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

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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

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.
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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674032378
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 5/15/2009
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.80 (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

Part I: In Search of Good

1. A Socratic Question

2. Flourishing and Well-Being

3. Mind and Value

4. Utilitarianism

5. Rawls and the Priority of the Right

6. Right, Wrong, Should

7. The Elimination of Moral Rightness

8. Rules and Good

9. Categorical Imperatives

10. Conflicting Interests

11. Whose Good? The Egoist's Answer

12. Whose Good? The Utilitarian's Answer

13. Self-Denial, Self-Love, Universal Concern

14. Pain, Self-Love, and Altruism

15. Agent-Neutrality and Agent-Relativity

Part II: Good, Conation, and Pleasure

16. "Good" and "Good for"

17. "Good for" and Advantage

18. "Good that" and "Bad that"

19. Pleasure and Advantage

20. Good for S That P

21. The "for" of "Good for"

22. Plants, Animals, Humans

23. Ross on Human Nature

24. The Perspectival Reading of "Good for"

25. The Conative Approach to Well-Being

26. Abstracting from the Content of Desires and Plans

27. The Faulty Mechanisms of Desire Formation

28. Infants and Adults

29. The Conation of an Ideal Self

30. The Appeal of the Conative Theory

31. Conation Hybridized

32. Strict Hedonism

33. Hedonism Diluted

Part III: Prolegomenon to Flourishing

34. Development and Flourishing: The General Theory

35. Development and Flourishing: The Human Case

36. More Examples of What Is Good

37. Appealing to Nature

38. Sensory Un-flourishing

39. Affective Flourishing and Un-flourishing

40. Hobbes on Tranquillity and Restlessness

41. Flourishing and Un-flourishing as a Social Being

42. Cognitive Flourishing and Un-flourishing

43. Sexual Flourishing and Un-flourishing

44. Too Much and Too Little

45. Comparing Lives and Stages of Life

46. Adding Goods: Rawls's Principle of Inclusiveness

47. Art, Science, and Culture

48. Self-Sacrifice

49. The Vanity of Fame

50. The Vanity of Wealth

51. Making Others Worse-Off

52. Virtues and Flourishing

53. The Good of Autonomy

54. What Is Good and Why

Part IV: The Sovereignty of Good

55. The Importance of What Is Good for Us

56. Good's Insufficiency

57. Promises

58. Retribution

59. Cosmic Justice

60. Social Justice

61. Pure Antipaternalism

62. Moral Space and Giving Aid

63. Slavery

64. Torture

65. Moral Rightness Revisited

66. Lying

67. Honoring the Dead

68. Meaningless Goals and Symbolic Value

69. Good-Independent Realms of Value

70. Good Thieves and Good Human Beings

71. Final Thoughts

Works Cited

Index

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