Rebirth of Reason

The Good Life

Contributions of Post-Randian Philosophers of Human Flourishing
by Edward W. Younkins

A post-Randian or neo-Aristotelian self-perfectionist approach to ethics can be shown to support the natural right to liberty which itself provides a solid foundation for a minimal state. This approach gives liberty moral significance by illustrating how the natural right to liberty is a social and political condition necessary for the possibility of human flourishingóthe ultimate moral standard in Aristotelian ethics interpreted as a natural-end ethics. A foundation is thus provided for a classical liberal political theory within the Aristotelian tradition. Modern proponents of this approach include Douglas B. Rasmussen, Douglas J. Den Uyl, and Tibor R. Machan, among others. The ideas presented in this essay are based on the works of these Rand-influenced thinkers. Although Objectivism represents their intellectual roots, they have maintained and used their ability to think and to make their own independent philosophical judgments.

Human Flourishing

Human flourishing involves the rational use of oneís individual human potentialities, including talents, abilities, and virtues in the pursuit of his freely and rationally chosen values and goals. An action is considered to be proper if it leads to the flourishing of the person performing the action. Human flourishing is, at the same time, a moral accomplishment and a fulfillment of human capacities, and it is one through being the other. Self-actualization is moral growth and vice-versa.

Not an abstraction, human flourishing is real and highly personal (i.e., agent relative) by nature, consists in the fulfillment of both a manís human nature and his unique potentialities, and is concerned with choices and actions that necessarily deal with the particular and the contingent. One manís self-realization is not the same as anotherís. What is called for in terms of concrete actions such as choice of career, education, friends, home, and others, varies from person to person. Human flourishing becomes an actuality when one uses his practical reason to consider his unique needs, circumstances, capacities, and so on, to determine which concrete instantiations of human values and virtues will comprise his well-being. The idea of human flourishing is inclusive and can encompass a wide variety of constitutive ends such as knowledge, the development of character traits, productive work, religious pursuits, community building, love, charitable activities, allegiance to persons and causes, self-efficacy, material well-being, pleasurable sensations, etc.

To flourish, a man must pursue goals that are both rational for him individually and also as a human being. Whereas the former will vary depending upon oneís particular circumstances, the latter are common to manís distinctive natureóman has the unique capacity to live rationally. The use of reason is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for human flourishing. Living rationally (i.e., consciously) means dealing with the world conceptually. Living consciously implies respect for the facts of reality. The principle of living consciously is not affected by the degree of oneís intelligence nor the extent of oneís knowledge; rather, it is the acceptance and use of oneís reason in the recognition and perception of reality and in his choice of values and actions to the best of his ability, whatever that ability may be. To pursue rational goals through rational means is the only way to cope successfully with reality and achieve oneís goals. Although rationality is not always rewarded, the fact remains that it is through the use of oneís mind that a man not only discovers the values required for personal flourishing, he also attains them. Values can be achieved in reality if a man recognizes and adheres to the reality of his unique personal endowments and contingent circumstances. Human flourishing is positively related to a rational manís attempts to externalize his values and actualize his internal views of how things ought to be in the outside world. Practical reason can be used to choose, create, and integrate all the values and virtues that comprise personal flourishing.

Life with Others

Since a large portion of an individualís potentialities can only be realized through association with other human beings, personal flourishing requires a life with others -- family, friends, acquaintances, business associates, etc. These associations are instrumentally valuable in the satisfaction of nonsocial wants and desirable for a personís moral maturation including the sense of meaning and value obtained from the realization of the consanquinity of living beings that accompanies such affiliations.

Men are necessarily related to others and they can determine to a great extent the persons they will be associated with and the ways in which they will be associated. Each person is responsible for choosing, creating, and entering relationships that enable him to flourish. Voluntary, mutually beneficial relations among autonomous individuals using their practical reason is necessary for attaining authentic human communities. Human sociality is also open to relationships with strangers, foreigners, and others with whom no common bonds are shared -- except for the common bond of humanity.

A personís moral maturation requires a life with others. Charitable conduct can therefore be viewed as an expression of oneís self-perfection. From this viewpoint, the obligation for charity is that the benefactor owes it to himself, not to the recipients. If a benefit is owed to another, rendering it is not a charitable act -- charity must be freely given and directed toward those to whom we have no obligation. Charitable actions may be viewed as perfective of a personís capacity for cooperation and as a particular manifestation (i.e., giving to those in need) of that capacity. Kindness and benevolence, as a basic way of functioning, is not an impulse or an obligation to others but a rational goal. Compassion is not charity and sentiment is not virtue. This non-altruistic, non-communitarian view of charity (and the other virtues) is grounded in a self-perfective framework under which persons can vary the type, amount, and object of their charity based on their contingent circumstances. Other contemporary concepts of charity rely on adherence to duty expressed as deontic rules or as the maximization of social welfare.

Benevolence means good will towards others. It involves a positive attitude toward people in general, a desire for their well-being, and a desire for peaceful and cooperative relationships with them. As an ethical principle, benevolence is not a matter of feeling, but rather a matter of acting on what we perceive. It is therefore possible to be benevolent even when one does not feel a positive emotion. Benevolence includes such traits as civility, sensitivity, kindness, sympathy, tolerance, generosity, and charity. Given that people live in society, and given that misfortune can affect any person, it is clearly in a personís self-interest (and crucial to his happiness) to live in a world in which people deal with one another in a spirit of helpfulness and mutual benevolence. Empathy is at the root of the virtue of benevolence. Empathy involves the knowledge of oneís common humanity. The difference is perspectival Ė each person is a mind-body is his particular life circumstances.

Generosity is one of our means of pursuing our values Ė it is the importance we place on the well-being of others. Generosity involves the giving of something (i.e., an individualís time, effort, or property) as an expression of the giverís values, to an individual or group of individuals without the legal right to, or expectation of, specific immediate returns. As a virtue, generosity should be practiced at all stages of life; however, the extent and objects of your generosity will depend upon the stage of your productive life and other relevant circumstances. Because our lives are limited in time and we are limited in our resources and ability, we must discern and choose only a limited number of acts and objects to value through our generosity. However, a life that includes no acts of generosity is certainly morally deficient.

Values, Virtues, and Morality

Virtues are the means to values that enable us to achieve human flourishing and happiness. The constituent virtues such as rationality, independence, integrity, justice, honesty, courage, trustworthiness, productiveness, benevolence, and pride (moral ambitiousness) must be applied, although differentially, by each person in the task of self-actualization. Not only do particular virtues play larger roles in the lives of some men than others, there is also diversity in the concrete with respect to the objects and purposes of their application, the way in which they are applied, and the manner in which they are integrated with other virtues and values. Choosing and making the proper response for the unique situation is the concern of moral livingóone needs to use his practical reason at the time of action to consider concrete contingent circumstances to determine the correct application and balance of virtues and values for himself. Although virtues and values are not automatically rewarded, this does not alter the fact that they are rewarded. Human flourishing is the reward of the virtues and values and happiness is the goal and reward of human flourishing.

Moral values enter the world with human life. There is a close connection between an objective normative structure for understanding human life and economics. Human flourishing or happiness is the standard underpinning the assessment that a goal is rational and should be pursued. This common human benchmark implies a framework for evaluating a personís decisions and actions. It follows that the fundamental ethical task for each man is the fullest development of himself as a human being and as the individual that he is. Human life thus provides the foundation and context of the realm of ethics. The idea of value is at the root of ethics. A manís immediate needs for survival are economic and are values for his life. Economic production is necessary to satisfy these needs or material values. A productive man is a rational, self-interested and virtuous man. He is doing what he ought to do to sustain his life.

Capitalism is the consequence of the natural order of liberty which is based on the ethic of individual happiness. Freedom is connected with morality, ethics, and individual flourishing. Men are moral agents whose task it is to excel at being the human being that one is. In order to be moral agents people need to be free and self-directed. It follows that capitalism is the political expression of the human condition. As a political order relegated to a distinct sphere of human life, it conforms with human nature by permitting each person to pursue happiness, excellence, and the perfection of his own human life through the realization of his rational and other capacities. A free society, one that respects an individualís natural rights, acknowledges that it is an individualís moral responsibility to be as good as possible at living his own life. Of course, such a society cannot guarantee moral and rational behavior on the part of its members. It can only make such conduct possible.

Free will is critical to human existence and human flourishing. A person has the ability to choose to actualize his potential for being a fully-developed individual human being. A man depends on his rationality for his survival and flourishing. He must choose to initiate the mental processes of thinking and focusing on becoming the best person he can be in the context of his own existence. He is responsible for applying reason, wisdom, and experience to his own specifically situated circumstances. Rationality is the virtue through which a man exercises reason.

Justice, Self-Direction, and the Minimal State

Self-direction (i.e., autonomy) involves the use of oneís reason and is central and necessary for the possibility of attaining human flourishing, self-esteem, and happiness. It is the only characteristic of flourishing that is both common to all acts of self-actualization and particular to each. Freedom in decision-making and behavior is a necessary operating condition for the pursuit and achievement of human flourishing. Respect for individual autonomy is required because autonomy is essential to human flourishing. This logically leads to the endorsement of the right of personal direction of oneís life, including the use of his endowments, capacities, and energies.

These natural (i.e., negative) rights are metanormative principles concerned with protecting the self-directedness of individuals thus ensuring the freedom through which individuals can pursue their flourishing. The goal of the right to liberty is to secure the possibility of human flourishing by protecting the possibility of self-directedness. This is done by preventing encroachments upon the conditions under which human flourishing can occur. Natural rights impose a negative obligationóthe obligation not to interfere with oneís liberty. Natural rights, therefore, require a legal system that provides the necessary conditions for the possibility that individuals might self-actualize. It follows that the proper role of the government is to protect manís natural rights through the use of force, but only in response, and only against those who initiate its use. In order to provide the maximum self-determination for each person, the state should be limited to maintaining justice, police, and defense, and to protecting life, liberty, and property.

The negative right to liberty, as a basic metanormative principle, provides a context in which all the diverse forms of personal flourishing may coexist in an ethically compossible manner. This right can be accorded to every person with no oneís authority over himself requiring that any other person experience a loss of authority over himself. Such a metanormative standard for social conduct favors no particular form of human flourishing while concurrently providing a context within which diverse forms of human flourishing can be pursued.

The necessity of self-direction for human flourishing provides a rationale for a political and legal order that will not require that the flourishing of any individual be sacrificed for that of any other nor use people for purposes for which they have not consented. A libertarian institutional framework only guarantees man the freedom to seek his moral well being and happiness as long as he does not trample the equivalent rights of others. Such a system is not conerned with whether people achieve the good or conduct themselves virtuously. The minimal state is only concerned with a personís outward conduct rather than with the virtuousness of his inner state of being. Since rights are metanormative principles, rather than normative ones, they cannot replace the role of the constitutent virtues. A political and legal order based on the metanormative principle of the right to liberty allows people to act in ways that are not self-perfecting. Its purpose is not the direct and positive promotion of human flourishing -- it is simply to allow persons to pursue their moral well-being on their own.

It follows that the minimal state is only concerned with justice in a metanormative sense -- not as a personal virture. Whereas justice as a constituent virtue of oneís personal flourishing involves an individualís specific contextual recognition and evaluation of people based on objective criteria, justice in a metanormative sense is only concerned with the peaceful and orderly coordination of activities of any possible person with any other. Justice as a normative principle is concerned with exclusive (i.e., selective) relationships and requires practical reason and discernment of differences of both circumstances and persons. On the other hand, justice as a metanormative principle is concerned with nonexclusive (i.e., open-ended and univeral) relationships that do not assume a shared set of commitments or values. Although both types of justice are concerned with the social or interpersonal relationships, justice as a constituent virtue deals with others in much more specific and personal ways than when justice is considered as the foundation of a political order that is concerned with any personís relationship with any other human being. Therefore, metanormative justice (i.e., the basic right to liberty) provides the context for exclusive relationships to develop and for the possibility of personal flourishing and happiness.

Randian, But Not Objectivist

Although todayís philosophers of human flourishing such as Rasmussen, Den Uyl, and Machan are in the Randian tradition, they do not strictly or precisely observe or ascribe to Randís doctrines. Even though they recognize that Rand established the groundwork, they realize that there is no need to agree with her on every point. Their approach is to search for correct ideas and to promote what is true and right. Their goal is to provide a more solid foundation and a more unified viewpoint with respect to understanding the nature and workings of the world. To do this, they have provided a broader perspective than Rand that includes a thicker theory of the human person and an inclusive-end teleology and theory of human flourishing.

Ideas can be accepted by individuals in varying degrees. Philosophy can be refined, amplified, expanded, and applied in new directions. We should view Objectivism, Aristotelian egoism, rational individualism, ethical egoism, moral individualism, ethical individualism, the philosophy of human flourishing, or whatever this biocentric worldview may be called, as an open system of thought championing a broadly objectivist ethics through which a person can best flourish. Underpinning this approach is a commitment to classical liberalism and the teachings of Aristotle. Rand and Aristotle have provided us with a perspective and direction and it is up to us to further explore the road they have pointed us toward.

Such a philosophy views ethics as grounded in human survival, but also recognizes the human need to flourish. Flourishing, living well, or actualizing oneís potential is a richer concept than mere survival. Survival is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for a personís happiness and well-being. A philosophy of human flourishing bases natural rights and ethics on the phenomenon of human life and employs an inclusive-end teleology and theory of eudaimonia or flourishing. Flourishing is concerned with the activities of being an individual human person. The purpose of oneís life is be happy via rational means. This requires an objective morality involving the taking of actions to passionately seek and enjoy oneís values.
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