Living the Good Life

Living the Good Life

Copyright Date: 2013
DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt3fgnzq
Pages: 216
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Living the Good Life
    Book Description:

    Living the Good Life presents a brief introduction to virtue and vice, self-control and weakness, misery and happiness.

    eISBN: 978-0-8132-2146-5
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt3fgnzq.1
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt3fgnzq.2
    (pp. ix-x)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt3fgnzq.3
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-7)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt3fgnzq.4

    I once sat on a bioethics panel in which a member opined that he had discovered the most profound insight while watching a documentary in which the closing shot asks the question, “Is there an absolute truth?” The narrator steps down a hill into a swamp and scoops up some of the slime. So standing, he declares, “This is what comes of the belief in absolute truth.” Suddenly the shot is transposed and we find that the narrator is standing in Auschwitz. Surprisingly, this member of the panel proceeded throughout the ensuing discussion to give conclusive pronouncements on nearly every...

  5. 2 Ethics and the Good Life
    (pp. 8-16)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt3fgnzq.5

    In the Republic Plato has Glaucon build upon an earlier argument of Thrasymachus; he asks us to imagine one person who is perfectly unjust and another who is perfectly just. The perfectly unjust person, he says, will rise to power through unjust means, but because he is so perfect at his injustice, he will never get caught. He will become the ruler of his city, and will have the pick of his wife among the ruling classes. He will be fabulously wealthy and well liked by all, since he is so crafty as to accomplish his injustice without notice. In...

  6. 3 Reason and the Emotions
    (pp. 17-31)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt3fgnzq.6

    We have all heard the saying, “If it feels good, do it,” but we probably wouldn’t associate it with ethics or morality. Indeed, it seems like a recipe for disaster. Raping feels good to rapists, killing feels good to serial killers, and tyrannizing others probably felt good to Hitler and Stalin. We know from our own experience that what feels good is not always the best, either for ourselves or for others, and what feels good now might not feel good later. A drinking binge might feel good at the moment, but not the next morning. It can feel good...

  7. 4 Conscience and Choice
    (pp. 32-46)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt3fgnzq.7

    Have you ever heard it said, “All that matters in ethics is that you do what you believe to be right”? Or “Just follow your conscience”? Seems like sound advice. Unfortunately, too often the seed of truth within these sayings is distorted into a denial of all morality. If all that matters is that we do what we believe, then why do we have to bother studying about ethics, about what other people believe? Why should we turn our attention to the “true” goods “out there,” when all we need do is consult our own internal beliefs?

    Indeed, how can...

  8. 5 Loving and Choosing
    (pp. 47-59)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt3fgnzq.8

    The will plays a central part in the moral life, and yet many people want to deny that we have a will. They say that we are merely complicated animals, whose emotions are less inborn and more learned than in other animals. Nevertheless, they are inborn, and they are learned. We have no choice by which we can influence our emotions; we have no freedom by which we can get beyond our genes and our environment. We are fixed and determined by our heredity and our upbringing. What we desire we must desire; what we do we must do. Such...

  9. 6 Doing Right and Desiring Right
    (pp. 60-75)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt3fgnzq.9

    We haven’t yet discovered whether I took the twenty dollars or returned it. Recall that the teller gave me the extra twenty; with my reason I judged that it was fair to return it, but in my emotions I longed to keep it, so that I was beginning to rationalize. What, ultimately, do I do? Do I stuff the bills in my pocket or do I resist the temptation? In the end, someone might insist, all that matters is that I do the right thing. No matter how much I am tempted to take the money, no matter how much...

  10. 7 Virtue and the Emotions
    (pp. 76-96)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt3fgnzq.10

    Ethics is sometimes presented as a series of complicated and difficult choices, for which we must become adept at sophisticated mental techniques. We are asked, “Is capital punishment justified?” “Should we legalize euthanasia?” “Is abortion morally wrong?” “Should we censor pornography?” Conflicting views are presented on these and other heated issues. Further, we are asked to comment on particular cases. Should Clare blow the whistle on her boss, who has cut some corners and broken some laws, even though she is likely to lose her job as a result? Should Michael be allowed to die from his throat cancer or...

  11. 8 Justice
    (pp. 97-111)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt3fgnzq.11

    The antithesis to the virtue of justice is probably realized in the modern ethical theory called utilitarianism, as well as its many offspring, which go by the name of consequentialism. For while the virtue of justice seeks to treat others with equity and fairness, utilitarianism disregards equality for the sake of quantity. Utilitarianism was first advanced by the Englishman Jeremy Bentham, who was twenty years Kant’s junior. He described the hedonistic calculus, a method of choosing between alternative actions by way of their effects. He said that whenever we are faced with a decision we consider the effects of all...

  12. 9 Injustice
    (pp. 112-122)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt3fgnzq.12

    If justice is equality, then injustice is inequality, which is derived from the closely related word “iniquity.” Injustice treats others as tools, mere instruments for the sake of some further good. The unjust person sets himself above others as the arbiter of their destinies. In this respect, the concept of injustice is aptly expressed by Kant’s second formulation of his categorical imperative, a kind of overarching moral principle, which says that we should always treat others as an end and never merely as a means. Other people are not mere tools; their end and good is not subordinate to ours....

  13. 10 Intrinsically Evil Actions
    (pp. 123-135)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt3fgnzq.13

    Utilitarianism denies that any actions are universally wrong, no matter the circumstances. Take killing the innocent, for instance. Many people, Thomas included, would say we must never kill an innocent human being. No matter the circumstances, no matter the dire consequences that might follow from not killing, and no matter the noble motives of the killer, murder is always wrong everywhere and at all times. Utilitarianism, however, would disagree. After all, sometimes killing an innocent person might bring about more good for others.

    A classic example involves a man, let us call him Bernard, who happens upon a dictator ready...

  14. 11 Virtue and Truth
    (pp. 136-149)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt3fgnzq.14

    Ethics does not tell us the truths of science; it does not teach us mathematics or physics; nor does it teach us how to be a doctor or an architect. We might be surprised to find, then, that Aquinas lists science as a virtue, and that various skills, such as medicine or architecture, also count as virtues (I-II, 57). Our surprise may be dispelled when we remember that ethics does not so much concern rules of right and wrong as it concerns guidelines of how to lead a good life. A truly fulfilling human life will realize our human capacities,...

  15. 12 Practical Wisdom
    (pp. 150-162)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt3fgnzq.15

    We have already suggested that ethics is more than resolving complicated moral questions, for even after the questions are answered, the choices must be made. Those choices, we have seen, will be heavily influenced by our habits of desiring. As I stand in the bank holding the teller’s extra twenty dollars, I may judge that I should return the extra money, but if I am greedy, then I am likely to take it anyway. Still, you might insist, part of ethics is figuring out what is to be done. And so it is. A class discussing a thorny moral issue,...

  16. 13 Ethics and Knowledge
    (pp. 163-181)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt3fgnzq.16

    In our discussion of ethics we have asserted that some things are right and others wrong. We have said, for instance, that we ought to have fair exchanges with others, that we ought to conform our desires with reason, and that we ought to work toward the common good. We have said that we should not kill the innocent, that we should not steal, and that we should not lie. How is it, you might wonder, that we can know all these things? Indeed, how can anyone know what is right and wrong? After all, disagreements over moral questions abound....

  17. 14 Ethics and Happiness
    (pp. 182-200)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt3fgnzq.17

    We are now prepared to answer Glaucon’s and Thrasymachus’s question. Which way of life is the happier and more profitable, the unjust life or the just life? You will recall that Thrasymachus thought that the unjust life was happier, because the perfectly unjust man is never caught, he becomes the ruler of his city, he is well liked by everyone, and he achieves all that he hopes for. The perfectly just man, on the other hand, has a reputation for injustice; people do not like him but despise him, so that in the end he is falsely accused and found...

    (pp. 201-202)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt3fgnzq.18
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 203-205)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt3fgnzq.19
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 206-206)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt3fgnzq.20