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Psychometric validation as theory avoidance

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Christopher Clarke.

If all theories of measurement agree on a single requirement it is that a measure of a phenomenon should be informed by our best theory of this phenomenon. But what is the relevant theory when the phenomenon is well-being, or indeed any other picked out by a thick concept? On the current practice, measures of well-being are validated by checking the psychometric properties of the questionnaires, whether the results correlate well with other factors known to be relevant to well-being and whether they accord reasonably with subjects’ own understanding of what well-being is. Importantly, these measures are not checked against any robust normative theory of well-being. To anyone who takes well-being to be a value this status quo looks wrong. Indeed it looks like avoidance of relevant theory. Yet bringing in constraints on measures of well-being from philosophy raises worries: who are philosophers to tell people what their well-being is, and to tell scientists how to measure it? In this talk we first present a coherentist interpretation of the current validation procedures and, second, raise the theory-avoidance objection. Finally we reflect on how to strike the right balance between, on the one hand, acting like a philosopher-kings and, on the other, treating the scientific process uncritically.

This talk is part of the CamPoS (Cambridge Philosophy of Science) seminar series.

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