Consider all. Test All. Hold on to the good.

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What Is Good and Why The Ethics of Well-Being

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.

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
  • II 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
  • III Prolegomenon to Flourishing 131
    • 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
  • IV 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