Social Philosophy and Policy

Research Article

Human Flourishing and the Appeal to Human Nature*

Douglas B. Rasmussena1

a1 Philosophy, St. John's University

If “perfectionism” in ethics refers to those normative theories that treat the fulfillment or realization of human nature as central to an account of both goodness and moral obligation, in what sense is “human flourishing” a perfectionist notion? How much of what we take “human flourishing” to signify is the result of our understanding of human nature? Is the content of this concept simply read off an examination of our nature? Is there no place for diversity and individuality? Is the belief that the content of such a normative concept can be determined by an appeal to human nature merely the result of epistemological naiveté? What is the exact character of the connection between human flourishing and human nature?

These questions are the ultimate concern of this essay, but to appreciate the answers that will be offered it is necessary to understand what is meant by “human flourishing.” “Human flourishing” is a relatively recent term in ethics. It seems to have developed in the last two decades because the traditional translation of the Greek term eudaimonia as “happiness” failed to communicate clearly that eudaimonia was an objective good, not merely a subjective good.


* Thanks are due to Roger Bissell, Robert Campbell, Douglas Den Uyl, Paul Gaffney, Jonathan Jacobs, Irfan Khawaja, Tibor R. Machan, Eric Mack, Aeon Skoble, and Henry Veatch for their comments on earlier drafts. Also, the helpful assistance of the editors of this volume deserves mention. Finally, the generous support of the Earhart Foundation helped to make this essay possible.