Human flourishing is related to a number of general goods and virtues
that provide structure but not specific direction or content with
respect to living oneís life. Because there is a wide diversity of human
beings, it follows that a flourishing life is not universal. Generic
goods such as knowledge, health, and friendships need to be integrated
in various measures and the virtues need to be applied in specific
Each person needs to consider a variety of values, goods, and virtues in
order to determine the relationship among them that will best achieve
his flourishing as an individual human being. This requires rational
insight into the particular and the contingent. Reason is the basic
means used by human beings to create the values necessary for life and
to interrelate and integrate goods and virtues into their lives. Virtues
may be viewed as a set of fundamental principles that a rational person
uses to guide the long-term course of his life.
Virtues can be viewed as principles of action which promote the
flourishing of an individual who, by following them, engages in
consistent actions that are in alignment with practical rationality.
Virtuous actions enable a person to gain (and keep) the values he
pursues. The virtues are required for oneís practical efficacy and
happiness. Of course, virtue by itself is not enough to guarantee
practical efficacy. A person also needs to have the relevant skills,
resources, and so on. The fundamental virtue is rationality and the
other virtues are particular expressions of that basic virtue. The
virtues are both instrumental to, and a constitutive part of, an agentís
flourishing. They are valuable, not merely as means to flourishing, but
also as partial realizations of it. Virtuous action begins with the
ability to discern the aspects of a situation that are the most relevant
and that fit the circumstances at hand. A man needs to possess the
ability to decide which virtues are required in a particular situation
and the optimal way of applying them. Virtuous actions tend to foster
further virtuous actions. Applying the virtues is heavily dependent upon
the context of a situation. People tend to take pleasure in virtuous
actionsóaffect is related closely to virtue especially when oneís
emotions are properly aligned with his rationality.
Ayn Rand makes a powerful case that the rational pursuit of oneís
flourishing requires the consistent practice of seven essential
virtuesórationality, honesty, independence, justice, integrity,
productiveness, and pride. She saw rationality as the master virtue and
the other six virtues as derivative from the primary virtue. Some
scholars have pointed out that Rand did not specifically discuss the
intellectual virtue of practical wisdom (i.e., prudence). It is likely
that she considered practical wisdom as part of rationality. Others have
suggested that her version of virtue ethics might be improved by
including positive qualities such as benevolence, kindness, generosity,
charity, tolerance, and so on in her prescription for moral perfection.
Emotions are an important part of oneís life experience and are relevant
to oneís moral character. A case can be made that many emotions are the
products of a personís judgments of value as integrated by his
subconscious mind. Such emotions stem from a personís values and
estimates which, in turn, depend upon his knowledge. They are about
personally meaningful values and circumstances. These emotions are
directed by oneís chosen values. It follows that a change in oneís
values can bring about a change in his emotions. Emotions can encourage
or discourage goal-directed actions. Correctly programmed positive
emotions can be indicators that we have located objective values. Such
emotions both signal and promote a personís optimal functioning and
flourishing. Justified positive emotions are fundamental conditions of
human existence. We could say that emotional and psychological
well-being is a crucial part of human flourishing.
Happiness occurs to the extent that one leads a flourishing life. We
could say that happiness is an emergent effect of living a good life.
Happiness has both cognitive and affective dimensions and depends upon
the degree to which a person responds realistically, morally, and
efficaciously to his life circumstances. Successful people tend to be
happy people who continue to intentionally seek new, not-yet-attained
goals. There are various degrees of personal growth, development, and
happiness. A person can be happy and still strive to be even happier.
Happiness is an issue of living a particular type of lifeóit is not just
a case of having positive feelings. However, happiness is related to
emotion-laden experiences such as flow and self-esteem.
A person is apt to be in a psychological state of flow when he is
engaged in meaningful, self-controlled, and goal-related activities.
Flow involves focused immersion in an activity, lack of
self-consciousness, and the merging of awareness and action. A man is in
the flow state when he is vitally engaged in enjoyable activities that
offer him scope.
Self-esteem refers to a personís legitimate attitude of
self-affirmation. Self-esteem is connected to a sense of agency and
control of oneís environment. A person with self-esteem tends to be
competent, optimistic, and virtuous, and to have self-respect. A person
who does not practice the virtues (such as rationality, honesty,
justice, and so on) is not likely to possess self-esteem. Virtuous
action leads to self-respect and self-esteem.
People should take virtuous actions in alignment with their objective
values. A person must use his practical wisdom to examine and judge the
context of a situation before freely choosing to exercise virtuous
action. Deliberation itself is an action aimed at an end. The final end
of the actions of a human being is his own flourishing life. People are
capable of taking self-directed, deliberate, reasoned, and planned
actions directed by a notion of an ultimate end. Of course, they can
choose to act and live in a variety of ways that are not conducive to a
Austrian Economics and Objectivism agree on the significance of the
ideas of human action and values. The Austrians explain that a person
acts when he prefers the way he thinks things will be if he acts
compared to the way he thinks things will be if he fails to act.
Austrian Economics is descriptive and deals with the logical analysis of
the ability of selected actions (i.e., means) to achieve chosen ends.
Whether or not these ends are truly objectively valuable is not the
concern of the praxeological economist when he is acting in his capacity
as an economist. There is another realm of values that views value in
terms of objective values and correct preferences and actions. Ayn
Randís Objectivism is concerned with this other sphere and thus
prescribes what human beings ought to value and act to attain.
Austrian economists contend that values are subjective and Objectivists
maintain that values are objective. These claims can be seen as
compatible because they are not claims about the same phenomena. These
two senses of value are complementary and compatible. The Austrians view
actions from the perspective of a neutral examiner of the actions and
Objectivists suggest values and actions for an acting human being as a
moral agent himself. The Austrian economist does not force his own value
judgments on the personal values and actions of the human beings that he
is studying. Operating from a different perspective, Objectivists
maintain that there are objective values that stem from a manís
relationship to other existents in the world. For the Objectivist, the
purpose of ethics is to live a flourishing and happy life by recognizing
and responding to the significance of human action.
It is possible for these two schools of thought to be combined into an
integrated framework. At a descriptive level, the Austrian idea of
demonstrated preference agrees with Ayn Randís account of value as
something that a person acts to gain and/or keep. Of course, Rand moves
from an initial descriptive notion of value to a normative perspective
on value that includes the idea that a legitimate or objective value
serves oneís life. The second deeper level view of value provides an
objective standard to evaluate the use of oneís free will.
Austrian praxeological economics (i.e., the study of human action) has
been used to make a value-free case for liberty. This economic science
deals with abstract principles and general rules that must be applied if
a society is to have optimal production and economic well-being.
Misesian praxeology consists of a body of logically deduced, inexorable
laws of economics beginning with the axiom that each person acts
Although Misesian economists hold that values are subjective and
Objectivists argue that values are objective, these claims are not
incompatible because they are not really claims about the same
thingsóthey exist at different levels or spheres of analysis. The
value-subjectivity of the Austrians complements the Randian sense of
objectivity. The level of objective values dealing with personal
flourishing transcends the level of subjective value preferences.
The value-freedom (or value-neutrality) and value-subjectivity of the
Austrians have a different function or purpose than does Objectivismís
emphasis on objective values. On the one hand, the Austrian emphasis is
on the value-neutrality of the economist as a scientific observer of a
person acting to attain his ďsubjectiveĒ (i.e., personally-estimated)
values. On the other hand, the philosophy of Objectivism is concerned
with values for an acting individual moral agent himself.
Austrian Economics is an excellent way of looking at methodological
economics with respect to the appraisal of means but not of ends.
Misesian praxeology therefore must be augmented. Its value-free
economics is not sufficient to establish a total case for liberty. A
systematic, reality-based ethical system must be discovered to firmly
establish the argument for individual liberty. Natural law provides the
groundwork for such a theory and both Objectivism and the Aristotelian
idea of human flourishing are based on natural law ideas.
An ethical system must be developed and defended in order to establish
the case for a free society. An Aristotelian ethics of naturalism states
that moral matters are matters of fact and that morally good conduct is
that which enables the individual agent to make the best possible
progress toward achieving his self-perfection and happiness. According
to Rand, happiness relates to a personís success as a unique, rational
human being possessing free will. We have free choice and the capacity
to initiate our own conduct that enhances or hinders our flourishing as
A human beingís flourishing requires the rational use of his individual
human potentialities, including his talents, abilities, and virtues in
the pursuit of his freely and rationally chosen values and goals. An
action is considered to be proper if it leads to the flourishing of the
person performing the action. A personís flourishing leads to his
happiness. Each person is responsible for voluntarily choosing,
creating, and entering relationships in civil society that contribute to
Long ago, Aristotle observed that social life and social cooperation in
a community are essential conditions for oneís flourishing. Today, it is
generally held that a personís social networks have strong effects on a
personís well-being. Mediating institutions such as charitable
societies, fraternal organizations, churches, clubs, and so on, provide
individuals and communities with valuable interaction networks. Most
people hold memberships in a number of value-providing associations. It
follows that civil society is important to the pursuit and attainment of
our individual ends.
Unlike the state, which is based on coercion, civil society is based on
voluntary participation. Civil society consists of natural and voluntary
associations such as families, private businesses, unions, churches,
private schools, clubs, charities, etc. Civil society, a spontaneous
order, consists of a network of associations built on the freedom of the
individual to associate or not to associate. The voluntary communities
and associations of civil society are valuable because human beings need
to associate with others in order to flourish and achieve happiness.
Oneís personal flourishing requires a life with other people. Sociality
is essential to a manís attempt to live well. Benefaction (i.e.,
charity) can be viewed as an expression and specific manifestation of
oneís capacity for social cooperation.
The interpersonal realm is integral to a well-lived life. We love our
friends because we appreciate their potential to advance our well-being.
Friendship and love have an egoistic basis in a personís love for, and
pride in, himself. The well-being of a person who is a value to an
individual increases the individualís own ability to flourish and to be
happy. The fundamental reason for performing other-regarding actions is
to enhance oneís own well-being. Other peopleís interests can be viewed
as contributive to, or interrelated with, oneís own interests as
evidenced in the case of production and free trade. It can be said that
a personís authentic self-interest cannot conflict with the
self-interests of other people.