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Reply to Roger Crisp

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Roger Crisp's acknowledgement of my work can gladly be reciprocated, as I too have greatly benefited from his work. Indeed we may agree more widely than seemed the case, as I am a naturalist not in the sense that he rejects near the start of his paper, but in a sense with which he, as a cognitivist, could well sympathise. (See Value, Obligation and Meta-Ethics, 1995 (hereafter VOME), 208–253.)

His paper, however, concerns hedonism and perfectionism, a term used here of theories of the good that relate to the development of capacities (and not in the different sense employed by Derek Parfit: see VOME, 170). As Crisp says, my variety relates to the development of essential capacities (in the sense of “essential” that he presents). But it does not, as he suggests, relate to “perfecting” these essential capacities, as opposed to developing them. My position should not be construed as involving perfectionism in the ordinary sense of the term, about the avoidance of which seminars are these days run by University managements.

Around here, Crisp asks whether we need different accounts of the flourishing of similar creatures that happen to belong to different species, differing in the number of toes they have (his example). Here I would say “yes” if the different number of toes is matched by any difference of essential capacities, such as differences in speed of running or adeptness at climbing or rooting or sure-footedness, for these differences correspond to the availability of different skills or competences, and thus flourishings of different kinds. (More could be said about the relation of essential capacities and flourishing to species boundaries, but this is not the place to do so.)

Crisp problematises my requirement for a creature's flourishing that the development of essential capacities be harmonious (VOME, 53–54). Of his suggested interpretations, I clearly did not intend the first (a combination of elements which is pleasing to an appropriately sensitive observer). His second suggestion is better on target: “unharmonious” capacity-development would here involve the development of one capacity hindering that of another by taking away time that could have been spent on its development; but as he says, harmony in this sense does not add to flourishing independently of the actual development of the various capacities. Yet this would not be the case if unharmonious (or disharmonious) capacity-development involved the development of one capacity taking a form that actually frustrated or prevented the development of another (or of others), as when the development of someone's gustatory capacities produces obesity which prevents the development of athletic ones; by contrast with this, harmonious capacity-development would involve the development of each capacity taking a form consonant with the that of (at least most of) the others. In this sense, harmoniousness would contribute to flourishing. So I continue to think that this criterion of flourishing has a useful role.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2010

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