Flourishing Together

Blincoe, Adam, Philosophy - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Stangl, Rebecca, Department of Philosophy, University of Virginia

In my dissertation I develop a unique account of human flourishing and use it to answer two normative problems facing neo-Aristotelian eudaimonists: the challenge of the immoralist and the charge of egoism. My account of human flourishing stresses its interdependent nature; humans flourish together. After several centuries of near-absence, virtue ethics has recently seen a resurgence within the philosophical literature, the most prominent expression of which is neo-Aristotelian eudaimonism. Among the strengths of eudaimonism is its distinctly powerful answer to the immoralist. The eudaimonist can argue that one should be moral because ultimately the morally virtuous life is good for the one living it. This thesis has been criticized as implausible. Moreover, this claim (especially as of late) has encouraged the charge of egoism. It is argued that the eudaimonist justifies morality merely as that which advances the good of the virtuous person.

My dissertation develops an account of human flourishing that is independently compelling and well-suited to address these normative concerns. I argue that one’s own flourishing does not merely overlap or coincide with the flourishing of others, but is partially constituted by it; the flourishing of others is a key constituent of one’s own flourishing. I term this phenomenon enmeshment. I do much to show just how pervasive and potent enmeshment is in human life. For an Aristotelian eudaimonist, a good human life is made up of worthwhile activities done well. Through a careful examination of the structures of agency I argue that many of the most important activities for human flourishing enmesh oneself with others, such that their flourishing comes to partially constitute one’s own (and vice-versa).

This enmeshment account of human flourishing bolsters the eudaimonist response to the immoralist. I argue that the ethical virtues are important for (and vices destructive of) many of the activities which serve as key constituents of a good human life. In this way I advance a hypothetical imperative strategy against the immoralist, presenting ethical virtue as the best strategy for one’s own flourishing (i.e., if one desires to flourish then one should pursue virtue). However, this pursuit involves habituating virtue, which, once gained (to a certain degree), will include a transition of one’s motivations away from the self-interested outlook of the immoralist to a moralized evaluative outlook.

I conclude my dissertation by addressing the charge of an objectionable egoism, principally as advanced in the writings of Thomas Hurka. This is a two-fold effort that shows eudaimonism to be neither motivationally nor justificationally egoistic. Motivationally, I argue that Aristotelian virtue ethics encourages motivations proper to virtuous activity. With respect to the rational justification of virtue, I argue that a trait is a virtue if, and only if, it is conducive to virtuous response as defined by the ethical demands of the world and when manifest it characteristically results in the flourishing of the agent. These two conditions are necessary, and jointly sufficient, for virtue. Furthermore, because of the phenomenon or enmeshment, advancing one’s own flourishing cannot help but advance the flourishing of others. Hence, this justification of virtue is not objectionably egoistic. On the one hand it references ethical demands external to the agent; on the other hand it references the flourishing of the virtuous agent which (in light of my enmeshment account) cannot be cleanly separated from the flourishing of others.

This project develops a compelling form of Neo-Aristotelian eudaimonism that provides a strong answer to the immoralist while avoiding an objectionable egoism. As such my dissertation contributes to the overall attractiveness of eudaimonistic approaches to ethics. It is my hope that this will encourage the continued (and expanded) development and application of Neo-Aristotelian eudaimonism within philosophical ethics.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Eudaimonism, Aristotle, Ethics, Egoism, Flourishing, Eudaimonia, Neo-Aristotelian Ethics, Immoralism, Hurka
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