Rationalizing What Makes the Best Life

According to Derek Parfit, what makes a good lifeor perhaps, the best lifeis a composite however he first discusses theories about self-interest. He states that there are three different kinds of theories Hedonistic theories, Desire-fulfillment theories and the Objective List theories. Each of these theories has its own interpretation regarding what makes a good life and what makes a bad life.

According to one of the hedonistic theories, Preference-Hedonism, a good or a best life would be one wherein the individual is able to choose and have what makes him and his life the happiest. Sometimes, the choice is between pleasure and pain, but according to the theory, what really matters is an individuals choiceand these choices are not necessarily between pleasure and pain. For example, if one is given two choices that may have pleasurable benefit to him or her, it is assumed that what would make him or her happiest would be the one which he or she chose. In a manner of speaking, pleasures are better experienced when they are preferred, and when they are preferred, they contribute to a good life.

Another of the three kinds of theories is the desire-fulfillment theories, and an example of this is the Success Theory, which states that all of an individuals preferences in his or her life, indeed, would make him or her happy. However, a good life is not merely made up of these. Ones desires, with or without his or her knowledge, must be met to be able to say that his or her life is a good one.
For example, if an individual desires to be able to ensure a good future for his or her children and is able to do so, then it can be said that he or she has a good life. If, for some reason, the childrens future turns out bad and the individual has no knowledge of the said failure, it does not make his or her life bad. However, success theory argues that even if the said event does not affect the individuals life directly in any way, his or her life is bad since his or her desires, unknown to the individual, have not been met at all.

In fact, it can be said that the theory claims that desires are everlasting since according to Parfit, even if an individual has already died and for some reason, his or her desires when he or she was alive were eventually not met (e.g., lives of ones children go astray after his or her death), it still can be said this his or her life had been bad. The success theory also claims that death does not make a difference on the non-fulfillment of ones desires. A good life consists of fulfilled desires, whether one knows of them or not, or whether one is alive or dead.

One distinction which applies to both success theory and preference-hedonism would be the Summative Theory which asserts that both theories are summative if they appeal to someones desires, actual and hypothetical, about either his or her state of mind or his or her life. In its global version, this theory claims that desire is not desire if one wishes not to have such desire. For example, if one is in pain, and one desires for a cure and at the same time desires that he or she does not need the cure in the first place, then the desire for the cure is canceled out. With that, it can be said that if one prefers to not have a certain desire, then it would be logical to state that one prefers that state that he or she is in. This reasoning is of course absurd, since it will then follow that since one desires to not be cured, then it can be said that the pain is not bad for him or her.

However, the desire-fulfillment theory and its global version seem to be amiss, since life is not entirely about ones desires. According to Jean Kazez, there is some importance in getting what we want. However, fulfilling ones desires are not the only basis of a good life. It does not matter how many wants a person is able to accumulate in his or her life, for a lot of great lives seem to be able to encompass great disappointments. Disappointments provide individuals with turning points in order to reassess their lives, and they most certainly do not amount to nothing.

The third kind of theory is the Objective list theory. This theory states that there are good and bad things for people regardless of what people desire to have. The good things for people are composed of the development of ones skills and abilities, moral goodness, knowledge, rational activity, having sons and daughters while being a good parent, and the awareness of true beauty. If there are good things, then it is necessary that there are also bad things for people, such as betrayal, manipulation, deception, being slandered and deprived of ones dignity and freedom, and having pleasure in what is ugly.

However, in the latter part of Parfits discussion, he poses a question which of these different theories should we accept. It is stated that it is not possible to answer that questionbut to answer the previous question regarding how to determine the best life, there must be an integration of the plausible and logical aspects of the aforementioned theories. Parfit claims that what is best for people is a compositewherein composite means that it has to be made up of distinct components therefore it cannot be said that the only true definition of a good life would be that of the aforementioned theories. It is not merely being a in a conscious state, or having knowledge or being aware of what true beauty is as claimed by hedonists or the objective list theorists. A combination of the components would be more beneficial and logical compared to when the theories are looked at independently.

Hedonism states that a good life is determined by the fulfillment of desires. However, it does not take into account what kind of desires those should be or should be not, while the objective list theory tells the individual a definite list of what is good and bad. Yet, it fails to address the fact that individuals have emotions and desires as well (Seligman and Royzman). As Parfit puts it, what is of value, or is good for someone, is to have both to be engaged in these activities, and to be strongly wanting to be so engaged. In interpretation, this means that being engaged in an activity with the desire to be engaged in it determines a good life. A presence of one without the other is not compositeand is ultimately not best for an individual. The notion is that happiness is not merely about desiring something or merely doing an activity it is about doing both.


Post a Comment