subjective theory of well-being risks a loss of any practical value as a normative theory. It would offer little to no ground for judgment or critique of another’s subjective preferences. The subjective approach to well-being is widely used by economists as it avoids a number of difficult philosophical questions and has the virtue of providing access to readily observable data in the form of unadjusted market-based transactions. But this is often a point of criticism from philosophers since this strategy avoids difficult philosophical questions by ignoring them, not by solving them in a satisfactory way.