What is the good for human persons? If I am trying to lead the best possible life I could lead, not the morally best life, but the life that is best for me, what exactly am I seeking?
This phrasing of the question I will be pursuing may sound tendentious, so some explanation is needed. What is good for one person, we ordinarily suppose, can conflict with what is good for other persons and with what is required by morality. A prudent person seeks her own good efficiently; she selects the best available means to her good. If we call the value that a person seeks when she is being prudent “prudential value,” then an alternative rendering of the question to be addressed in this essay is “What is prudential value?” We can also say that an individual flourishes or has a life high in well-being when her life is high in prudential value. Of course, these common-sense appearances that the good for an individual, the good for other persons, and the requirements of morality often are in conflict might be deceiving. For all that I have said here, the correct theory of individual good might yield the result that sacrificing oneself for the sake of other people or for the sake of a morally worthy cause can never occur, because helping others and being moral always maximize one's own good. But this would be the surprising result of a theory, not something we should presuppose at the start of inquiry. When a friend has a baby and I express a conventional wish that the child have a good life, I mean a life that is good for the child, not a life that merely helps others or merely respects the constraints of morality. After all, a life that is altruistic and perfectly moral, we suppose, could be a life that is pure hell for the person who lives it—a succession of horrible headaches marked by no achievements or attainments of anything worthwhile and ending in agonizing death at a young age. So the question remains, what constitutes a life that is good for the person who is living it?