Self-Fulfillment

Self-Fulfillment

Self-Fulfillment

Self-Fulfillment

Synopsis

Cultures around the world have regarded self-fulfillment as the ultimate goal of human striving and as the fundamental test of the goodness of a human life. The ideal has also been criticized, however, as egotistical or as so value-neutral that it fails to distinguish between, for example, self-fulfilled sinners and self-fulfilled saints. Alan Gewirth presents here a systematic and highly original study of self-fulfillment that seeks to overcome these and other arguments and to justify the high place that the ideal has been accorded. He does so by developing an ethical theory that ultimately grounds the value of self-fulfillment in the idea of the dignity of human beings.Gewirth begins by distinguishing two models of self- fulfillment--aspiration-fulfillment and capacity-fulfillment--and shows how each of these contributes to the intrinsic value of human life. He then distinguishes between three types of morality--universalist, particularist, and personalist--and shows how each contributes to the values embodied in self-fulfillment. Building on these ideas, he develops a Odialectical' conception of reason that shows how human rights are central to self-fulfillment. Gewirth also argues that self-fulfillment has a social as well as an individual dimension: that the nature of society and the obstacles that disadvantaged groups face affect strongly the character of the self-fulfillment that persons can achieve.Bold in scope and rigorous in execution, Self-Fulfillment is a powerful new contribution to moral, social, and political philosophy.

Excerpt

If I were to say that I have tried to fulfill myself by writing this book, I could be accused of contradicting one of my main theses: that selffulfillment, like happiness, is attained not by being directly aimed at but rather as a by-product of one's dedicated pursuit of other purposes. But just as I have suggested qualifications of that thesis at various points in this book, so I also express my hope that the reader will share with me the awareness I have acquired of the great importance, complexity, and fascination of the ideal of self-fulfillment. the ideal's prominence has waxed and waned at various periods of human history; but the present age has taken it up anew as a prime object of human striving, as a value that gives zest and meaning to the lives of the persons who adopt it as a central aim of their activities and aspirations. If this aim is to be successful, it must be conceived as an accompaniment or consequence of specific projects, such as, in my own case, the writing of this book.

My purpose in this book is to give a detailed analysis of the ideal of self-fulfillment. the analysis is not only conceptual but also normative: I have tried to assess the value of what I have taken to be the main modes of self-fulfillment. the assessment has involved an appeal to rational criteria whose contents and relevance I have sought to elucidate in a systematic way. in each of the two modes of self-fulfillment that I discuss, which I call “aspiration-fulfillment” and “capacity-fulfillment,” I have presented their strong points but also their problematic features. Especially in connection with capacity-fulfillment I have invoked moral principles whose rational justification I have worked out more fully elsewhere, especially in Reason and Morality (1978). the present book can, however, be understood independently of the earlier one.

In recent years many philosophers have written books on well-being, perfectionism, the examined life, the good life, and related topics. Amid the many merits of these books, my present one differs from them in several ways. I draw and elaborate much more explicitly the abovementioned distinction between aspiration-fulfillment and capacity-fulfillment. and I work out the process and contents of capacity-fulfillment through its relations to three kinds of morality, which I call “universalist,” “personalist,” and “particularist.” in contrast to some recent philosophical attempts to downgrade morality as an essential value of human life, I have argued that self-fulfillment in its various phases is indissolubly bound up with one or another of these kinds of morality. I have tried . . .

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