Source: p 425 Middle Left. Introducing Philosophy for Canadians: A Text with Integrated Readings (2011 1 ed).
Primary Source: p 3. The Well-Rounded Life (The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 84, No. 12 (Dec. 1987), pp. 727-746)
by Thomas Hurka.

On the theoretical side, the side of our beliefs, we achieve more theoretical perfection the more knowledge we have. The more we understand the world, and ourselves, and our place in the world, the better and more choiceworthy our lives. Of course, not all knowledge has equal value. Knowing the co-stars in some 1930s movie is not as important as knowing a fundamental law of the universe, or understanding the workings of a friend's personality. We need a test for the best knowledge, and I suggest [1.] it is the most organized or systematic knowledge, with general principles unifying and explaining derived particulars. [End of 1.] This is most clearly present when we grasp a whole scientific theory from first principles down to particular explanations. But it is also present in interpersonal understanding and even the craft knowledge of skilled artisans.

1 appears too vague and imprecise to me. What exactly does Prof. Hurka mean?

  • It is imprecise. Possibly intentionally, because designing a valid and useful test for knowledge is no mean feat! But it is also clear: an organized set of general rules which can be used to categorize and explain as large a set of particulars as possible. In other words, what we might today call "natural laws". – Dan Bron Jul 20 '16 at 10:56

You rightly complain that Hurka’s test of knowledge is ‘vague and imprecise.’ In fact, Hurka’s suggested test is not his own, but is borrowed from a model of scientific explanation in philosophy of science, called Deductive-Nomological Model, or covering law model. So answering your question, this D-N model is what Hurka means exactly. Hurka is merely glossing over the model, and thus looks ‘vague and imprecise.’ So the question really is not what constitutes the test, but why he is talking about a test of knowledge.

Hurka is famous for his perfectionist view of good life: that is, a well-lived life is the perfection of proper human faculties, or equivalently, the pursuit of intrinsic goods. Following Aristotle, Hurka distinguishes three types of intrinsic goods: physical perfection (6-pack abs), theoretical perfection (knowledge), and practical perfection (ruling for the happiness of the people). Regarding physical perfection, Hurka beleives that life should go better for those pursuing 6-pack abs than those, gluttony.

After explaining physical perfection, Hurka moves on to explain what he means by the theoretical perfection, which is the above passage. To Hurka knowledge can be pursued in different ways: the Trivial Pursuit way (e.g., knowledge of movie costars), and the systematic way (knowledge of natural laws). Hurka believes that the latter way of pursuing knowledge is far better than the former way based on his criterion (test). By appealing to the test, Hurka can establish that the theoretical perfection is best found in scholar's life. He then moves on to explain politicians’ pursuit of practical perfection.

Hurka’s goal in his paper “The Well-Rounded Life,” however, is not to explain what these types of perfection are. His goal is to solve a problem he perceives lurking in the perfectionist life style. Pursuing the 6-pack abs at the gym could mean forgoing the theoretical perfection attainable at the library. That is, leading a perfectionist life style could entail an un-rounded life, and a well-rounded life style could entail mediocre achievements. He wants to show how a perfectionist life can be well-rounded life.

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