Alan Gewirth
Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 246
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    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-Fulfillmentis a powerful new contribution to moral, social, and political philosophy.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2274-4
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. CHAPTER 1 The Ideal of Self-Fulfillment
    (pp. 3-18)

    Self-fulfillment is a traditional ideal that has been exalted in both Western and non-Western cultures. While it continues to exert fascination for philosophers, psychologists, theologians, and ordinary people, it has been construed and evaluated in many different ways, each of which incurs difficulties of explication and justification. But there is a general conception of it which can give an initial idea of why self-fulfillment has so often been highly valued as a primary constituent, or indeed as the inclusive content, of a good, happy human life. According to this conception, self-fulfillment consists in carrying to fruition one’s deepest desires or...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Self-Fulfillment as Aspiration-Fulfillment
    (pp. 19-58)

    We may distinguish four questions about aspiration-fulfillment. The first concerns aspirations themselves: what are they? The next two concern the process of aspiration-fulfillment: how does one get aspirations, and how does one fulfill them? The fourth question bears on the product of the process: what are the objects at which aspirations aim and should aim? While it will be difficult to keep these four questions entirely separate, I shall try to do so in the interests of clarity.

    In general, we know what aspirations are. A dictionary defines “aspiration” as “a strong desire for high achievement,”¹ and we can take...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Capacity-Fulfillment and Universalist Morality
    (pp. 59-106)

    It will be recalled that the basic question for self-fulfillment as capacity-fulfillment is: How can I make the best of myself? Put affirmatively, the general formula of such fulfillment may be stated as follows: For you to fulfill yourself is for you to achieve the best that it is in you to become.

    These references to “best” already suggest that self-fulfillment can be not only elitist but also very demanding. It presumably requires distinguishing “best” from “worst” and also from “better.” But how can one tell which of one’s capacities is (or are) one’s “best”? Even if one can, does...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Capacity-Fulfillment and the Good Life
    (pp. 107-158)

    In the preceding chapter I tried to show how adherence to the rights of universalist interpersonal morality, as required by reason, is an important part of self-fulfillment as capacity-fulfillment. But the argument’s invocation of freedom and well-being as the necessary goods of action can also be used to provide central components of personalist morality as further parts of capacity-fulfillment. It will be recalled that personalist morality is concerned with the goodness of a person’s life, where the criterion of goodness is individual or prudential rather than based on universalist morality. “Goodness” here signifies a life that is, variously, eminently worthwhile...

  8. CHAPTER 5 Ultimate Values, Rights, and Reason
    (pp. 159-228)

    In the previous chapter I have discussed virtues of personalist and particularist moralities as providing the contents of capacity-fulfillment construed as making the best of oneself. It may be thought that if this superlativeness has been shown to be justified in the spheres of these moralities as well as of universalist morality, as I have tried to do, our task is finished. But at least two questions remain. The first returns us to the connection of capacity-fulfillment with aspiration-fulfillment. Even if capacity-fulfillment consists in attaining the high standards and indeed the perfection that I have discussed, why should persons want...

  9. Index
    (pp. 229-235)