What Is Human Flourishing?

This blog’s subtext is, “One man’s love affair with human flourishing.” So, I suppose I should define what human flourishing is. Simply stated, human flourishing is every individual achieving self-actualization. Of course, for this to be simply understood, we would have to understand what self-actualization is first.

The idea of self-actualization was made most relevant by Abraham Maslow in his work on the hierarchy of needs. Self-actualization was at the top of his hierarchy, and it is defined as follows: “the desire for self-fulfillment, namely the tendency for him [the individual] to become actualized in what he is potentially.” This means many different things to many different people, so I will give you my take on it here. Self-actualization requires enough self-knowledge to know who you are as a person, enough courage to stand up for what you believe to be true, and the persistence to achieve those virtues you practice in order to experience happiness.

That may seem like a tall order, but understand, as Aristotle pointed out, happiness is the only end in and of itself; it is not a means to another end. Life should be about experiencing happiness. It is not our goal to pursue happiness, rather, it should be our goal to experience it. True happiness requires a high degree of self-knowledge, lest we fall into naked hedonism. Eating junk food and engaging in unattached sex can give a great deal of pleasure, however, these practices do not lead to happiness or self-fulfillment. Junk food may taste good, but it will make you sick, and while unattached sex may be pleasurable in the moment, it does not lead to the long lasting partnership of a loving relationship. In order to be happy, we must understand that our actions have consequences, and in order to be self-actualized, we must recognize that our choices need to lead us towards experiencing happiness.

A self-actualized person realizes that all his choices matter, and he is responsible for their outcomes. He recognizes that in order to experience happiness, he must endeavor to achieve virtue, and he must surround himself with like-minded people. He has the understanding to know what will and will not make him happy, and he has the foresight and fortitude to act in ways that will lead him to happiness. It is through happiness that all individual human beings truly flourish. The character of a person is expressed most explicitly when he is doing that which makes him most happy.

What make you most happy? Do you enjoy helping other people, empathizing with the struggling, encouraging individuals to excel, solving complex problems that otherwise hinder human progress, or discovering ways to improve the quality of human life? If you do, chances are you are a good person, doing these things makes you happy, and in so doing them, you flourish. Likewise, if you enjoy hurting other people, chances are good you are a terrible person, and while causing harm makes you happy, you express the true depravity of your character. I would argue that while only a very small minority of people fall into the latter category, the vast majority of people are part of the former, and we are all better off for it.

At this point, you may be wondering, “What the hell does any of this have to do with anarchy?” Anarchy is an environment in which each individual has the most freedom possible in order to achieve self-actualization, and thus achieve human flourishing. If you want to live, as I want to live, in a world where every individual has the most opportunity possible to flourish, then like me, you are an anarchist, and I bid you welcome!

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