Hey Philosophers, I was having a discussion with my girlfriend about what the "meaning of life" was. A tired, perhaps ultimately pointless, question... but suprisingly, we actually ended up both agreeing that the purpose of life is to "flourish." However, we sort of ran into a brick wall when we realized we couldn't even explain what that is. Like, what is "human flourishing?" We thought that was maybe to complex a question, so questioned what "plant flourishing" was; if a seed is planted with the capacity to flower, and it begins to grow, yet, some problem hinders it's growth and because of that it doesn't flower, it can be said that the plant didn't 'flourish' - the plant did not fulfill it's potential to flower. Would it be fair to say, then, that "human flourishing" comes down to humans fulfilling the potential they have in life? This is problematic, though, since humans are so complex, we simply can't put a finger on one thing and say "that's flourishing" like we can with the flower. The limits on human flourishing and capability, infact, seem somewhat 'limitless' which is unlike any other creature due to the level of intelligence/flexibility that we have evolved. So, our main question is "What is human flourishing?" How do modern philosophers handle this concept? A little background may be helpful: we are both studying biology in college, and we've read some philosophy; Aristotle's ethics and some Spinoza for example, but we don't really know much in regards to modern philosophy at all. Thanks :)

Maybe you should read a little more Aristotle. Book I of the Nicomachean Ethics deals directly with this issue. So does the end of Book IV of Plato's Republic, from a somewhat different perspective. Plato also has Socrates talk about what it means to value "the most important things" in the Apology (see 22d-e, and then his famous statement about what makes life worth living at 38a). This same viewpoint may be echoed somewhat in the famous "intellectualism" of the last book of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics.

To make a very clumsy summary of Aristotle: human beings are, for him, rational animals. That means that what is good for us will include what is good for all animals (such as nutrition and so on) but must also include something of the life of the mind. He thinks that human flurishing will be realized in acting in accordance with a rational principle, which is to say acting virtuosly--by which he does not simply mean doing what the virtuous person does, but doing it as the virtuous person does (i.e. from the right motives and information, etc.). So in brief, Aristotle's answer to your question would be that human flourishing consists in being virtuous and having the things necessary (sometimes called "external goods") to acting in accordance with that virtue.

Many contemporary philosophers continue to think that the account Aristotle gives is the correct account, and so in this case, Aristotle's views remain as current as when he first expressed them.

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