Desire and the Human Good

Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 68 (2):315 (1994)
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When we compare contemporary moral philosophy with the well-known moral systems of earlier centuries, we should be struck by the fact that a certain assumption about human well being that is now widely taken for granted was universally rejected in the past. The contemporary moral climate predisposes us to be pluralistic about the human good, whereas earlier systems of ethics embraced a conception of well being that we would now call narrow and restrictive. One way to convey the sort of contrast I have in mind is to note that according to Plato and Aristotle, there is one kind of life, that of the philosopher, that represents the summit of human flourishing, and all other lives are worth leading to the extent that they approximate this ideal. Certain other ethical theories of the past were in a way more narrow than this, for whereas Plato and Aristotle maintained that many things are in themselves worthwhile, others argued that there is only one intrinsic good—pleasure according to the Epicureans, virtue according to the Stoics. By contrast, it is now widely assumed that all such approaches are too exclusive, that not only are there many types of intrinsic goods but there is no one specific kind of life—whether it is that of a philosopher or a poet or anyone else—that is the single human ideal. Even hedonism, a conception of the good that had a powerful influence in the modern period, has few contemporary proponents. A consensus has arisen in our time that there is no single ultimate good that provides the measure by which the worth of all other goods must be assessed.



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Richard Kraut
Northwestern University

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The problem of defective desires.Chris Heathwood - 2005 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 83 (4):487 – 504.

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