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Summary Perfectionist theories of well-being identify being and faring well with the "perfection" of one's nature, or with the development and exemplification of excellences that are characteristic of one's nature. They are the most widely discussed examples of monistic objective theories. They are monistic because, unlike the standard "objective list" theories, well-being is identified with a single property rather than a plurality of goods. They are objective because, presumably, it is possible for an individual to develop some of the relevant excellences without having favorable attitudes toward this.
Key works Most of the work on perfectionist theories of well-being is deeply influenced by Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Other historical proponents of perfectionist ideas include Aquinas, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Marx, Nietzsche, and T. H. Green. An influential contemporary work on perfectionism is Hurka 1996, though Hurka thinks of perfectionism as a theory of the objectively good life rather than a theory of well-being. Kraut 2007 provides an extensive treatment of a perfectionist (or "developmentalist") approach to well-being.
Introductions Wall 2008 provides a helpful introduction to perfectionist ideas. For a more detailed introduction, see Hurka 1996 and Kraut 2007
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  1. Sen Amartya (2006). Reason, Freedom and Well-Being. Utilitas 18 (1):80-96.
    I am embarrassed at being placed in the dizzying company of one of the truly great thinkers in the world. The similarities between Mill's ideas and mine partly reflect, of course, his influence on my thinking. But I also discuss some difficulties in taking Mill's whole theory without modification, since there are internal tensions within it. In a paper I published in 1967, I tried to discuss how Mill's willingness to hold on to some contrary positions depended on the nature (...)
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  2. A. MacC Armstrong (1958). Aristotle's Conception of Human Good. Philosophical Quarterly 8 (32):259-260.
  3. Matthew Braddock (2010). Constructivist Experimental Philosophy on Well-Being and Virtue. Southern Journal of Philosophy 48 (3):295-323.
    What is the nature of human well-being? This paper joins the ancient debate by rejuvenating an ancient claim that is quite unfashionable among moral philosophers today, namely, the Aristotelian claim that moral virtue is (non-instrumentally) necessary for human well-being. Call it the Aristotelian Virtue Condition (AVC). This view can be revived for contemporary debate by a state-of-the-art approach that we might call constructivist experimental philosophy, which takes as its goal the achievement of a reasonable constructivist account of well-being and takes (...)
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  4. Gwen Bradford (2013). The Value of Achievements. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 94 (2):204-224.
    This article gives an account of what makes achievements valuable. Although the natural thought is that achievements are valuable because of the product, such as a cure for cancer or a work of art, I argue that the value of the product of an achievement is not sufficient to account for its overall value. Rather, I argue that achievements are valuable in virtue of their difficulty. I propose a new perfectionist theory of value that acknowledges the will as a characteristic (...)
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  5. Gunnar Breivik (2010). Philosophical Perfectionism – Consequences and Implications for Sport. Sport, Ethics and Philosophy 4 (1):87 – 105.
    Ethical theories in sport philosophy tend to focus on interpersonal relations. Little has been said about sport as part of the good life and as experienced from within. This article tries to remedy this by discussing a theory that is fitting for sport, especially elite sport. The idea of perfection has a long tradition in Western philosophy. Aristotle maintains that the good life consists in developing specific human faculties to their fullest. The article discusses Hurka's recent version of Aristotelian perfectionism (...)
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  6. David Owen Brink (2003). Perfectionism and the Common Good: Themes in the Philosophy of T.H. Green. Oxford University Press.
    David Brink presents a study of T. H. Green's Prolegomena to Ethics (1883), a classic of British idealism. Green develops a perfectionist ethical theory that brings together the best elements in the ancient and modern traditions and that provides the moral foundations for Green's own influential brand of liberalism. Brink's book situates the Prolegomena in its intellectual context, examines its main themes, and explains Green's enduring significance for the history of ethics and contemporary ethical theory.
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  7. Stephen S. Bush (2008). Divine and Human Happiness in Nicomachean Ethics. Philosophical Review 117 (1):49-75.
    presents a puzzle as to whether Aristotle views morally virtuous activity as happiness, as book 1 seems to indicate, or philosophical contemplation as happiness, as book 10 seems to indicate. The most influential attempts to resolve this issue have been either monistic or inclusivist. According to the monists, happiness consists exclusively of contemplation. According to the inclusivists, contemplation is one constituent of happiness, but morally virtuous activity is another. In this essay I will examine influential defenses of monism. Finding these (...)
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  8. Thomas L. Carson (1995). Perfectionism. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 55 (3):719-723.
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  9. Samuel Clark (2012). Pleasure as Self-Discovery. Ratio 25 (3):260-276.
    This paper uses readings of two classic autobiographies, Edmund Gosse's Father & Son and John Stuart Mill's Autobiography, to develop a distinctive answer to an old and central question in value theory: What role is played by pleasure in the most successful human life? A first section defends my method. The main body of the paper then defines and rejects voluntarist, stoic, and developmental hedonist lessons to be taken from central crises in my two subjects' autobiographies, and argues for a (...)
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  10. Samuel Clark (2011). Love, Poetry, and the Good Life: Mill's Autobiography and Perfectionist Ethics. Inquiry 53 (6):565-578.
    I argue for a perfectionist reading of Mill’s account of the good life, by using the failures of development recorded in his Autobiography as a way to understand his official account of happiness in Utilitarianism. This work offers both a new perspective on Mill’s thought, and a distinctive account of the role of aesthetic and emotional capacities in the most choiceworthy human life. I consider the philosophical purposes of autobiography, Mill’s disagreements with Bentham, and the nature of competent judges and (...)
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  11. George Couvalis (2009). Aristotle Vs Theognis. In Michael Tsianikas (ed.), Greek Research in Australia. Department of Modern Greek, Flinders University. 1-8.
    Aristotle argues that provided we have moderate luck, we can attain eudaimonia through our own effort. He claims that it is crucial to attaining eudaimonia that we aim at an overall target in our lives to which all our actions are directed. He also claims that the proper target of a eudaimon human life is virtuous activity, which is a result of effort not chance. He criticises Theognis for saying that the most pleasant thing is to chance on love, arguing (...)
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  12. Pergiorgio Donatelli (2006). Mill's Perfectionism. Prolegomena 5 (2):149-164.
    J. S. Mill lays great emphasis on the importance of the notion of the individual as a progressive being. The idea that we need to conceive the self as an object of cultivation and perfection runs through Mill’s writings on various topics, and has played a certain role in recent interpretations. In this paper I propose a specific interpretation of Mill’s understanding of the self, along the lines of what Stanley Cavell identifies as a “perfectionist” concern for the self. Various (...)
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  13. Dale Dorsey (2010). Three Arguments for Perfectionism. Noûs 44 (1):59-79.
    Perfectionism, or the claim that human well-being consists in the development and exercise of one’s natural or essential capacities, is in growth mode. With its long and distinguished historical pedigree, perfectionism has emerged as a powerful antedote to what are perceived as significant problems in desiderative and hedonist accounts of well-being. However, perfectionism is one among many views that deny the influence of our desires, or that cut the link between well-being and a raw appeal to sensory pleasure. Other views (...)
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  14. Guy Fletcher (2009). Review of Richard Kraut’s What is Good And Why: The Ethics of Well-Being. [REVIEW] Analysis 69 (3):576-8.
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  15. James Grant (2012). The Value of Imaginativeness. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 90 (2):275-289.
    The aim of this paper is to explain why imaginativeness is valuable. Recent discussions of imaginativeness or creativity (which I regard as the same property) have paid relatively little attention to this important question. My discussion has three parts. First, I elucidate the concept of imaginativeness by providing three conditions a product or act must satisfy in order to be imaginative. This account enables us to explain, among other things, why imaginativeness is associated with inspiration, why it is associated with (...)
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  16. Dan Haybron, Aristotelian Virtue and the Nature of Well-Being.
    A critique of perfectionist accounts of well-being, focusing on Aristotelian theories. While such views have more going for them than most critics have realized, virtue or excellence still forms no fundamental part of well-being. Seeing why illuminates interesting points about the nature of well-being. Draft 10/06/06; in review (comments most welcome).
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  17. Dan Haybron (2008). Happiness, the Self and Human Flourishing. Utilitas 20 (1):21-49.
    It may even be held that [the intellect] is the true self of each, inasmuch as it is the dominant and better part; and therefore it would be a strange thing if a man should choose to live not his own life but the life of some other than himself. Moreover . . . that which is best and most pleasant for each creature is that which is proper to the nature of each; accordingly the life of the intellect is (...)
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  18. Dan Haybron (2007). Well-Being and Virtue. Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 2 (2).
    Perfectionist views of well-being maintain that well-being ultimately consists, at least partly, in excellence or virtue. This paper argues that such views are untenable, focusing on Aristotelian perfectionism. The argument appeals, first, to intuitive counterexamples to perfectionism. A second worry is that it seems impossible to interpret perfection in a manner that yields both a plausible view of well-being and a strong link between morality and well-being. Third, perfectionist treatments of pleasure are deeply implausible. Fourth, perfectionism rests on a misunderstanding (...)
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  19. Daniel M. Haybron (2008). The Pursuit of Unhappiness: The Elusive Psychology of Well-Being. OUP Oxford.
    The pursuit of happiness is a defining theme of the modern era. But what if people aren't very good at it? This and related questions are explored in this book, the first comprehensive philosophical treatment of happiness in the contemporary psychological sense. In these pages, Dan Haybron argues that people are probably less effective at judging, and promoting, their own welfare than common belief has it. For the psychological dimensions of well-being, particularly our emotional lives, are far richer and more (...)
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  20. Thomas Hurka (2007). Nietzsche : Perfectionist. In Brian Leiter & Neil Sinhababu (eds.), Nietzsche and Morality. Oxford University Press. 9--31.
    Nietzsche is often regarded as a paradigmatically anti-theoretical philosopher. Bernard Williams has said that Nietzsche is so far from being a theorist that his text “is booby-trapped not only against recovering theory from it, but, in many cases, against any systematic exegesis that assimilates it to theory.”1 Many would apply this view especially to Nietzsche’s moral philosophy. They would say that even when he is making positive normative claims, as against just criticizing existing morality, his claims have neither the content (...)
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  21. Thomas Hurka (1996). Perfectionism. OUP USA.
    Perfectionism is one of the great moralities of the Western tradition. It holds that certain states of humans, such as knowledge, achievement, and friendship, are good apart from any pleasure they may bring, and that the morally right act is always the one that most promotes these states. Defined more narrowly, perfectionism identifies the human good by reference to human nature: if knowledge and achievement are good, it is because they realize aspects of human nature. This book gives an account (...)
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  22. Thomas Hurka (1987). The Well-Rounded Life. Journal of Philosophy 84 (12):727-746.
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  23. T. H. Irwin (1991). The Structure of Aristotelian Happiness:Aristotle on the Human Good. Richard Kraut. Ethics 101 (2):382-.
  24. Antti Kauppinen (2009). Working Hard and Kicking Back: The Case for Diachronic Perfectionism. Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy:1-10.
    Dan Haybron has argued by counterexample that perfectionism fails as a theory of well-being. I respond by articulating two different versions of diachronic perfectionism, which takes into account the level of development and exercise of essential human capacities over the course of an entire lifetime.
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  25. Philip Kitcher (1999). Essence and Perfection. Ethics 110 (1):59-83.
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  26. Richard Kraut (2011). Review of Thomas Hurka, The Best Things in Life: A Guide to What Really Matters. [REVIEW] Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2011 (1).
  27. Richard Kraut (2007). What is Good and Why: The Ethics of Well-Being. Harvard University Press.
    In search of good -- A Socratic question -- Flourishing and well-being -- Mind and value -- Utilitarianism -- Rawls and the priority of the right -- Right, wrong, should -- The elimination of moral rightness -- Rules and good -- Categorical imperatives -- Conflicting interests -- Whose good? The egoist's answer -- Whose good? The utilitarian's answer - Self-denial, self-love, universal concern -- Pain, self-love, and altruism -- Agent-neutrality and agent-relativity -- Good, conation, and pleasure -- "Good" and "good (...)
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  28. William Lauinger (2012). Well-Being and Theism: Linking Ethics to God. Continuum.
    Well-Being and Theism is divided into two distinctive parts. The first part argues that desire-fulfillment welfare theories fail to capture the 'good' part of ‘good for’, and that objective list welfare theories fail to capture the 'for' part of ‘good for’. Then, with the aim of capturing both of these parts of ‘good for’, a hybrid theory–one which places both a value constraint and a desire constraint on well-being–is advanced. Lauinger then defends this proposition, which he calls the desire-perfectionism theory, (...)
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  29. William A. Lauinger (2013). The Strong-Tie Requirement and Objective-List Theories of Well-Being. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 16 (5):953-968.
    Many philosophers with hedonistic sympathies (e.g., Mill, Sidgwick, Sumner, Feldman, Crisp, Heathwood, and Bradley) have claimed that well-being is necessarily experiential. Kagan once claimed something slightly different, saying that, although unexperienced bodily events can directly impact a person’s well-being, it is nonetheless true that any change in a person’s well-being must involve a change in her (i.e., either in her mind or in her body). Kagan elaborated by saying that a person’s well-being cannot float freely of her such that it (...)
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  30. Mark Lebar (2004). Good for You. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 85 (2):195–217.
    Theories of human well-being struggle with a tension between opposing intuitions: on the one hand, that our welfare is subjectively determined by us as individuals, and on the other that there are objective constraints on what can count as our good. I argue that accounts driven primarily by subjectivist intuitions fail to come to grips with the signific-ance of objectivist intuitions, by failing to explain where our objectivist intuitions come from and why they are important, and defend an alternative account (...)
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  31. Michelle Mason (2007). Richard Kraut, What is Good and Why: The Ethics of Well-Being. [REVIEW] Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2007 (11).
  32. Jason Raibley (2013). Health and Well-Being. Philosophical Studies 165 (2):469-489.
    Eudaimonistic theorists of welfare have recently attacked conative accounts of welfare. Such accounts, it is claimed, are unable to classify states normally associated with physical and emotional health as non-instrumentally good and states associated with physical and psychological damage as non-instrumentally bad. However, leading eudaimonistic theories such as the self-fulfillment theory and developmentalism have problems of their own. Furthermore, conative theorists can respond to this challenge by dispositionalizing their theories, i.e., by saying that it is not merely the realization of (...)
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  33. Christopher M. Rice (2013). Defending the Objective List Theory of Well‐Being. Ratio 26 (2):196-211.
    The objective list theory of well-being holds that a plurality of basic objective goods directly benefit people. These can include goods such as loving relationships, meaningful knowledge, autonomy, achievement, and pleasure. The objective list theory is pluralistic (it does not identify an underlying feature shared by these goods) and objective (the basic goods benefit people independently of their reactive attitudes toward them). In this paper, I discuss the structure of this theory and show how it is supported by people's considered (...)
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  34. David Sobel (2011). The Limits of the Explanatory Power of Developmentalism. Journal of Moral Philosophy 7 (4):517-527.
    Richard Kraut's neo-Aristotelian account of well-being, Developmentalism, aspires to explain not only which things are good for us but why those things are good for us. The key move in attempting to make good on this second aspiration involves his claim that our ordinary intuitions about what is good for a person can be successfully explained and systematized by the idea that what benefi ts a living thing develops properly that living thing's potentialities, capacities, and faculties. I argue that Kraut's (...)
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  35. David Sobel (2009). Subjectivism and Idealization. Ethics 119 (2):336-352.
  36. Peter Sondøe (1999). Quality of Life - Three Competing Views. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 2 (1):11-23.
    The aim of the present paper is to describe three different attempts, which have been made by philosophers, to define what quality of life is; and to spell out some of the difficulties that faces each definition. One, Perfectionism, focuses on the capacities that human beings possess: capacities for friendship, knowledge and creative activity, for instance. It says that the good life consists in the development and use of these capacities. Another account, the Preference Theory, urges that satisfying one's preferences, (...)
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  37. Michael Stocker (1995). Review: Some Comments on Perfectionism. [REVIEW] Ethics 105 (2):386 - 400.
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  38. Torbjörn Tännsjö (2009). Ought We to Enhance Our Cognitive Capacities? Bioethics 23 (7):421-432.
    Ought we to improve our cognitive capacities beyond the normal human range? It might be a good idea to level out differences between peoples cognitive capacities; and some people's reaching beyond normal capacities may have some good side-effects on society at large (but also bad side-effects, of course). But is there any direct gain to be made from having ones cognitive capacities enhanced? Would this as such make our lives go better? No, I argue; or at least there doesn't seem (...)
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  39. Christopher Hugh Toner (2006). Aristotelian Well-Being: A Response to L. W. Sumner's Critique. Utilitas 18 (3):218-231.
    Aristotle's ethical theory is often seen as instructing agents in the prudent pursuit of their own well-being, and therefore labeled egoistic. Yet it is also subject to the opposing charge of failing to direct agents to their well-being, directing them instead to perfection. I am here concerned chiefly with the second criticism, and proceed as follows: I first articulate Sumner's version of the criticism, and second assess his argument for his own (subjective) account of well-being. Third, I present reasons motivating (...)
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  40. Christopher Woodard (2013). Classifying Theories of Welfare. Philosophical Studies 165 (3):787-803.
    This paper argues that we should replace the common classification of theories of welfare into the categories of hedonism, desire theories, and objective list theories. The tripartite classification is objectionable because it is unduly narrow and it is confusing: it excludes theories of welfare that are worthy of discussion, and it obscures important distinctions. In its place, the paper proposes two independent classifications corresponding to a distinction emphasised by Roger Crisp: a four-category classification of enumerative theories (about which items constitute (...)
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