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I—‘Mental Health’ and Human Excellence

Edward Harcourt
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/arisup/akw005 217-235 First published online: 1 July 2016

Abstract

The paper concerns two familiar lines of inquiry. One, stemming from a neo-Aristotelian naturalism associated with Foot and others, asks whether we can derive human excellences from what humans need in order to be some way. The second asks whether (as Plato said) virtue is a kind of health, and vice a kind of illness. The first is often seen as a failure to the extent that the list of characteristics derived by this approach does not include familiar moral virtues. However, it is argued that the concept of human excellence is many-layered, so the fact that the approach may not succeed for moral virtues does not show that it is no good for anything. Moreover, the kinds of psychological characteristic derived by a liberalized version of Foot’s approach may also help to give non-trivial answers to the second, Platonic, line of inquiry.

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