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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 explained by a single feature rather than a plurality. They are objective because 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, 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.
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  1. 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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  2. Perfectionist Bads.Gwen Bradford - forthcoming - Philosophical Quarterly.
    Pain, failure and false beliefs all make a life worse, or so it is plausible to think. These things and possibly others seem to be intrinsically bad—no matter what further good comes of them they make a life worse pro tanto. In spite of the obvious badness, this is difficult to explain. While there are many accounts of well-being, few are up to the challenge of a univocal explanation of ill-being. Perfectionism has particular difficulty. Otherwise, it is a theory that (...)
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  3. Alienation, Freedom, and Dignity.Pablo Gilabert - forthcoming - Philosophical Topics.
    The topic of alienation has fallen out of fashion in social and political philosophy. It used to be salient, especially in socialist thought and in debates about labor practices in capitalism. Although the lack of identification of people with their working lives—their alienation as workers—remains practically important, normative engagement with it has been set back by at least four objections. They concern the problems of essentialist views, a mishandling of the distinction between the good and the right, the danger of (...)
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  4. Perfectionism and Dignity.Pablo Gilabert - forthcoming - European Journal of Philosophy.
    Perfectionism about well-being is, at a minimum, the view that people’s lives go well when, and because they realize their capacities. It is common to link perfectionism with an idea of human essence or nature, to yield the view that what constitutes people’s well-being is the development and exercise of characteristically human capacities. The first part of this paper considers the very serious problems associated with the idea of human nature or essence, and argues that perfectionism would be more plausible (...)
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  5. Well-Being and the Good Death.Stephen M. Campbell - 2020 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 23 (3):607-623.
    The philosophical literature on well-being and the good life contains very little explicit discussion of what makes for a better or worse death. The purpose of this essay is to highlight some commonly held views about the good death and investigate whether these views are recognized by the leading theories of well-being. While the most widely discussed theories do have implications about what constitutes a good death, they seem unable to fully accommodate these popular good death views. I offer two (...)
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  6. Prudence, Sunk Costs, and the Temporally Extended Self.Antti Kauppinen - 2020 - Journal of Moral Philosophy 17 (6):658-681.
    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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  7. Explanatory Perfectionism: A Fresh Take on an Ancient Theory.Michael Prinzing - 2020 - Analysis (4):704-712.
    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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  8. Normative Perfectionism and the Kantian Tradition.David O. Brink - 2019 - Philosophers' Imprint 19.
    Perfectionism is an underexplored tradition, perhaps because of doubts about the grounds, content, and implications of perfectionist ideals. Aristotle, J.S. Mill, and T.H. Green are normative perfectionists, grounding perfectionist ideals in a normative conception of human nature involving personality or agency. This essay explores the prospects of normative perfectionism by examining Kant’s criticisms of the perfectionist tradition. First, Kant claims that the perfectionist can generate only hypothetical, not categorical, imperatives. But insofar as the normative perfectionist appeals to the normative category (...)
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  9. 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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  10. 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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  11. 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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  12. 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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  13. 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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  14. 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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  15. 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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  16. The Perfectionist Turn: From Metanorms to Metaethics. [REVIEW]Justin Tosi - 2017 - Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2017:1-4.
  17. 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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  18. 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).
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  19. 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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  20. 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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  21. 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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  22. Perfectionism.Gwen Bradford - 2015 - In Guy Fletcher (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Well-Being.
    Perfectionism, broadly speaking, is the view that the development of certain characteristically human capacities is good. The view gains motivation in part from the intuitive pull of an objective approach to wellbeing, but dissatisfaction with objective list theory. According to objective list theory, goods such as knowledge, achievement, and friendship constitute good in a life. The objective list has terrific intuitive appeal – after all, it’s a list generated by reflecting on the good life. But as a theory, some find (...)
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  23. 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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  24. 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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  25. 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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  26. 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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  27. 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 (...)
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  28. 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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  29. Health and Well-Being.Jason 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 (...)
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  30. 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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  31. 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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  32. 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 (...)
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  33. 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 (...)
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  34. 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, (...)
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  35. 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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  36. A New Argument for the Multiplicity of the Good-for Relation.Jeff Behrends - 2011 - Journal of Value Inquiry 45 (2):121-133.
  37. 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.
  38. 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).
  39. 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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  40. 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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  41. 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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  42. 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 (...)
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  43. 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 (...)
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  44. 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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  45. The Pursuit of Unhappiness: The Elusive Psychology of Well-Being – Daniel M. Haybron.Max Hocutt - 2010 - Philosophical Quarterly 60 (239):433-434.
  46. 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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  47. 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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  48. The Pursuit of Unhappiness: The Elusive Psychology of Well-Being.Pedro Alexis Tabensky - 2010 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 88 (4):740-743.
  49. 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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  50. 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 (...)
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