The following quote is taken from Josh Freed’s story, Moonwebs, and describes Benji’s expressionless figure: “… his hair was closely cropped and his robust body had turned pale and emaciated; he appeared to have lost about 30 pounds. Yet far more disturbing was the look on his face, for his eyes had a flat and lifeless quality, and the smile that clung limply to his lips bore no apparent connection to the person beneath. His overall expression was so blank that he could have been lobotomized… ” (Freed, 1980, p. 1)
By reassessing the quote stated above, the question to ask is whether or not Benji’s desires and satisfactions are being met, and furthermore whether or not they are a good measure of his well-being. To further discuss this question, the term well-being needs to be clear. Well-being seems to be what makes life good for the individual living that life. It’s what is healthy or what is ultimately good for that particular person. One could say that the more desire and satisfaction in a life, the better.
To argue why I do not believe that preference is a reliable measure of well being, I will present four main arguments. When looking at preferences, desire and satisfaction come into mind. If a person desires something that satisfies their needs, this does not necessarily mean that that is good for the person. By looking at the quote stated at the beginning of this essay, we see that Benji has been turned into this unresponsive person. However, he chooses and wants to be where he is. His current desires are fulfilled. To him, these people, who made him into this inexpressive individual, are his family.
They all love each other and are working together towards building this “ideal world. ” He is satisfied where is and therefore his desires are being met which sequentially should make him this happy person. But does he really look happy? Another character in the story, Mike, also wanted to be there with Benji because that’s what made him happy as well. However, when the “talk team” met Mike at the airport they said that “physically, he was himself, apart from a gaze that seemed to focus on a point ten feet beyond them.
Emotionally, however, he was squeezed dry of much of his normal personality, almost as though he had vacated his mind and someone else had moved in” (Freed, 1980, p. 14). When you look at the word well-being and describe it as what is healthy or what is ultimately good for a person, and then you look at Benji and Mike, clearly they do not seem healthy; therefore, their preference of being where they are does not relate to their personal well-being. Preference can also be related to a choice.
However, the preference between two options may not ultimately be the most rewarding for the well-being of an individual. For example, say an individual has to make a choice between $9 an hour or $8 an hour, but would like to make $25 an hour. The individual would prefer to make $9 over $8, but that choice does not contribute to his or her overall well-being and happiness. In this case, the individual would like to make $25 an hour which would contribute to their overall happiness and contentment.
You could say that this is what they are striving for; though, the attainment to receive $25 an hour is unachievable and therefore could cause stress to the individual. You may desire to make $25, which would satisfy the individual’s needs, but making that $25 is out of the question. Consequently, looking at this example, preference over some over thing does not relate to an individuals overall well-being. According to Arrow, our preferences become the measure of utility (Tiffany, 2004). If everyone is guaranteed their own choices and preferences, then everyone should remain happy.
Happiness contributes to well-being. Who am I to say that people shouldn’t have choices that satisfy their desires. Some may argue that if they are happy at the moment they choose to do something, than that’s all that matters; therefore implying that preference is a reliable measure of well-being. For example, if an individual chooses to read a book and reading a book is what satisfies his or hers desires, then that individual’s well-being is being met. In contrast, look at another example where a heroin junkie chooses to shoot up.
Shooting up satisfies the heroin junkie’s desires. In the moment, that junkie will feel so ultimately fulfilled, but does this preference to do heroin contribute to that individual’s well-being? In the long run, no; however, according to Arrow, preferences are the measure of utility (Tiffany, 2004). Going to back to utilitarianism, if an act promotes the greatest good for the greatest number of people, then the act should be pursued (Tiffany, 2004). However, preference (desire-satisfaction) promotes the greatest good for an individual and not for the greatest number of people.
Preference is implying that everyone is free to make their own choices whereby their choices satisfy their desires. People do what they choose and choose what they do. Therefore, preference is a good thing. If people are happy doing what they choose, then that is a reliable measure of well-being. Nevertheless, there is a counterargument that goes against this implication. An individual may choose something that goes against the majority’s interest, thereby not maximizing utility. Take students grades for example.
All students want to do well in school. Say there was this unkind teacher’s assistant (TA) who chose to fail all of his or hers students. The TA’s desires are satisfied when he or she fails their students. Since all students want to well in school, this TA is going against the majority’s interest of doing well in school. A consequence of failing all of his or hers students will result in the majority of the students disliking them. Not being liked is an unpleasant feeling and therefore the TA would have no choice but to be unhappy.
Now is being unhappy a good measure of well-being? When making choices whereby the decision is going to affect those other then you, it is important to take the other people’s interest into account. This example describes once again that preference is not a reliable measure of well-being. To conclude, Freed’s characters, Benji and Mike, simply reveal that preference does not equal well-being. Although they prefer to remain in this cult, clearly that decision does not contribute to their overall well-being.
By applying the money example above, preference between two options also may not be the most rewarding for the well-being of an individual. Then by looking at choices that satisfy an individual’s desire in the moment, is also undeniably an unreliable measure of well-being. Lastly, making decisions that go against everyone else’s interest does not maximize utility; thereby, once again stating that preference is not a dependable estimate of overall well-being. In summary, by going over the four arguments presented, I come to conclude that preference (desire-satisfaction) is an unreliable measure of well-being.