About this topic
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. Aristotle's Conception of Human Good.A. MacC Armstrong - 1958 - Philosophical Quarterly 8 (32):259-260.
  2. 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 (...)
  3. A New Argument for the Multiplicity of the Good-for Relation.Jeff Behrends - 2011 - Journal of Value Inquiry 45 (2):121-133.
  4. 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 (...)
  5. The Value of Achievements.Gwen Bradford - 2013 - 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 (...)
  6. Thomas Hurka, The Best Things in Life: A Guide to What Really Matters. [REVIEW]Gwen Bradford - 2011 - Journal of Value Inquiry 45 (4):487-490.
  7. 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 (...)
  8. Perfectionism and the Common Good: Themes in the Philosophy of T. H. Green.David O. Brink - 2003 - 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.
  9. Divine and Human Happiness in Nicomachean Ethics.Stephen S. 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 (...)
  10. Perfectionism. [REVIEW]Thomas L. Carson - 1995 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 55 (3):719-723.
  11. Pleasure as Self-Discovery.Samuel Clark - 2012 - 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 (...)
  12. Love, Poetry, and the Good Life: Mill's Autobiography and Perfectionist Ethics.Samuel Clark - 2010 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 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 (...)
  13. 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 (...)
  14. Mill's Perfectionism.Pergiorgio Donatelli - 2006 - 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 (...)
  15. Three Arguments for Perfectionism.Dale Dorsey - 2010 - 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 (...)
  16. 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, (...)
  17. 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 (...)
  18. Review of Richard Kraut’s What is Good And Why: The Ethics of Well-Being. [REVIEW]Guy Fletcher - 2009 - Analysis 69 (3):576-8.
    Anyone familiar with Richard Kraut's work in ancient philosophy will be excited to see him putting aside the dusty tomes of the ancients and delving into ethics first-hand. He does not disappoint. His book is a lucid and wide-ranging discussion that provides at least the core of an ethical theory and an appealing set of answers to a range of ethical questions.Kraut aims to provide an alternative to utilitarianism that preserves the good-centred nature of that theory. He claims that all (...)
  19. The Value of Imaginativeness.James Grant - 2012 - 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 (...)
  20. 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, (...)
  21. Aristotelian Virtue and the Nature of Well-Being.Dan Haybron - manuscript
    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).
  22. Happiness, the Self and Human Flourishing.Dan 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 (...)
  23. Well-Being and Virtue.Dan Haybron - 2007 - Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 2 (2):1-28.
    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 (...)
  24. The Pursuit of Unhappiness: The Elusive Psychology of Well-Being.Daniel M. Haybron - 2008 - Oxford University Press.
    Dan Haybron presents an illuminating examination of well-being, drawing on important recent work in the science of happiness. He shows that we are remarkably prone to error in judgements of our own personal welfare, and suggests that we should rethink traditional assumptions about the good life and the good society.
  25. 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.
  26. 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 (...)
  27. The Pursuit of Unhappiness: The Elusive Psychology of Well-Being – Daniel M. Haybron.Max Hocutt - 2010 - Philosophical Quarterly 60 (239):433-434.
  28. Nietzsche : Perfectionist.Thomas Hurka - 2007 - 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 (...)
  29. Perfectionism.Thomas Hurka - 1993 - Oxford University Press.
    Hurka gives an account of perfectionism, which 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. Beginning with an analysis of its central concepts, Hurka tries to regain for perfectionism a central place in contemporary moral debate.
  30. The Well-Rounded Life.Thomas Hurka - 1987 - Journal of Philosophy 84 (12):727-746.
  31. The Structure of Aristotelian Happiness:Aristotle on the Human Good. Richard Kraut.T. H. Irwin - 1991 - Ethics 101 (2):382-.
  32. 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.
  33. Essence and Perfection.Philip Kitcher - 1999 - Ethics 110 (1):59-83.
  34. Review of Thomas Hurka, The Best Things in Life: A Guide to What Really Matters[REVIEW]Richard Kraut - 2011 - Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2011 (1).
  35. 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 (...)
  36. 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 (...)
  37. Well-Being and Theism: Linking Ethics to God.William Lauinger - 2012 - 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, (...)
  38. 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 (...)
  39. 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 (...)
  40. 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 (...)
  41. Richard Kraut, What is Good and Why: The Ethics of Well-Being[REVIEW]Michelle Mason - 2007 - Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2007 (11).
  42. Health and Well-Being.Jason R. Raibley - 2013 - 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 (...)
  43. 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 (...)
  44. 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.
  45. Minor Goods and Objective Theories of Well-Being.Christopher M. 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 (...)
  46. 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 (...)
  47. 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 (...)
  48. 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 (...)
  49. 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 (...)
  50. Nietzsche as Perfectionist.Donald Rutherford - 2017 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy: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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