To my knowledge, the term “flourishing” was introduced into contemporary philosophy in Elizabeth Anscombe's 1958 article “Modern Moral Philosophy.” In this article and in much of the writing subsequent to it, the concept of flourishing seems to have three principal facets, or to be associated with three philosophical views.
First, it indicates an objective theory of the human good based on some theory of human nature. The flourishing of a human being is a desirable state, one that constitutes part or even all of his good. As the term's etymological connection to “flowering” suggests, however, we are to understand human flourishing by analogy with similar states of other organisms such as animals and even plants. A plant or animal flourishes when the properties that constitute its nature are developed to a high degree. By analogy, it is said, there are properties central to human nature, and their development is what makes for human flourishing and a good human life. According to this first view about flourishing, the human good is not characterized subjectively, as depending on what someone takes pleasure in or desires, but objectively, in terms of a development of human nature that is good whatever anyone's attitude toward it.
Second, the concept of flourishing is used to identify the moral virtues, including other-regarding virtues such as justice and benevolence. In “Modern Moral Philosophy,” Anscombe proposes an ethical view in which the primary evaluation of actions is as virtuous or vicious, that is, as reflecting a virtue such as justice or a vice such as injustice.
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