A Theory Of Flourishing

Dissertation, Florida State University, (2011)
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The question "What is the good life?" is perhaps the most basic question in all of ethics. The four major paradigms of the good life that have been proposed by various philosophers are: (1) hedonism, (2) various forms of desire-satisfactionism, (3) objective value pluralism, and (4) the hybrid theory--i.e., a combination of (1) and (3). In my dissertation, I critique the leading accounts of flourishing (or wellbeing) and defend an objective value pluralistic theory of flourishing that is based on what I call the "Capacities View of Flourishing" (CVF). According to the central evaluative axiom of the CVF, the flourishing of any creature consists in the development and exercise of the capacities that are essential to that kind of creature. While the basic idea behind the CVF has appealed to an impressive list of philosophers from ancient to modern times, the purported explanatory grounds upon which it is based (about what makes a capacity essential to a given kind of creature) has been difficult to explicate. After considering various popular proposals of what it is for a capacity to be essential to a given kind of creature and showing why they are defective in different ways, I propose a novel modal interpretation of the notion of an essential capacity that is immune to the problems of the other popular accounts. According to the modal interpretation of the CVF, the flourishing of a kind of creature K consists in the development and exercise of the capacities that are necessary to K (i.e., that are required for membership in the class K). In the case of human beings more specifically, I argue that there are four basic capacities that are jointly necessary for membership in the class 'human being.' These are the capacity to know (cognition), the capacity to desire (conation), the capacity to feel (feeling), and the capacity to act (agency). And in the last crucial stage of my defense of the modal interpretation of the CVF, I show how four widely recognized objective goods of knowledge, virtue, pleasure, and achievement are the ideal states of the four basic human capacities of cognition, conation, feeling, and agency. I conclude my defense of objective value pluralism by responding to a famous argument against the objectivity of values: the so-called "argument from relativity." In response to this argument, I first show how the objectivity of values is compatible with a moderate form of (non-conventionalist) evaluative relativism that recognizes a plurality of human goods that are not subsumable under a "unitary" true good. I then argue that the hypothesis that there is a plurality of objective human goods is a better inference to the best explanation of the diversity of human values than the hypothesis that there are no objective human goods at all. Lastly, I show why objective value skepticism has absurd implications as it entails that nothing is genuinely good or bad for anyone. The overall conclusion of my dissertation is that of the leading paradigms of the good life, an objective value pluralistic account of flourishing that explains why certain states are good for us by virtue of their being the ideal realization of the capacities that are essential to us is not only deeply appealing, but on closer scrutiny, the most viable theory of flourishing available.



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