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Summary Perfectionist theories of well-being identify well-being 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 1993, 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 1993 and Kraut 2007
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  1. added 2020-05-08
    Well-Being: Happiness in a Worthwhile Life NEERA K. BADHWAR Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014; 264 Pp.; £41.99. [REVIEW]Xingming Hu - 2016 - Dialogue 55 (1).
  2. added 2020-04-28
    Explanatory Perfectionism: A Fresh Take on an Ancient Theory.Michael Prinzing - forthcoming - Analysis.
    The ‘Big 3’ theories of well-being—hedonism, desire-satisfactionism, and objective list theory—attempt to explain why certain things are good for people by appealing to prudentially good-making properties. But they don’t attempt to explain why the properties they advert to make something good for a person. Perfectionism, the view that well-being consists in nature-fulfilment, is often considered a competitor to these views (or else a version of the objective list theory). However, I argue that perfectionism is best understood as explaining why certain (...)
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  3. added 2020-02-19
    Prudence, Sunk Costs, and the Temporally Extended Self.Antti Kauppinen - forthcoming - Journal of Moral Philosophy.
    Many find it reasonable to take our past actions into account when making choices for the future. In this paper, I address two important issues regarding taking past investments into account in prudential deliberation. The first is the charge that doing so commits the fallacy of honoring sunk costs. I argue that while it is indeed irrational to care about sunk costs, past investments are not sunk costs when we can change their teleological significance, roughly their contribution to our excellence (...)
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  4. added 2020-01-24
    The Quality of Life is Not Strained: Disability, Human Nature, Well-Being, and Relationships.Matthew Shea - 2019 - Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 29 (4):333-366.
    This paper explores the relationship between disability and quality of life and some of its implications for bioethics and healthcare. It focuses on the neglected perfectionist approach that ties well-being to the flourishing of human nature, which provides the strongest support for the common view of disability as a harm. After critiquing the traditional Aristotelian version of perfectionism, which excludes the disabled from flourishing by prioritizing rationalistic goods, I defend a new version that prioritizes the social capacities of human nature (...)
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  5. added 2019-10-04
    The African Ethic of Ubuntu.Thaddeus Metz - 2019 - 1000-Word Philosophy: An Introductory Anthology.
    Online reprint of part of an encyclopedia entry (from the Encyclopaedia of Quality of Life and Well-being Research 2014).
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  6. added 2019-09-14
    Replik till Lisa Furberg: ‘Feminism, perfektionism och surrogatmoderskap’.Simon Rosenqvist - 2015 - Tidskrift För Politisk Filosofi 19 (2):44-51.
    Lisa Furberg har argumenterat för att altruistiskt surrogatmödraskap kan anses moraliskt problematiskt utifrån en perfektionistisk teori om det goda livet. I följande svar riktar jag ett antal invändningar mot Furbergs resonemang.
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  7. added 2019-06-06
    Ought We to Enhance Our Cognitive Capacities? 1.Torbjörn Tännsjö - 2009 - 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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  8. added 2019-06-06
    Some Comments on Perfectionism. [REVIEW]Michael Stocker - 1995 - Ethics 105 (2):386-400.
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  9. added 2019-03-19
    A Thoreauvian Account of Prudential Value.Christopher Morgan-Knapp - 2014 - Journal of Value Inquiry 48 (3):419-435.
    This article develops and defends an account of prudential value that is inspired by ideas found in Thoreau’s Walden. The core claim is that prudential value consists in responding appropriately to those things that make the world better, and avoiding those things that make it worse. The core argument is that this is our aim in so far as we are evaluative creatures, and that our evaluative nature is essential to us in the context of inquiring into our good. I (...)
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  10. added 2019-01-31
    Nietzsche as Perfectionist.Donald Rutherford - 2018 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 61 (1):42-61.
    Thomas Hurka has argued that Nietzsche’s positive ethical views can be formulated as a version of perfectionism that posits an objective conception of the good as the maximization of power and assigns to all agents the same goal of maximizing the perfection of the best. I show that Hurka’s case for both parts of this interpretation fails on textual grounds and that the kind of theory he proposes is in conflict with Nietzsche’s general approach to morality. The alternative reading for (...)
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  11. added 2018-01-26
    Minor Goods and Objective Theories of Well-Being.Christopher Rice - 2017 - Journal of Value Inquiry 51 (2):221-231.
    Objective theories of human well-being typically focus on goods such as friendship, knowledge, autonomy, and achievement that are realized by everyone or almost everyone, are realized often in life, and are typically quite important to people. In this paper, I defend the possibility of minor objective goods—goods that still benefit people independently of their subjective attitudes toward them, but which are somewhat less prominent in life. Some examples are experiences of humor, care for young children, care for animals, engagement with (...)
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  12. added 2018-01-26
    Well-Being and Animals.Christopher Rice - 2016 - In Guy Fletcher (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Well-Being. New York, USA: Routledge. pp. 378-388.
    This essay examines several competing accounts of what makes life go well for non-human animals, including prominent subjective and objective theories of animal well-being.
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  13. added 2018-01-06
    A New Argument for the Multiplicity of the Good-for Relation.Jeff Behrends - 2011 - Journal of Value Inquiry 45 (2):121-133.
  14. added 2017-11-13
    Worlds, Capabilities and Well-Being.H. E. Baber - 2010 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 13 (4):377-392.
    Critics suggest that without some "objective" account of well-being we cannot explain why satisfying some preferences is, as we believe, better than satisfying others, why satisfying some preferences may leave us on net worse off or why, in a range of cases, we should reject life-adjustment in favor of life-improvement. I defend a subjective welfarist understanding of well-being against such objections by reconstructing the Amartya Sen's capability approach as a preferentist account of well-being. According to the proposed account preference satisfaction (...)
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  15. added 2017-10-17
    Ethics and Nanotechnology: The Issue of Perfectionism.Catherine Larrère - 2010 - Hyle 16 (1):19 - 30.
    This paper aims at investigating perfectionism, as the project, shared by biotechnologies and nanotechnologies, of human enhancement. This project is commonly criticized (by Jean-Pierre Dupuy or Michael Sandel) as representing a kind of hyper-agency, a Promethean aspiration to remake nature, including human nature, to serve our purposes, and satisfy our desires. It should thus be addressed as a metaphysical or even theological problem. We would like to argue that this project is not so much Promethean as it is Pelagian. It (...)
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  16. added 2017-10-15
    The Perfectionist Turn: From Metanorms to Metaethics. [REVIEW]Justin Tosi - 2017 - Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2017:1-4.
  17. added 2017-09-25
    Problems for Perfectionism.Gwen Bradford - 2017 - Utilitas 29 (3):344-364.
    Perfectionism, the view that well-being is a matter of developing characteristically human capacities, has relatively few defenders in the literature, but plenty of critics. This paper defends perfectionism against some recent formulations of classic objections, namely, the objection that perfectionism ignores the relevance of pleasure or preference for well-being, and a sophisticated version of the ‘wrong properties’ objection, according to which the intuitive plausibility of the perfectionist ideal is threatened by an absence of theoretical pressure to accept putative wrong properties (...)
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  18. added 2017-07-01
    Enumeration and Explanation in Theories of Welfare.Eden Lin - 2017 - Analysis 77 (1):65-73.
    It has become commonplace to distinguish enumerative theories of welfare, which tell us which things are good for us, from explanatory theories, which tell us why the things that are good for us have that status. It has also been claimed that while hedonism and objective list theories are enumerative but not explanatory, desire satisfactionism is explanatory but not enumerative. In this paper, I argue that this is mistaken. When properly understood, every major theory of welfare is both enumerative and (...)
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  19. added 2017-05-08
    Thomistic Eudaimonism, Virtue, and Well-Being.Matthew Shea - 2017 - Southwest Philosophy Review 33 (1):173-185.
    In contemporary discussions of human well-being, well-being is typically understood in secular terms. Analogously, most contemporary discussions of eudaimonistic virtue ethics, influenced by Aristotle, take human flourishing to be a matter of living virtuously, where flourishing and virtue are both secular notions. For many religious believers, however, well-being and virtuous activity involve not just ethical dispositions and actions, but primarily relationship to God. In this paper, I present an alternative eudaimonistic account of well-being that is theological in nature. This view, (...)
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  20. added 2017-02-27
    Well-Being is Survival.Bach Ho - manuscript
    This paper defends the view that intrinsic benefit to a human being consists exclusively in survival. It takes as its point of departure the neo-Aristotelian view that inquiry into intrinsic benefit to a human being should take place within a wider theory of intrinsic benefit to living things, generally. The paper first argues that the neo-Aristotelian view that intrinsic benefit to a living thing consists in flourishing as a member of its species, is mistaken. Rather, intrinsic benefit to a living (...)
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  21. added 2017-02-13
    The Reward of Virtue: An Essay on the Relationship Between Character and Well-Being.Ian Stoner - 2011 - Dissertation, University of Minnesota
    Most work in neo-Aristotelian virtue ethics begins by supposing that the virtues are the traits of character that make us good people. Secondary questions, then, include whether, why, and in what ways the virtues are good for the people who have them. This essay is an argument that the neo-Aristotelian approach is upside down. If, instead, we begin by asking what collection of character traits are good for us---that is, what collection of traits are most likely to promote our own (...)
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  22. added 2016-12-08
    Reason, Freedom and Well-Being.Amartya Sen - 2006 - 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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  23. added 2016-07-27
    Leibniz's Passionate Knowledge.Markku Roinila - 2016 - Blityri (1/2 2015):75-85.
    In §18 of Principles of Nature and Grace, Based on Reason, Leibniz says: ”Thus our happiness will never consist, and must never consist, in complete joy, in which nothing is left to desire, and which would dull our mind, but must consist in a perpetual progress to new pleasures and new perfections.” -/- This passage is typical in Leibniz’s Nachlass. Universal perfection creates in us joy or pleasure of the mind and its source is our creator, God. When this joy (...)
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  24. added 2016-07-27
    The Battle of the Endeavors: Dynamics of the Mind and Deliberation in New Essays on Human Understanding, Book II, Xx-Xxi.Markku Roinila - 2016 - In Wenchao Li (ed.), “Für unser Glück oder das Glück anderer”. Vorträge des X. Internationalen Leibniz-Kongresses, Hannover, 18. – 23. Juli 2016. G. Olms. pp. Band V, 73-87.
    In New Essays on Human Understanding, book II, chapter xxi Leibniz presents an interesting picture of the human mind as not only populated by perceptions, volitions and appetitions, but also by endeavours. The endeavours in question can be divided to entelechy and effort; Leibniz calls entelechy as primitive active forces and efforts as derivative forces. The entelechy, understood as primitive active force is to be equated with a substantial form, as Leibniz says: “When an entelechy – i.e. a primary or (...)
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  25. added 2015-10-26
    The Philosophy of Well-Being: An Introduction.Guy Fletcher - 2016 - Routledge.
    Well-being occupies a central role in ethics and political philosophy, including in major theories such as utilitarianism. It also extends far beyond philosophy: recent studies into the science and psychology of well-being have propelled the topic to centre stage, and governments spend millions on promoting it. We are encouraged to adopt modes of thinking and behaviour that support individual well-being or 'wellness'. What is well-being? Which theories of well-being are most plausible? In this rigorous and comprehensive introduction to the topic, (...)
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  26. added 2015-06-13
    Is There a Role for ‘Human Nature’ in Debates About Human Enhancement?Daniel Groll & Micah Lott - 2015 - Philosophy 90 (4):623-651.
    In discussions about the ethics of enhancement, it is often claimed that the concept of ‘human nature’ has no helpful role to play. There are two ideas behind this thought. The first is that nature, human nature included, is a mixed bag. Some parts of our nature are good for us and some are bad for us. The ‘mixed bag’ idea leads naturally to the second idea, namely that the fact that something is part of our nature is, by itself, (...)
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  27. added 2015-05-28
    Thomas Hurka, The Best Things in Life: A Guide to What Really Matters: Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. ISBN 978-0-19-533142-4, $18.95, Hbk. [REVIEW]Gwen Bradford - 2011 - Journal of Value Inquiry 45 (4):487-490.
  28. added 2015-05-22
    The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Well-Being.Guy Fletcher (ed.) - 2015 - Routledge.
    The concept of well-being is one of the oldest and most important topics in philosophy and ethics, going back to ancient Greek philosophy and Aristotle. Following the boom in happiness studies in the last few years it has moved to centre stage, grabbing media headlines and the attention of scientists, psychologists and economists. Yet little is actually known about well-being and it is an idea often poorly articulated. The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Well-Being provides a comprehensive, outstanding guide and (...)
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  29. added 2015-03-23
    Welfare.Chris Heathwood - 2010 - In John Skorupski (ed.), The Routledge Companion to Ethics. Routledge. pp. 645-655.
    An introduction to the philosophical debate over what makes a person's life go well. It attempts to clarify the question of welfare and to explore several of the most important answers, while displaying the main contours of the dialectic.
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  30. added 2015-03-20
    The Pursuit of Unhappiness: The Elusive Psychology of Well-Being – Daniel M. Haybron.Max Hocutt - 2010 - Philosophical Quarterly 60 (239):433-434.
  31. added 2015-03-20
    The Pursuit of Unhappiness: The Elusive Psychology of Well-Being.Pedro Alexis Tabensky - 2010 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 88 (4):740-743.
  32. added 2015-02-24
    Happiness is Not Well-Being.Jason R. Raibley - 2012 - Journal of Happiness Studies 13 (6):1105-1129.
    This paper attempts to explain the conceptual connections between happiness and well-being. It first distinguishes episodic happiness from happiness in the personal attribute sense. It then evaluates two recent proposals about the connection between happiness and well-being: (1) the idea that episodic happiness and well-being both have the same fundamental determinants, so that a person is well-off to a particular degree in virtue of the fact that they are happy to that degree, and (2) the idea that happiness in the (...)
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  33. added 2014-08-06
    Aristotle Vs Theognis.George Couvalis - 2009 - In Michael Tsianikas (ed.), Greek Research in Australia. Department of Modern Greek, Flinders University. pp. 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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  34. added 2014-04-02
    Perfectionism. [REVIEW]Thomas L. Carson - 1995 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 55 (3):719-723.
    This is an extremely ambitious and wide-ranging book. Hurka defends a perfectionist theory of the good life. Building on this, he also formulates and defends consequentialist-perfectionist theories of right and wrong and political philosophy.
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  35. added 2014-03-28
    Quality of Life - Three Competing Views.Peter Sondøe - 1999 - 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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  36. added 2014-03-28
    Essence and Perfection.Philip Kitcher - 1999 - Ethics 110 (1):59-83.
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  37. added 2014-03-21
    Good for You.Mark Lebar - 2004 - 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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  38. added 2014-03-17
    What is Good and Why: The Ethics of Well-Being.Richard Kraut - 2007 - 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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  39. added 2014-03-17
    Nietzsche : Perfectionist.Thomas Hurka - 2002 - In Brian Leiter & Neil Sinhababu (eds.), Nietzsche and Morality. Oxford University Press. pp. 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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  40. added 2014-03-12
    Divine and Human Happiness in Nicomachean Ethics.Stephen Bush - 2008 - 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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  41. added 2014-03-12
    Aristotelian Well-Being: A Response to L. W. Sumner's Critique.Christopher Hugh Toner - 2006 - 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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  42. added 2014-03-09
    Subjectivism and Idealization.David Sobel - 2009 - Ethics 119 (2):336-352.
  43. added 2014-03-07
    The Limits of the Explanatory Power of Developmentalism.David Sobel - 2010 - 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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  44. added 2014-03-07
    Philosophical Perfectionism – Consequences and Implications for Sport.Gunnar Breivik - 2010 - 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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  45. added 2014-03-06
    Happiness, the Self and Human Flourishing.Daniel M. Haybron - 2008 - 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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  46. added 2014-02-21
    The Strong-Tie Requirement and Objective-List Theories of Well-Being.William A. Lauinger - 2013 - 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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  47. added 2014-02-19
    Working Hard and Kicking Back: The Case for Diachronic Perfectionism.Antti Kauppinen - 2008 - Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy (1):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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  48. added 2014-01-10
    Deliberation and Self-Improvement in Leibniz.Markku Roinila - 2006 - In Breger Herbert, Hernst Jürgen & Erdner Sven (eds.), Einheit in der Vielheit, VIII. Internationaler Leibniz-Kongress, Hannover 2006, Vorträge 2. Teil, pp. 856-63.
    Human deliberation is a complicated and a difficult process. When forming moral judgement, various reasons inclinate the agent without necessitating him or her and the final result is more or less a compromise between these different spurs for action. Choosing right requires clear mind, good habits and strength of will. However, by a kind of self-manipulation moral development is possible. In my presentation, I shall discuss the forming of moral judgement in the intellect, consider the role of the passions in (...)
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  49. added 2013-06-18
    Classifying Theories of Welfare.Christopher Woodard - 2013 - 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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  50. added 2013-04-23
    Defending the Objective List Theory of Well‐Being.Christopher M. Rice - 2013 - 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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