I question whether the flourishing that McMullin presents as negotiating the demands of three distinct normative domains is itself normative. If it is, I argue it must be incremental in some way to McMullin’s three normative domains, because there is no single, plausible, structural inter-relation between the domains. This leads to regress. If flourishing is not normative, then it undermines the unity of reason that is a cornerstone of McMullin’s account. These difficulties lead to further consideration of flourishing conceived, as McMullin does, as a project of living well in the world. What is the content of this project and what role can it play? If it is merely formal, i.e. without content, then it can be shared, but is empty, therefore without a role. If it has content, and so plays a role in balancing or unifying one’s responses to the normative domains, then that content comes, McMullin claims, from answers to the question, “Who am I?” However, I claim that this question and the answers it is likely to elicit cannot supply the content required. Even if it could, it could not do so to produce a project that is plausibly normative, leaving it thus disconnected from the normative domains. I conclude that the normative character of McMullin’s notion of flourishing cannot be made good. My tentative suggestions are to jettison flourishing as a central part of conceiving a life well-lived; or to swap Aristotle for Plato to supplant flourishing with the idea of a good life.
- moral philosophy
- unity of reason