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Natural Foods Merchandiser

Q&A with Peter Singer

Q: Can you define “wellness” from a utilitarian perspective?

A: There are different versions of utilitarianism. The classical utilitarians aimed at pleasure, or happiness, and the reduction of pain or suffering. So for them, “wellness” would have meant being happy and not suffering. I’m a preference utilitarian—that means that the goal is one in which people, when they’re well-informed and thinking clearly, get what they most want. Wellness in that view would amount to being in a position where you can satisfy your most important desires and achieve your most important goals.

Q: Should wellness have a price tag?

A: Ideally, no. Every other industrialized nation provides universal health care to all its citizens, and I don’t see why the U.S. can’t do that. Governments can also have a role in providing information about how to live a healthy lifestyle, and they can provide simple recreational facilities—bike lanes to encourage safe cycling, exercise stations in parks, community gyms priced at a level that is accessible to all. To discourage unhealthy lifestyles, the government should tax unhealthy products like tobacco and red meat.

Q: Is everyone entitled to wellness?

A: I’m not sure about entitlements. That’s not the way a utilitarian looks at things. Let’s just say, the more people who are well, the better.

–Interview by Anna Soref

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