The Minimally Good Life
Nicole Hassoun (PI) (Philosophy, Binghamton University)
This project responds to the question “How can we advance our understanding of the nature of good lives?”. Appealing to both theoretical and empirical evidence, it defends the view that, to live minimally good lives, people need (1) an adequate range of (2) the fundamental conditions that (3) are necessary (and perhaps important) for (4) securing (5) the meaningful pursuits, relationships, pleasures, knowledge, appreciation, and worthwhile activities etc. (6) a reasonable and caring person would set as a minimal standard of justifiable aspiration. We can get a sense for what makes lives minimally good on this account by considering what someone about whom we know little – say, a newborn infant - will need for a life at the lowest level of flourishing. Their life’s difficulties, pains, losses, and frustrations must be sufficiently compensated for by meaningful pursuits, relationships, pleasures, and worthwhile activities so that one would not seriously doubt their ability to satisfactorily live it. The question is not whether any given individual would trade her current life for a minimally good one – many fortunate individuals would not. Rather, it is whether there are any serious reasons to doubt that the life could be happily lived.
Having an account of what is necessary for a minimally good life is important for many reasons. Many maintain, for instance, that global justice and respect for human rights require everyone get as close as possible to meeting this standard. To live a minimally good life, on the proposed account, people must at least be able to fulfill their basic needs and secure adequate resources, have a sufficiently wide range of opportunities and capabilities, and avoid dignity-undermining discrimination. Moreover, the account can provide a basis for further empirical work on the factors that contribute to such lives and how this conception relates to other accounts of good lives, well-being, and happiness. It can, thus, offer some guidance for those who care for others who might fall below this threshold and for policy makers working to ensure that, insofar as possible, people rise above it.