In Search of Goodness

ISBN 13: 9780226306834

In Search of Goodness

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The recent spate of books and articles reflecting on the question of evil might make one forget that the question of just what constitutes goodness is no less urgent or perplexing. Everyone wants to think of him- or herself as good. But what does a good life look like? And how do people become good? Are there multiple, competing possibilities for what counts as a good life, all equally worthy? Or, is there a unified and transcendent conception of the good that should guide our judgment of the possibilities? What does a good life look like when it is guided by God? How is a good life involved with the lives of others? And, finally, how good is good enough?


These questions are the focus of In Search of Goodness, the product of a year-long conversation about goodness. The eight essays in this volume challenge the dichotomies that usually govern how goodness has been discussed in the past: altruism versus egoism; reason versus emotion; or moral choice versus moral character. Instead, the contributors seek to expand the terms of the discussion by coming at goodness from a variety of perspectives:  psychological, philosophic, literary, religious, and political. In each case, they emphasize the lived realities and particulars of moral phenomena, taking up examples and illustrations from life, literature, and film. From Achilles and Billy Budd, to Oskar Schindler and Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, to Iris Murdoch and the citizens of Flagstaff, Arizona, readers will find a wealth of thought-provoking insights to help them better understand this most basic, but complex, element of human life and happiness.

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About the Author:

Ruth W. Grant is professor of political science and philosophy and senior fellow in the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University. She is the author of John Locke’s Liberalism and Hypocrisy and Integrity: Machiavelli, Rousseau and the Ethics of Politics, the latter of which received the best book award from the North American Society for Political Philosophy in 1997. She is also the editor of Naming Evil, Judging Evil and In Search of Goodness.

Review:

“[An] impressive collection. . . . The book demonstrates that the good life is not a unitary ideal but a matter of how people perceive and make intelligible the significance of their experiences and human qualities. . . . [In Search of Goodness] is notable as an exemplar of interdisciplinary study, making it an excellent resource for accessing a topic whose nuances can quickly assume a vast and unwieldy quality. Recommended.” (N. D. Zavediuk Choice)

“The subject of goodness has been remarkably resistant to innovation or fresh thinking. But this rich collection, in which each essay both takes up a different subject and adopts a distinctive approach, may succeed in putting goodness back on the agenda as a fertile field for scholarly inquiry and discussion. A renewed investigation of goodness as a fundamental component of human life would reinvigorate many fields in the humanities, and In Search of Goodness is beautifully constructed to serve precisely this purpose.”

(Geoffrey Galt Harpham, Director, National Humanities Center)

In Search of Goodness contains eight thought-provoking essays by scholars who discuss maturing in goodness, what goodness is good for, and goodness as a feature of a human life.  With the skillful guidance of Ruth W. Grant, who organized and introduces the project, the authors avoid stereotypical ways of addressing these deceptively simple questions and draw on many different sources to shed light on them. The essays will help readers understand goodness much more fully; and they confirm the value of a ‘good conversation,’ among many other points.”

(Nannerl O. Keohane, Princeton University)

“While one could hardly say that philosophers have given much attention to the place that the concept of evil has among our moral concepts, they have done so more in the last ten or so years than they had before. I have, therefore, often wondered why there has been so little discussion of goodness. In Search of Goodness is not only an exception: it is an admirable one. It is original and provocative, impressive both in its breadth and depth.”

(Raimond Gaita, author of Good and Evil: An Absolute Conception)

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