Friday, April 10, 2015


It sure seems that:

  1. A good human life is an integrated human life.
But suppose we have a completely non-religious view. Wouldn't it be plausible to think that there is a plurality of incommensurable human goods and the good life encompasses a variety of them, but they do not integrate into a unified whole? There is friendship, professional achievement, family, knowledge, justice, etc. Each of these constitutively contributes to a good human life. But why would we expect that there be a single narrative that they should all integrally fit into? The historical Aristotle, of course, did have a highest end, the contemplation of the gods, available in his story, and that provides some integration. But that's religion (though natural religion: he had arguments for the gods' existence and nature).

Nathan Cartagena pointed out to me that one might try to give a secular justification for (1) on empirical grounds: people whose lives are fragmented tend not to do well. I guess this might suggest that if there is no narrative that fits the various human goods into a single story, then one should make one, say by expressly centering one's life on a personally chosen pattern of life. But I think this is unsatisfactory. For I think that the norms that are created by our own choices for ourselves do not bear much weight. They are not much beyond hobbies, and hobbies do not bear much of the meaning of human life.

So all in all, I think the intuition behind (1) requires something like a religious view of life.


Karl Aho said...

I'm not convinced that (1) is true. I imagine that others may want to resist (1) more than the claim that "the intuition behind (1) requires something like a religious view of life."

For example, if there are intrinsically good activities, there doesn't seem to need to be a meta-activity or project integrating those activities. So if someone affirms that there are intrinsically good activities, they might not see the need for (1).

Alexander R Pruss said...

It would be good if the intrinsic goods were unified. I wonder if that intuition is an argument for the truth of (1)?

worzle said...

Do you think it is likely that some (earthly) person is actually, presently, living an integrated life?

If not, are we doomed to live something that does not qualify as a good (earthly) life?

Alexander R Pruss said...

These things do come in degrees. Some people do have a significantly integrated life.

At the same time, I should note that integration *as such* isn't a good thing. A life integrated around something that is bad or neutral or not very important isn't a good life.

worzle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
worzle said...

On one understanding of mind (I believe the one Eleonore Stump attributes to Aquinas), the mind can only ever be integrated around the good (in fact, I think, that person's greatest good), in virtue of the fact that the will just is an inclination for goodness in general.

The importance of integration, as I see it, comes in the ability of the integrated individual to wholeheartedly desire something; be it union with God (their greatest good), or union with their neighbour (a desire compatible with a wholehearted desire their greatest good). It seems wholehearted desire is essential to enduring, that is, permanent union. If a person is not integrated, due to guilt or shame, or some other internal fragmentation, then they cannot desire these good things wholeheartedly, and are therefore incapable of enduring union (if even a small part of you does not desire union with God, how can you be united with yourself, let alone God?).

To me, a significantly, but not completely, integrated life isn't sufficient for permanent union with God. To that end, even though integration does come in degrees, only complete integration is sufficient for attaining your greatest good, namely, permanent union with God. If permanent union with God is not attained, what remains is some form of separation from God, which, it seems, is the worst thing for a person.

I'm not sure I actually have a quibble here. Would you disagree with the above?

Alexander R Pruss said...

One might not be able to achieve complete integration around an evil, but one might achieve significant integration around an evil. To do that one would have to have the mistaken belief that the evil is good.

Mark Rogers said...

Basil writes, that the Holy Spirit, "being God by nature...., deifies by grace those who still belong to a nature subject to change." I think that perhaps union with God is not so much a destination as a journey. A journey with twists and turns and crossroads. When you find yourself at a crossroad stand still, look around, and ask for the ancient path, the good path. Then walk in it. Not one person is perfect and yet permanent union with God is gifted from above to many.

worzle said...

RE: Alexander, I agree that significant (but not complete) integration is possible around an evil. It seems as though the belief might not necessarily be mistaken, however.

Sam lives a prosperous life, but wants to become very wealthy. Refusing to give money to starving orphans is likely to make Sam wealthier than giving money to orphans. Sam therefore thinks it is good for him, in virtue of his integrating aim (accumulating wealth), to not give money to starving orphans.

It depends on whether 'goodness' is used in the attributive or referential sense. If it's used attributively (rather than predicatively as might be used, say, in Ez 16:49), Sam is, it seems, not mistaken in believing that not giving money to starving orphans is good for him.

RE: Mark, It seems to me as though perfection (complete integration around the greatest good) is not attainable in this life, but it is attainable in the next life. If perfection in the next life depends on anything we do in this life (e.g., dealing with guilt and shame), then I think that you are right: integration in this life should not be seen as a destination and but as a journey.

Mark Rogers said...

So Worzly I was wondering from the example you gave to Dr. Pruss above what percentage of Sam's wealth should he give to starving orphans so that he could be assured of permanent union with God?

worzle said...

In theory, Sam should be willing to give up to all of it (cf. Mat 19:16-22).

In practice, if Sam can walk past an orphan on the verge of death from starvation, not give them anything more than a passing glance, and not feel internally conflicted, I suspect this (in)action is unlikely to affect the strength of Sam's desire (or lack thereof) for union with God!

The difficulty, I think, comes in the fact that God doesn't explicitly ask Sam to give all his money to starving orphans, and therefore it seems for all the world like Sam is held captive to his conscience (and even if we grant Sam a fairly flaccid conscience, we still have Ez 16:49).

Mark Rogers said...

Yes, we still have Ez. 16:49. We know we have it because of Ez. 16:54. Since God's chosen people failed to live a life integrated around the good their punishment, as described in Ez. 16:63, will be worse than that of the people in Ez. 16:49.