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Ethical Wisdom: What Makes Us Good Hardcover – May 24, 2011

4.8 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Matousek (Sex Death Enlightenment) makes a case for why human beings are inherently ethical creatures in a provocative book that suffers from uneven execution. Wired from birth with "mirror neurons" that function involuntarily, and cause us, for instance, to tear up when others cry: "Emotions, not reason," Matousek asserts, "are the bedrock of ethical life." Drawing on philosophy, neurological and psychiatric research, anthropology, pop psychology, and mysticism, he debunks the belief that organized religion is a necessary framework for an ethical sense, and demonstrates that moral behavior evolves out of a complex interaction between our built-in empathy for those we identify as like ourselves, and the way we respond (or don't respond) to the supposedly abstract suffering of those we deem as "other." In the hands of an Oliver Sacks, this braiding of the scientific, moral, and anecdotal could be revelatory; Matousek, however, repeatedly substitutes opinions and inferences for fact, sapping his argument's credibility and his reader's patience. (May)
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Review

Praise for ETHICAL WISDOM

“Mark Matousek guides us through a revolution in ethical science with deft, thought-provoking style. Ethical Wisdom is a riveting, fun, and insightful tour of life’s meaning and purpose, essential reading for anyone drawn to the query, ‘How ought we to live?’”
Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence
 
 
“Mark Matousek has done some magic: he has written an informed, intelligent, humorous, insightful, and juicy book on ethics.  He covers a broad field and is up-to-date and thorough.  You’ll enjoy this book and maybe become a better person because of it.”
­—Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul
 
 
“This broad-ranging book is remarkable for its emotional intensity, and for its message of redemption; it is a delineation of hope itself.”
Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon
 
 
Ethical Wisdom is a beautiful work.  Bringing together the best of today's scientific research with a plainspoken forthrightness, Ethical Wsdom does what few books of this type can do: it inspires.”                             
Mark Epstein, M.D., author of Thoughts without a Thinker
 
 
Ethical Wisdom is a unique delight—a fascinating, enlightening, and adventurous romp through the territories of philosophy, psychology, science, and spirituality. Mark Matousek has pulled off a most difficult task: he has written an  intellectually rigorous and expansive book that is also beautiful and funny and inspiring.”
Elizabeth Lesser, co-founder of Omega Institute and author of Broken Open
 
 
“This book springs from the latest research on biology [and] some of the oldest human wisdom. Both are interesting, and together they are potent.”
Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth
 
 
“I don't know how he has done it, but Mark Matousek has written a book about being good without being moralistic or judgmental.  Ethical Wisdom is a call to our higher selves.  Read it!”
Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues  
 
 
Ethical Wisdom provides tremendous insight into our collective and individual psyches.  Like GPS for the soul, it is a necessary guide for human evolution, and survival, in the 21st century.”
­­—Peter Buffett, founder of the NoVo Foundation and author of Life is What You Make It 
 

“As a species, we have not found a healthy way to harness our basic goodness and avoid the seeds of human suffering.  The book you have in your hands will show you why this is so.  Engaging, thought provoking, and enlightening … this book acts as an insider’s guide to what makes us tick, and gently prompts us to look in the mirror and at our place in the great pond of life. A must read for anyone interested in making the world a better place.”
John P. Forsyth, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at the University at Albany, SUNY and author of Your Life on Purpose 
 
 
"Insightful and informative."
Library Journal
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (May 24, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780385527897
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385527897
  • ASIN: 0385527896
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,239,106 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Ethical Wisdom is a remarkable book. In this deeply engaging exploration of some of life's most challenging issues, Mark Matousek achieves a rare synthesis: the successful intermingling of timeless philosophical inquiry, cutting edge academic research and the age old art of the teaching story. Interweaving a breathtaking synthesis of a vast range of scholarship with captivating vignettes and riveting interviews, Ethical Wisdom weaves together an impressive range of disciplines and perspectives, managing to avoid common political, religious and moral pitfalls that often cloud discussions of such issues. Bringing his considerable talents to the challenge of presenting complex concepts in an accessible manner, Matousek achieves that elusive goal: entertaining while educating. As a college professor, I can only dream of reaching, in my classroom what Matousek achieves in these pages.

Gwenyth Jackaway, Ph.D
Associate Professor
Communication and Media Studies
Fordham University
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Format: Hardcover
This seems to be intended to be uplifting and inspirational -- "positive" -- rather than particularly thoughtful or searching. It draws on many sources, but doesn't seek out the disagreements and tensions between those sources. It assumes that morality has five common supports or pillars, and therefore, that ethics/morality is more or less universal and stable over time. This seems highly dubious, so I would have appreciated a deeper look at the differences between moralities and mores in different cultures. But it seems that this subject is raised and then abandoned.

The mix here is Buddhism + Judaism + feminism + liberalism + contemporary American cultural influences + environmentalism + evolutionary biology + brain research. (But none of the inevitable disagreements between these perspectives are really explored.) There's nothing wrong with that -- it's rather congenial to me, but not challenging.

It seems that Matousek doesn't bother to get a lot of little things right, and simply makes stuff up when he wants to. For instance, is it meaningful or correct to say we only use twenty percent of our brains? Another example: A reference to a funny scene in "Being John Malkovich" which misunderstands the reason why everything becomes "Malkovich": The reason is that it's a feedback loop caused by the bizarre situation, *not* that the *director* ventures inside the movie star's head.

In sum: In large and in small, this raises a lot of interesting points and theories but doesn't synthesize them well, or discuss them perceptively, so I don't think it's worth a highly careful read or a thorough critique. It's really more of a feel-good, try-a-little-harder sort of book. Not as deep as your average New Yorker article, and more scattered.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a different take on what ethics is, based more on emotions and the study of the human brain. If you are looking for a book about the great ethical teachings (Socrates, Aristotle, etc.), this is not the book to go to, but if you want to see ethics in a different light this is a good one.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Mark dives into the newest brain research with the expertise of a surgeon, granting a map that can help us all understand ourselves and others better, which, as he emphasizes, leads to a deeper connection. He's smack on target when he encourages us to take a closer look at this fascinating organ we are all carrying around on our shoulders, too often acquiescing to using that mere 20% of our brain's abilities, rather than taking a microscopic look and pouncing on the other 80% that can be ours for the taking if we just crank up the courage. The author prompts us to make sense of our lives with his healthy mix of insight, humor and clear focus, making Ethical Wisdom a must read.
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Thoughtful, incisive, and written with narrative and humor. Particularly engaging take on philosophical ethics. Also, a nice change from the dry, analytic philosophy texts, that seem to drone on and end up communicating ideas poorly, if you don't know the language. Not a systematic or exhaustive account, but great as either an intro to the subject or an impetus for new ways to understand the field of ethics, with much emphasis on culture, technology and our own biology.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A very welcome book that adds to a relative paucity of dialogue on the interface of cutting edge research in neuroscience/attachment and ethics. Mark Matousek, here and in his other books, has the capacity to write about big topics in intelligent, personal, and evocative ways.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
ETHICAL WISDOM is perfect for the curious lay reader who wants enough scientific data to perhaps help explain the existential yearning for goodness. I was entertained, challenged and informed. A definite winner!
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Perfect subway commute reading and that says a lot. The book is entirely engrossing and leaves you wandering off amidst the riff-raff of society deep in thought. It's Mark Matousek's writing style that's so compelling (having read his book of essays and his memoirs), which means each unique chapter is packed with information ranging from hard science and social science explained in layperson's terms without ever being dumbed-down, to breezy anecdotes, and always great description. Based on what I read in this book, I ended a "zeitgeber" relationship that was cramping my endorphins.
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