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Viable Values: A Study of Life as the Root and Reward of Morality

4.5 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0847697618
ISBN-10: 0847697614
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Editorial Reviews

Review

Smith writes in very clear, engaging language, refreshing and enjoyable. Good index. Recommended. (CHOICE)

Smith undertakes the meta-ethical part and does a commendable job of fleshing out Rand's ideas. (Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association)

To my mind, this is one of the most interesting works in ethics to have appeared in a long while. Tara Smith's book ought to win many new adherents to the proposition that morality should be in the service of life, and not the reverse. (Lester H. Hunt, University of Wisconsin-Madison)

About the Author

Tara Smith is associate professor of philosophy at the University of Texas.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (January 12, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0847697614
  • ISBN-13: 978-0847697618
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,210,544 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Why be moral? Anyone who has ever done any serious reading on the subject has probably been disappointed with how most writers respond to that question. However, in her latest book, VIABLE VALUES, philosopher Tara Smith gives one of the most convincing, rigorous, and readable answers to the question I have ever read. As someone who is NOT an Objectivist or a follower of Ayn Rand, Smith has given me much to think about.
Tara Smith defends the metaethical theory known as egoism, which is the view that morality requires you pursue your own self-interest. However, as Smith convincingly shows, many of the traditional objections to egoism are based on misunderstandings or, more often, caricatures of what egoism entails. Egoism is incompatible with hedonism, materialism, and subjectivism; an act may be pleasurable or may make a person happy and yet not be in a person's interest. Anyone committed to pursuing their rational self-interest must adopt ethical principles to guide them through life. Moreover, though it may initially seem that an egoist would be in competition with everyone else, Smith convincingly shows how this is not the case. By grounding morality on life as the source of value, what is in a person's interest is "flourishing," to live one's life in a life-promoting manner. The egoist benefits when other people flourish.
Perhaps Smith's most controversial claim is her argument rational self-interests never conflict. I haven't decided if I am convinced of that yet, but if she is right then egoism *is* universalizable, thus avoiding one of the traditional objections to egoism.
At any rate, it appears that Smith has answered all of the traditional objections to egoism as an ethical theory. Whether Smith is ultimately correct remains to be seen, however it is clear that Smith has provided rigorous, prima facie answers to those objections. I strongly recommend VIABLE VALUES to anyone interested in the foundations of morality.
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Format: Hardcover
« Viable Values » is not about ethics, but metaethics : it will not provide you with a code of values with which to guide your life and actions, but help you answer such questions as « why be moral ? » and « is moral knowledge possible ? »
Do not think that these are very abstract issues which only a professional philosopher would ever consider worth his time. After all, why are *you* moral and how do you know right from wrong ? Do you believe that « you just know » ? Then you are an intuitionist, a position which Tara Smith shows to be untenable. Or do you think that morality is just a matter of agreeing with others on what behaviour is mutually acceptable ? Then you are a contractarian, another invalid position.
On the contrary, as Tara Smith explains, the root of morality is life. You should be moral because you have chosen to live. Morality is a matter of life and death : to choose the bad is to destroy oneself, to choose the good is to flourish.
You might be tempted to shun this book in favour of more popular ones offering concrete rules, but none of these books will give you a good reason to be moral, or a good justification for the code of value they offer. « Viable Values », on the other hand, will make an independent moral thinker out of you, equipping you with the methods and standards by which to judge for yourself.
Moreover, this concise, lucid volume will also direct you to the books that do offer rational moral guidance, sparing you the costly trial-and-error method that has wasted so many lives.
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Format: Paperback
Why be moral? Prof. Smith's "Viable Values" provides the most comprehensive answer to this question that I've seen.
Although Smith unapolegetically follows the philosophy of the late Ayn Rand, she does not simply recapitulate Rand's position. First, Smith provides an original defense of Rand's question "Why does man need a code of values?" Second, she utterly demolishes the life/flourishing dichotomy through a series of extended, thoroughly analyzed examples. But the most rewarding section contains an illuminating analysis of why ill-begotten gains are not values. Her analysis here is explicit enough that it should allow readers to identify how *any* con-artist must be self-defeating.
As an aside, I can't help but defend Smith's thesis against one silly objection--that she provides no reason for an irrevocably suicidal person to live morally. Her answer would be simple: If morality is the art of living well, then a person irrevocably committed to suicide has no more reason to act morally than a person irrevocably committed to poverty has reason to invest wisely. The *reason* to practice any code of action (whether morality or the art of finance) is the acceptance of the *goal* of that practice (whether it be life or wealth). Thus, demanding an ethics that will compel moral action from those who seek never to act again is akin to demanding an economics that will compel good investments from those who've taken a vow of poverty. Following Smith's argument, if you meet an *irrevocably* suicidal airline pilot, don't get on his plane; if you meet a monk who dabbles in the stock market, don't give him a dime to invest. There's no hole in the logic that leads to "seek a pilot who loves life and an investor who loves profits."
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