Sen and Aristotle on Well-Being

William Ransome

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
173 Downloads (Pure)


A significant body of research and analysis concerning wellbeing has
emerged across a number of social research disciplines, yet the concept of
wellbeing does not admit of any unified meaning. Philosophical accounts
of wellbeing are traditionally divided into three categories: hedonistic,
desire‑satisfaction and objective list theories, reflecting longstanding
doctrinal divisions in normative ethics. Rejecting the foundational monism
associated with these approaches, Amartya Sen has proposed a pluralist
‘capabilities’ approach to personal wellbeing based on freedom of choice
and the Aristotelian notion of a ‘function’. Recent Australian wellbeing
research also shows promising signs of moving beyond reductive
income‑based metrics towards plural indicators of poverty and social
disadvantage. This paper reprises Aristotle’s distinctive account of perfect
wellbeing (eudaimonia) in the Nicomachean Ethics and investigates Sen’s
approach in its light, suggesting that future Australian research in the spirit
of Sen’s pluralism may benefit from Aristotelian insights into the ‘thickness’ of
freedom implicated in personal wellbeing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-52
JournalAustralian Journal of Social Issues (AJSI)
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • wellbeing, capability, virtue, Aristotle, Amartya Sen


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