The Good Life

By: Staff Writer Richard Wheeler

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Dr. Thomas Hurka, retrieved via his website, thomashurka.com

Thomas Hurka (born 1952) is a distinguished professor of philosophy at Toronto University. In order to answer the question of how one can achieve the good life, Hurka presents a version perfection, a view of Aristotelean origin. Hurka contends that there exists a certain objective list of categorical imperatives. Categorical imperatives are defined as values that one should pursue regardless of one’s personal wants or desires. Pursuit and attainment of these imperatives will make someone’s life go well.

There are 3 aspects of the human life which Hurka argues are to be perfected in order to achieve a good life: physical perfection, perfection of theoretical rationality, and perfection of practical rationality.

First, let us address physical perfection. The normally functioning, healthy human body performs essential physical processes (such as breathing, circulating blood, and muscle activation) unhindered. By putting stress on the body, one can increase the efficiency with which the body performs essential processes. One example that clearly illustrates this concept is training for a marathon. As one puts an increasing amount of stress on the body, it responds by becoming stronger and more able to perform the tasks demanded of it.

Hurka contends that the essential physical processes of the human body are what make one essentially human. Therefore, increasing the level of efficiency at which these processes are performed actually makes one more human. Conversely, the impediment of these processes makes one less human.

The ideas of theoretical and practical rationality are intertwined but district in key ways.

Theoretical rationality can be explained as the ability to think logically, believe facts based on evidence and reject those based on unfounded assumptions, reject contradictions, make sound arguments, etc. One could think of theoretical rationality as the basic cognitive mechanics that allow humans to be logical beings.

Practical rationality presupposes theoretical rationality and is best explained as the ability to form positions based on our beliefs, turn our desires into actions, formulate means to achieve a desired end, etc. One could think of practical rationality as the tools that allow humans to formulate goals based on their desires, and subsequently act on plans to achieve their goals.

Hurka argued that if one were to achieve physical perfection, perfection of theoretical rationality, and perfection of practical rationality, they would have achieved the good life. He explains that the person who achieves all three aspects of perfectionism would operate at an excellent level of physical performance, be able to think with perfect logical proficiency, and have an ability to turn their desires into reality. By achieving in these three areas, Hurka believed that any given person would have achieved a good life.

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