Morality and Human Flourishing

In his latest essay, Rick Turnquist takes a look at Morality and Human Flourishing. What do these terms mean and how do they intersect?
Kim Monson Featured Articles
Kim Monson Featured Articles
Morality and Human Flourishing

As individual human beings, most of us pursue our own happiness, however that is measured or defined. As members of the human race, we should be thoughtful about what is best for all human beings. In order to talk about these things, we need to define and understand them. Lastly, we need to talk about how we order our society to best facilitate the furtherance of human flourishing.

There are people who say they aren’t “into politics” because they aren’t interested, think that they have no power, lead busy lives, or other reasons. The problem is, one may not be into politics, but politics – or more specifically the results of public policy resulting from the political process – has profound effects on how you live your life, your ability to reach your goal of happiness, and what resources you have available to sustain your existence.

For this reason, we should all, as a matter of self-interest, take an interest in politics and demand a say in public policy, especially when public policy decisions have adverse consequences for our lives. It is also important to realize that if a particular political party pursues agendas and goals that are counterproductive or threatening to the achievement of your goals or the larger objective of promoting human flourishing, then politicians of that party should not be elected to hold public office.

What is Morality?

In the classical Greek definition, morality is the differentiation of intentions, decisions and actions between those that are distinguished as proper (right) and those that are improper (wrong).1

What determines the proper/right and the improper/wrong are usually defined by law, religion, philosophy or common belief. For the purposes of this essay (and my personal belief), I am going to define the “proper” or “right” as “that which promotes the individual’s self-interest and/or overall human flourishing”. This means that the “improper” or “wrong” is that which is damaging to an individual’s self-interest or human flourishing.

According to Objectivist philosopher Ayn Rand, “Morality, or ethics…is a “code of values to guide man’s choices and actions – the choices and actions that determine the purpose and course of his life. Ethics, as a science, deals with discovering and defining such a code.””2

I prefer to use this definition as a working concept of morality because it specifically ties morality to a person’s life. A “moral” person is living a life in pursuit of his or her own self-interest and the overall promotion of human flourishing. To the extent that a “value” can be assigned to this person, it would infer that a “moral” person is also a “good” person.

What is Human Flourishing?

The term “human flourishing”, as far as I know originally coined by author and philosopher Alex Epstein, is what our goal as a society should be. But what does it mean?

In my view, human flourishing means that:

  • Individual human beings live in a free society, with no undue coercion,
  • They have access to shelter, food and inexpensive, reliable energy,
  • They have the means to support their lives independently of others,
  • They have the ability to pursue whatever intellectual and spiritual interests they have,
  • They are free to worship how and when they want,
  • Their lifetimes approach the maximum human lifespan,
  • They are not subject to arbitrary, authoritarian whimsy.

Some people may have different criteria by which to measure human flourishing. There is a dominant political ideology that claims to value compassion, equity, fairness and justice, and under that framework the definition of human flourishing may be the promotion of those ideals.

Compassion, as exercised by an individual human being in pursuit of personal objectives is a fine and commendable thing. But “compassion” in the form of government coercion or force is not. Under the principles discussed in the American Declaration of Independence, all people are “created equal”, but “equity” is not something that can be achieved in society because we are all different; and attempting to establish “equity” or “equality of outcome” through force of government is counter to the idea of human flourishing.

Under the idea that all people are created equal, “fairness” means that the intrinsic Rights that all human beings possess are equally respected, that laws are equally applied, and that no one individual or group of individuals gets “special” or “extra” rights based on some characteristic that they possess.

Justice, again, follows the concept that the laws are applied and enforced equally among all persons, regardless of their status in society, race, sex, wealth, power, or any other characteristic. The Left likes to append the word “justice” to their various agenda items (i.e. “climate justice”, “housing justice”, and everything under the broad rubric “social justice”) to lend them an air of legitimacy. Don’t be fooled. True justice is the equal application of the law to everyone.

The most important aspect of human flourishing is FREEDOM. Freedom is an often used, abused, and misunderstood word. For the context of this essay, I will define “freedom” as: 3

The quality or state of being free, including the absence of coercion or constraint; not being a slave or under the restraint of others and able to choose when and how to live. Freedom includes the right and the ability to choose those who would govern society. Personal freedom includes the right to pursue one’s own interests, with the limitation that one may not deprive another person of their intrinsic rights as a human being. One person’s rights end where they impact another person’s rights.

The Intersection of Morality and Human Flourishing

Because moral behavior is a prerequisite for human flourishing, morality and human flourishing are inextricably linked. Indeed, one cannot have one without the other. To say something is “moral” means that it supports or promotes human flourishing.

Conversely, an idea, concept, ideology or philosophy that unfavorably impacts human flourishing is immoral, wrong, even evil.

This is such a simple concept, and it has large, everyday ramifications for each and every one of us and how we live our lives and the choices we can make.

Human beings live in groups. These groups on a macro scale are called “civilizations”. We, in America, are part of what is known as “Western Civilization”, which means that we live in ordered groups of individuals and families that are governed under a political philosophy known loosely as “democracy”.

I will be quick to point out, however, that we in the United States do not live in a true “democracy”, nor should we aspire to. We live in a “constitutional republic” where we elect “representatives” to act as our agents in the governments of our society. We elect them to “serve” us in the decision making processes that entail the day-to-day management of the government.

These representatives should serve the cause of human flourishing because it is the moral thing to do. Unfortunately, and all too often, they do not. When they don’t, adverse consequences result for real people like you and me.

The United States of America is the only country in history to have been founded upon the moral concept that all people are created equal and that as human beings we all have the intrinsic rights of life, liberty (or “freedom”) and the right to own property – both the products of our minds and the products of our productive efforts. The Constitution of the United States and the constitutions of the several states are based on the philosophical framework of the Declaration. And while America has never been perfect, I think we have always aspired to live up to the ideas in the Declaration.

Promoting Human Flourishing

The business of government should be the promotion of human flourishing, and this should be within the overall context of the proper role of government.

What is the proper role of government?

That’s simple: to protect life, liberty and property.

“Protecting life: this includes law enforcement and the military. Not only that, it includes protecting the right of people to be able to defend themselves and others. Which means: it is not a proper function of government to limit that ability through civilian disarmament, gun control laws, and the like.

Protecting liberty: this means enacting no laws that inhibit people making the choices that best fit their lives. As long as people don’t infringe on the rights of others, they should be free to do business with whom they want, offer services and products that others are willing to buy and associate with whom they please.

Protecting property: this means nobody can be deprived of their property without due process of law. It means courts to adjudicate and enforce contracts. It means protection of intellectual property via patents and trademarks.”4

To this I would add: To ensure that the laws are just, and justly applied equally to all. To maintain a system of jurisprudence so that civil and criminal matters can be adjudicated within a neutral, objective framework.

The business of elected officials at any level should be minimal: only those ordinances, laws and regulations which uphold the legal framework of freedom should be considered and passed.

While it is easy to talk about what is the proper role of government, it’s even easier to identify those things which are NOT the proper role of government.

A casual perusal of the bills currently before the Colorado General Assembly is a great example of things which are not even remotely the proper role of government. (Note, I was going to point out a few examples, but there are just too many to cite. The inmates are truly running the asylum in my native state!)

We as a people have strayed far from the limited governments that were envisioned, designed and created by the founders of this country. Even people on the Right, including many elected Republicans, have inflated and incorrect ideas about what government should do.

The bottom line is: governments should promote human flourishing. Those that do, are “good”. Those that do not, are “bad”. Let’s all remember this and vote accordingly in the next election.



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