What Is Good and Why: The Ethics of Well-Being / Edition 1

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Overview

What is good? How can we know, and how important is it? In this book Richard Kraut, one of our most respected analytical philosophers, reorients these questions around the notion of what causes human beings to flourish--that is, what is good for us. Observing that we can sensibly talk about what is good for plants and animals no less than what is good for people, Kraut advocates a general principle that applies to the entire world of living things: what is good for complex organisms consists in the maturation and exercise of their natural powers.

Drawing on the insights of ancient Greek philosophy, Kraut develops this thought into a good-centered moral philosophy, an "ethics of well-being" that requires all of our efforts to do some good. Even what is good of a kind--good poems no less than good people--must be good for someone. Pleasure plays a key role in this idea of flourishing life, but Kraut opposes the current philosophical orthodoxy of well-being, which views a person's welfare as a construct of rational desires or plans, actual or ideal.

The practical upshot of Kraut's theory is that many common human pursuits--for riches, fame, domination--are in themselves worthless, while some of the familiar virtues--justice, honesty, and autonomy--are good for every human being.

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Editorial Reviews

Choice
Offers an original, persuasive, and substantial defense of an Aristotelian approach to ethics for today. His central claim is that all good practical arguments in ethics rest on claims about what is good or bad for someone. Like utilitarianism, Kraut places good at the heart of morality—but without what he regards as its misplaced emphasis on desire satisfaction, quantification, or maximization. Like Kantianism, Kraut recognizes the importance of considerations of duty and justice—but without what he regards as its failure to ground them in harm and benefit to others. Kraut situates his approach within contemporary discussions of ethical theory, considering, for example, John Rawis, Thomas Nagel, T. M. Scanlon, James Griffin, and Joseph Raz, as well as older theorists such as Jeremy Bentham, J. S. Mill, Henry Sidgwick, G. E. Moore, and W. D. Ross. This approach gives his work depth and relevance, though he discusses few in detail. In summary, this volume offers a robust defense of a non-Kantian, nonutilitarian approach to ethics.
— H. Oberdiek
Times Higher Education Supplement
The view [Kraut] develops, while having affinities with other recent work, is nevertheless substantially original and worked out in impressive detail.
— Guy Kahane
Booklist (starred review)
Have Rawls and Nozick met their match? The titans of late-twentieth-century social philosophy do indeed find an acute critic--and possible successor--in Kraut. For in this groundbreaking inquiry into the nature of goodness, Kraut exposes the inadequacy of all previous ethical thinking, including Rawls' and Nozick's. Kraut is particularly thorough in his demolition of the cognitive theory that requires each individual to construct his or her own definition of the good. Because good must mean good for, Kraut argues, human good finally entails whatever fosters human flourishing, a flourishing that almost everyone can recognize and agree on...Religious-minded readers may protest that Kraut metaphysically impoverishes human goodness when he explicitly rejects immortality. But many other readers will praise him for enriching contemporary dialogue about fundamental ethical questions. An essential acquisition in social philosophy.
— Bryce Christensen
Library Journal

Continuing in the tradition of Socrates and Plato, Kraut (philosophy, Northwestern Univ.) seeks to examine the nature of "goodness" and proposes that "we should ask what we commit ourselves to when we call something good for someone." In answer to what it is about certain actions or events that makes them good for us, he concludes that something is good when it allows an organism to flourish. (Although the majority of Kraut's analysis focuses on what is good for humans, he explains that the term flourishingcan be applied to any living being.) According to Kraut, goodness is not a mind-constructed value, nor is it related to moral concepts such as right and wrong. Instead, it is based on existent world values. These values all contain similar characteristics that add to our cognitive, social, and physical well-being. Through coherent writing and familiar examples, Kraut does a wonderful job of showing that what is good does not require abstract analysis but can instead be found by combining common sense and rationality. Highly recommended for academic libraries.
—Scott Duimstra

Booklist (starred review)

Have Rawls and Nozick met their match? The titans of late-twentieth-century social philosophy do indeed find an acute critic—and possible successor—in Kraut. For in this groundbreaking inquiry into the nature of goodness, Kraut exposes the inadequacy of all previous ethical thinking, including Rawls' and Nozick's. Kraut is particularly thorough in his demolition of the cognitive theory that requires each individual to construct his or her own definition of the good. Because good must mean good for, Kraut argues, human good finally entails whatever fosters human flourishing, a flourishing that almost everyone can recognize and agree on...Religious-minded readers may protest that Kraut metaphysically impoverishes human goodness when he explicitly rejects immortality. But many other readers will praise him for enriching contemporary dialogue about fundamental ethical questions. An essential acquisition in social philosophy.
— Bryce Christensen

Times Higher Education Supplement

The view [Kraut] develops, while having affinities with other recent work, is nevertheless substantially original and worked out in impressive detail.
— Guy Kahane

Choice

Offers an original, persuasive, and substantial defense of an Aristotelian approach to ethics for today. His central claim is that all good practical arguments in ethics rest on claims about what is good or bad for someone. Like utilitarianism, Kraut places good at the heart of morality—but without what he regards as its misplaced emphasis on desire satisfaction, quantification, or maximization. Like Kantianism, Kraut recognizes the importance of considerations of duty and justice—but without what he regards as its failure to ground them in harm and benefit to others. Kraut situates his approach within contemporary discussions of ethical theory, considering, for example, John Rawis, Thomas Nagel, T. M. Scanlon, James Griffin, and Joseph Raz, as well as older theorists such as Jeremy Bentham, J. S. Mill, Henry Sidgwick, G. E. Moore, and W. D. Ross. This approach gives his work depth and relevance, though he discusses few in detail. In summary, this volume offers a robust defense of a non-Kantian, nonutilitarian approach to ethics.
— H. Oberdiek

Samuel Freeman
Kraut's account fills a wide gap in the literature. What is Good and Why is a superb work, one that should have long-lasting influence.
C. D. C. Reeve
What is Good and Why is filled not just with clearly expressed and compelling philosophical arguments, but with a lot of sound practical wisdom. It is enjoyable, enlightening, and also quite revolutionary. It deserves--and will benefit--a very wide readership.
Booklist (starred review) - Bryce Christensen
Have Rawls and Nozick met their match? The titans of late-twentieth-century social philosophy do indeed find an acute critic--and possible successor--in Kraut. For in this groundbreaking inquiry into the nature of goodness, Kraut exposes the inadequacy of all previous ethical thinking, including Rawls' and Nozick's. Kraut is particularly thorough in his demolition of the cognitive theory that requires each individual to construct his or her own definition of the good. Because good must mean good for, Kraut argues, human good finally entails whatever fosters human flourishing, a flourishing that almost everyone can recognize and agree on...Religious-minded readers may protest that Kraut metaphysically impoverishes human goodness when he explicitly rejects immortality. But many other readers will praise him for enriching contemporary dialogue about fundamental ethical questions. An essential acquisition in social philosophy.
Times Higher Education Supplement - Guy Kahane
The view [Kraut] develops, while having affinities with other recent work, is nevertheless substantially original and worked out in impressive detail.
Choice - H. Oberdiek
Offers an original, persuasive, and substantial defense of an Aristotelian approach to ethics for today. His central claim is that all good practical arguments in ethics rest on claims about what is good or bad for someone. Like utilitarianism, Kraut places good at the heart of morality—but without what he regards as its misplaced emphasis on desire satisfaction, quantification, or maximization. Like Kantianism, Kraut recognizes the importance of considerations of duty and justice—but without what he regards as its failure to ground them in harm and benefit to others. Kraut situates his approach within contemporary discussions of ethical theory, considering, for example, John Rawis, Thomas Nagel, T. M. Scanlon, James Griffin, and Joseph Raz, as well as older theorists such as Jeremy Bentham, J. S. Mill, Henry Sidgwick, G. E. Moore, and W. D. Ross. This approach gives his work depth and relevance, though he discusses few in detail. In summary, this volume offers a robust defense of a non-Kantian, nonutilitarian approach to ethics.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674024410
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Kraut is Charles and Emma Morrison Professor in the Humanities at Northwestern University.
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Table of Contents


Acknowledgments     xi
In Search of Good     1
A Socratic Question     1
Flourishing and Well-Being     3
Mind and Value     8
Utilitarianism     11
Rawls and the Priority of the Right     21
Right, Wrong, Should     24
The Elimination of Moral Rightness     26
Rules and Good     29
Categorical Imperatives     35
Conflicting Interests     37
Whose Good? The Egoist's Answer     39
Whose Good? The Utilitarian's Answer     41
Self-Denial, Self-Love, Universal Concern     48
Pain, Self-Love, and Altruism     57
Agent-Neutrality and Agent-Relativity     61
Good, Conation, and Pleasure     66
"Good" and "Good for"     66
"Good for" and Advantage     67
"Good that" and "Bad that"     71
Pleasure and Advantage     77
Good for S That P     79
The 'for" of "Good for"     81
Plants, Animals, Humans     88
Ross on Human Nature     91
The Perspectival Reading of "Good for"     92
The Conative Approach to Well-Being     94
Abstracting from the Content of Desires and Plans     99
The Faulty Mechanisms of Desire Formation     101
Infants and Adults     104
The Conation of an Ideal Self     109
The Appeal of the Conative Theory     113
Conation Hybridized     116
Strict Hedonism     120
Hedonism Diluted     126
Prolegomenon to Flourishing     131
Development and Flourishing: The General Theory     131
Development and Flourishing: The Human Case     135
More Examples of What Is Good     141
Appealing to Nature     145
Sensory Un-flourishing     148
Affective Flourishing and Un-flourishing     153
Hobbes on Tranquillity and Restlessness     158
Flourishing and Un-flourishing as a Social Being     161
Cognitive Flourishing and Un-flourishing     164
Sexual Flourishing and Un-flourishing     166
Too Much and Too Little     168
Comparing Lives and Stages of Life     170
Adding Goods: Rawls's Principle of Inclusiveness     172
Art, Science, and Culture     176
Self-Sacrifice     180
The Vanity of Fame     183
The Vanity of Wealth     187
Making Others Worse-Off     188
Virtues and Flourishing     191
The Good of Autonomy     196
What Is Good and Why     202
The Sovereignty of Good     205
The Importance of What Is Good for Us     205
Good's Insufficiency     211
Promises     215
Retribution     225
Cosmic Justice     228
Social Justice     231
Pure Antipaternalism     234
Moral Space and Giving Aid     238
Slavery     243
Torture     248
Moral Rightness Revisited     250
Lying     257
Honoring the Dead     261
Meaningless Goals and Symbolic Value     263
Good-Independent Realms of Value     266
Good Thieves and Good Human Beings     269
Final Thoughts     271
Works Cited     275
Index     281
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