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Human Flourishing

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The foundation for understanding how government can assist people to flourish is to know what the good ends of life are. After this has been established then one must discover the dispositions and practices necessary to transition from our current state of affairs to the preferred outcome. In this chapter I explore how human nature is at the heart of our individual and collective behaviour. I also explain the tools at our command to change behaviours in constructive ways. Moreover, I do so in a way that is largely independent of cultural traditions and religious convictions and thus can receive the assent of most people. The keen understanding of human flourishing that readers will derive from this chapter is the first step in discerning the role that government ought to perform in our life – which is, of course, the subject of the remainder of this book.


NSW Police said officers were called out to a Woolworths in Chullora, near Bankstown, after an argument broke out between two women in an aisle over toilet paper. It said two women went to Bankstown Police Station about 8:00pm and were then issued court attendance notices for affray (ABC, 2020).

For some virtues are directed to curb passions: thus immoderate concupiscence is restrained by temperance, and immoderate fear by fortitude (Aquinas, [1273] (2018), p. 2413).

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  1. 1.

    Hopefully they realised that if everyone were to share and take only what was required then there need not be any shortage at all (and hence no reason to hoard). Perhaps they also learned that violence was less productive than negotiation and that the fear of the law is good reason to curb the excesses of the passions.

  2. 2.

    For example every day I fast for twenty hours as it allows me to emulate my heroes (Maimonides and Aristotle), makes my brain sharper, and improves my health. To achieve this end I must walk past my wife and children every morning as they tuck into breakfast – I must resist the temptation to give in to the animal self in order to achieve something that I may not realise for many years (in the case of health goals). I know that no animal on my farm could ever do such a thing no matter how much I tried to reason with them (indeed I have tried to point out to Judah that she is rather fat and she ought to eat less and exercise more, to no avail).

  3. 3.

    This definition means that the profoundly physically handicapped are every bit as human as the able bodied (Messner, 1952). Moreover, even the intellectually handicapped are as human as intellectual giants under a natural law conception of the person – they are on a different rung of the human ladder, but it is undoubtedly the same ladder. For this reason, most natural law philosophers extend full rights to the unborn foetus, disabled, and even those in a comatose state – unless we can prove that the person is incapable of choice and/or reflection then we must respect their human dignity.

  4. 4.

    I say that we can do these things, but the truth is that we often don’t. Unfortunately, instead we sometimes find ourselves disagreeing about what the good might be or perhaps are let down by people who fail to apply reason and insist on acting in unhelpful ways.

  5. 5.

    I am aware that many perceive the slippery slope logic to be a lazy argument. However, I am also aware that the act of categorising human dignity invariably does lead to bad outcomes. Categorisation is a pre-requisite to facilitating the treatment of different people differently which can’t help but result in constraints with respect to opportunities to plan, choose, abstract and reflect.

  6. 6.

    The function argument has its roots in Aristotelianism (1998) and I explicated on this in the last section with respect to keyboards, goats, and people.

  7. 7.

    Those of my readers who are well read in philosophy will quickly recognise the influence of Aristotle (especially as it relates to the qualities of a good end; 1998, 2011), Maimonides (particularly evident in the hierarchy of ends that I enumerate;1956) and Aquinas (notably with respect to separating out the pursuit of truth from attainment of true opinions, 2018). Like all contemplation of truth my efforts rest on the shoulders of giants which is a reflection of the finite nature of human life as well as the advantages conferred through co-operation (in this case, an intertemporal and impersonal co-operative effort).

  8. 8.

    In the etymology of Aristotle, 1901 – see Chap. 6.

  9. 9.

    Thus working as an employee is generally not considered an end, because we do so for other reasons which might instead constitute ends (for example, to earn money to buy possessions).

  10. 10.

    Health tends to be the result of frequent and consistent choices – such as the commitment to eat well and exercise – although it is true that sometimes a single bad choice can have catastrophic consequences (such as when the lady who ran over my motorcycle and I chose to succumb to her impatience in entering the highway).

  11. 11.

    The contemplation of truth is similar to the natural law precept to use one’s mind and will to pursue truth (Aquinas, 2018). Where I differ to Aquinas is in my understanding of original sin – unlike the Catholics I do not believe that people are defective from birth, nor do I believe that we can only perfect ourselves through grace, as a sublime beatitude. People can and do contemplate truth and reach varying degrees of attainment (Maimonides, 1956).

  12. 12.

    As seems to have been the case for religious sages of high philosophical sophistication such as Aquinas and Akiva following apparent near-death experiences (Holtz, 2017; Chesterton, 1933).

  13. 13.

    Merit goods are things such as reading library books which are widely held to hold some intrinsic virtue that can be internalised by the person. Public goods are items that are both non-rival and non-excludable in consumption such as street lighting. Demerit goods are things for which consumption may result in an erosion of virtue or promotion of vice (such as pornography). Private goods are the legitimate object of the market and are both rival in nature and excludable (see Drew, 2021).

  14. 14.

    Kal vahomer is the rhetorical trope for which Akiva was renowned and put in its simplest terms suggests that what is good or right in small matters must be at least as good and right in more weightier matters (Holtz, 2017).

  15. 15.

    We might ask someone why they have decided to do a certain thing and not receive an answer directly relating to a perfection. However, if we ask more questions relating to early answers then we should ultimately approach a perfection. For example, why do I write this book? Because it is my job. Why do I do this job? Because it allows me to contemplate earthly truth.

  16. 16.

    In the following practical syllogism the middle term is clearly invalid: it would be good to stop the spread of the coronaviruses and thus protect the health of the vulnerable, people going outside spread the coronavirus, therefore people must be prevented from going outside.

  17. 17.

    In the following practical syllogism the middle term became redundant: it would be good to have sufficient ventilators to assist afflicted people to regain their health, we need time to purchase or manufacture sufficient numbers of ventilators, therefore we must restrict the freedom of people.

  18. 18.

    I acknowledge that Aquinas lists this as merely a potential part of temperance.

  19. 19.

    For example, in the Jewish tradition many of these cardinal virtues are expressed in the teaching ascribed to Ben Zoma: Who is the wise man (he who seeks the counsel of others - prudence)? Who is the powerful man (he who controls himself- temperance)? Who is the rich man (he who is content with his lot - contentment)? Who is the honourable man (he who honours others; humility and justice)? (Maimonides, 1994)

  20. 20.

    Indeed, Maimonides (1975, p. 172) notes that ‘virtuous men would not let a disposition of their souls remain in the mean but would incline a little toward the excess or defect as a precaution’.


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Drew, J. (2022). Human Flourishing. In: Natural Law & Government. Springer, Singapore.

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