Mackenzie Graham

Faster, Higher, Stronger…Happier? Olympic Athletes and the Philosophy of Well-Being

Written by Mackenzie Graham

Last Sunday marked the end of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Olympic athletes train intensely for years in preparation for a single opportunity at winning gold. Unfortunately, most of them will not be successful. Many will have missed out on a medal by fractions of a second or tenths of a point, an ill-timed crash or fall, or a split-second mental error. In some respects, it hardly seems worth all of the effort and sacrifice, required to be an Olympic athlete (at least in most cases). To focus and train so long and so hard on a single task, only to fall just short of one’s goal, seems an irrational way to organize one’s life.

On the other hand, we might think that this pessimistic view completely misses the point, and that Olympic athletes are actually living some of the best lives possible. The philosophy of well-being is concerned with what things have ‘prudential value’; what things make a life good for the person who is living it? Three conceptions of well-being have largely dominated the philosophical literature. Hedonist views of prudential value hold that, at a fundamental level, the only thing that is ‘good for me’ (or anyone else), is the experience of pleasure, and the only thing that is bad for me is the avoidance of pain. The best life for me is the one which maximizes my experience of pleasure, and minimizes my experience of pain.

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