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Perfectionism, value pluralism, and the human good

  • Author(s): Stedman, Jeffrey N.
  • et al.

What makes for a good life? If you have a child, a spouse, or a very close friend you probably want what is best for her. However, in order to know what would be best for your loved one you need an account of the personal good. I argue for a version of value pluralism, according to which there is disparate list of fundamental goods which resist reduction to some single supervalue such as pleasure and lack any strong unifying principle. I argue that any adequate account of the human good must include pleasure and freedom from pain, knowledge and understanding, practical rationality, and proper emotional responsiveness as fundamental goods, and that the only thing these various goods have in common is their intrinsic goodness. Value pluralism is an alternative to various kinds of monism about the good, such as hedonism, perfectionism, and the desire-satisfaction theory. Hedonism explains the value of any putative good in terms of pleasure, while perfectionism sees the good in terms of the development and exercise of those capacities or characteristics essential to some aspect of our nature. Desire- satisfaction views are best considered a form of monism about the good, since their identification of one's good with the satisfaction of one's desires offers a way of unifying various goods. The battle between monistic and pluralistic accounts is usefully analyzed in terms of competing theoretical virtues such as unity, simplicity, explanatory coherence, and plausibility. Monistic accounts typically score high along the first three of these dimensions and quite low along the last. I consider what I take to be the most promising versions of value monism, and argue that each scores so low along the dimension of plausibility that it should be rejected in favor of value pluralism. I begin by considering hedonism and the desire- satisfaction view and then discuss two distinct versions of perfectionism. Hedonism and perfectionism, in particular, are implausible because they fail to recognize our complex natures as embodied rational agents, and our need for a vision of the good which is correspondingly complex. In the final chapter I offer just such an account

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