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What Is Good and Why: The Ethics of Well-Being Hardcover – April 30, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-0674024410 ISBN-10: 0674024419

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (April 30, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674024419
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674024410
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,248,177 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From 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. Kraut's focus on human flourishing quickly exposes common fallacies, such as Rawls' belief that right (justice) outweighs goodness and Nozick's idea that a "hyper-plane" safeguards individual autonomy in defining goodness. Likewise discredited are Hobbes' vision of combative egos fighting for private goods along with Betham's utilitarian calculus for summing up different kinds of good. In contrast, Aristotle's multidimensional model of human well-being survives very well in Kraut's paradigm. 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
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Review

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.
--Samuel Freeman, University of Pennsylvania

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.
--C. D. C. Reeve, author of Love's Confusions

Continuing in the tradition of Socrates and Plato, Kraut 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.'...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.
--Scott Duimstra (Library Journal 2007-03-01)

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 (Booklist (starred review) 2007-04-15)

The view [Kraut] develops, while having affinities with other recent work, is nevertheless substantially original and worked out in impressive detail.
--Guy Kahane (Times Higher Education Supplement 2007-05-11)

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 (Choice 2007-09-01)

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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Spencer Case on May 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Until the last few decades, moral discourse has been dominated by consequentialism and Kantianism. Philosophers,for a while, seemed to have forgotten that there was a third option, virtue ethics, that also deserves exploration.

Kraut's book doesn't deal a lot with virtues directly, but it does lay the groundwork for an Aristotlean approach to goodness. The book does an excellent job of arguing that we should dispense with the intransitive use of the word "good" and instead recognise that statements like "X is good" are short for "X is good for P." The arguments for this position make the book worth reading.

Kraut argues that what is good for humans is not merely pleasure, as a utilitarian would hold, but flourishing, fulfilling our life potential as human beings. Unfortunately, Kraut can't seem to pin it down any more than that. He defines flourishing in several different ways including "a maturation of powers as a living thing of a certain type." Kraut recognises that there is a problem here--certain human capacities seem to be evil to fulfill--but he never can give a satisfactory answer for it and instead tries to brush it under the rug.

This book is very thought provoking but it also leaves some key points up in the air.
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7 of 37 people found the following review helpful A Kid's Review on August 24, 2009
Format: Paperback
The praise awarded Kraut (Northwestern University) should be placed in its proper perspective. Richard Kraut, one of the most prominent Aristotelians writing today. This exploit is more of a commercial experience rather than a work deserving comparison with Rawls or Nozik. Pleasure plays a key role in his Eudaimonian ideal of ethics, yet the author fails to offer argumentative rigor opting instead to appeal to a pop culture type of logic which ill serves his efforts to incorporate a Platonic strain to a more pure Nicomechean strand of ethics. The metaethical foundations are absent or on occasions skittishly oversimplified. The valor of a first rate scholar is here diluted, but it works excellent for an intro class to ethics offered to non-majors as an elective or to High School philosophy classes. It may well be the case that many good points are touched upon but hardly with the depth and exhaustive complexity that is required the topic If you are an arm chair philosopher lacking technical training or seeking a simplified logical overview of ethics this will do the trick... To claim it stands as an achievement in philosophical analytical ethics is a gross exaggeration.
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