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date: 24 July 2021

Human Flourishing as an Aim of Educationlocked

Human Flourishing as an Aim of Educationlocked

  • Doret de RuyterDoret de RuyterUniversity of Humanistic Studies
  •  and Lynne WolbertLynne WolbertVrije Universiteit Amsterdam


Human flourishing has gained and is gaining popularity as an overarching ideal aim of education. Influential advocates of educational theories on flourishing are, among others, Harry Brighouse, Kristján Kristjánsson, Doret de Ruyter, and John White. Most contemporary theories on flourishing hark explicitly or implicitly back to Aristotle’s theory about eudaimonia. Aristotle constructed his theory as an answer to the question of what is the ultimate aim of a human life and defined it as acting virtuously. Contemporary theorists define it in somewhat wider terms, namely as a successful, morally good, happy, and well-balanced life. A theory on human flourishing is regarded as an objective well-being theory, that is, it describes from an objective point of view rather than a person’s subjective evaluation what it means to live one’s life well.

Flourishing as an ideal aim of education has implications for the education and upbringing of children. Teachers and parents need to know what constitutes a flourishing life, what contributes to it and what does not, and they are expected to act in a way that enables children to lead a flourishing life (in the future). This, however, raises, several issues. Firstly, there are different ideas (of philosophers of education) as to what flourishing precisely means and therefore also different views on the role of schools and how they should aim for the flourishing of children: for instance, whether there should be a course on living a good life, or whether education for flourishing should permeate the entire curriculum and school ethos. Secondly, it could be objected that aiming for flourishing implies aiming for perfection and that this is not only detrimental to the well-being of children, but also too demanding for parents (and teachers). With regard to the well-being of children it is, however, possible to refer to empirical research that shows that when educators aim for self-oriented perfectionism (i.e., that children are themselves convinced that it is good to strive for perfectionism rather than having to do so to gain approval), they actually contribute to the well-being of children. With regard to the demands against parents it can be argued that in addition to their responsibilities regarding the interests of children to be able to live a flourishing life, parenting (well) is an important aspect of a flourishing life of many adults. Thirdly, it could be objected that focusing on the ideal aim of flourishing does not sufficiently take into account the differences in “luck” in individual lives and inequalities on a societal level, that is, human vulnerability. Theory on education for flourishing therefore does well not to overestimate the influence of parents and educators to equip children to live flourishing lives and needs to keep asking questions such as, for example, what role the (political) community plays in enabling all children to have the chance to lead a flourishing life.


  • Educational Purposes and Ideals
  • Educational Theories and Philosophies

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