Constructivist experimental philosophy on well-being and virtue

Southern Journal of Philosophy 48 (3):295-323 (2010)
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 the investigation of actual folk intuitions as the central means to achieving that goal. The paper motivates this approach and challenges the commonplace philosophical rejection of AVC by arguing (1) that folk intuitions should count as evidence in the debate, especially if we aim at a constructivist account of well-being, (2) that folk intuitions can be accurately elicited through a thought experiment (the “Crib Test”), and (3) that there is some reason (subject to experimental confirmation) for thinking that folk intuitions, thus elicited, support AVC. Aristotelian ethics, and indeed the entire virtue ethics tradition, has come under fire recently by empirically informed philosophers who question the empirical adequacy of the postulation of robust character traits, but regardless of how that debate turns out, other parts of this tradition might be empirically supported rather than undermined. This paper sketches a promising, empirically informed way of supporting Aristotelian views of well-being.
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DOI 10.1111/j.2041-6962.2010.00032.x
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