It’s very easy for the idea of human flourishing to become individualistic. If it’s being advocated as an alternative to subjective well-being, its status as an opposition encourages what Andrew Sayer calls a PoMo flip: a problematic conceptual structure is retained while dichotomies are reversed. In this case, ‘well-being’ as a subjective fact about the individual is replaced by ‘flourishing’ as an objective fact about the individual. But what if the mistake is seeing well-being as a property of individuals? I’ve always liked Charles Taylor’s notion of ‘webs of interlocution’, even though I think it’s overly discursive and insufficiently material:
One cannot be a self on one’s own. I am a self only in relation to certain interlocutors: in one way in relation to those conversation partners who were essential to my achieving self-definition; in another in relation to those who are now crucial to my continuing grasp of languages of self-understanding – and, of course, these classes may overlap. A self exists only within what I call ‘webs of interlocution’. It is this original situation which gives its sense to our concept of ‘identity’, offering an answer to the question of who I am through a definition of where I am speaking from and to whom. The full definition of someone’s identity thus usually involves not only his stand on moral and spiritual matters but also some reference to a defining community. (Taylor 1989: 36).
If this is correct then I can’t see how a notion of ‘flourishing’ is sustainable that doesn’t have this relationality at its core. But the parallel risk is that we are left with an overly-socialised view of flourishing, in which my flourishing becomes a gift of social relations, as opposed to something achieved with and through them.
Categories: Pre 2020 reading notes