Department of Philosophy
Department of Philosophy

Christine Korsgaard (Harvard University)

Spring 2011 Colloquium Series

Fri, March 4, 2011 | JGB 2.102

3:30 PM

The Origin of the Good and Our Animal Nature

We use the term "good" in two contexts:  as a form of evaluation, and to denominate the final end of life and action - the summum bonum, or, in our case, the human good.  I start from the question what evaluative and final goodness have to do with each other.  Do we use the same term because when we talk about "the human good" or "the good life" we are evaluating a life and its circumstances in general?  If so, how do we go about doing that?  Most things are evaluated with respect to their fitness to perform their function, but life and its circumstances do not have a function.

I contrast three theories of the final good:  an objective realist theory that identifies the final good with participation in intrinsically valuable activities; a hedonist theory; and Aristotle's account, which identifies an entity's final good with its well-functioning as the kind of thing that it is. Aristotle's theory suggests another relationship between evaluative and final goodness:  an entity is capable of a final good when it functions by being aware of its own evaluative goodness - that is, by being aware of whether it is functioning well.  This is because such an entity functions by developing evaluative attitudes - desire and aversion, pleasure and pain - towards things that affect its own functioning.  Animals (including human animals) are entities that function by being aware of their own functioning.  The concept of a final good and the concept of an animal are therefore conceptually linked:  It is therefore the nature of an animal to have a final good.



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