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Thoreau's Living Ethics: Walden and the Pursuit of Virtue Paperback – March 1, 2006

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Editorial Reviews


By marking out one way to approach Thoreau as a philosopher, Thoreau's Living Ethics does not merely open a route for new admirers. Ideally, it will also prompt others who love Thoreau to follow the lead and search for additional ways of shedding light on his work.

(Rick Anthony Furtak Thoreau Society Bulletin)

Thoreau's Living Ethics is full of subtleties and insights, and demands slow perusal and thoughtful reflection. . . . A mind-stretching book for armchair philosophers to read and ponder.


A great strength of the book is its novel contribution to Thoreau studies and the compelling case Cafaro makes for Thoreau's work being valuable to ethicists today. . . . Cafaro has written an excellent and engaging book that is a timely supplement to the growing body of literature on virtue and environmental virtue ethics. . . . Thoreau's Living Ethics demands that philosophers take Thoreau's ethical work more seriously than they have.

(Philosophy in Review)

I recommend Thoreau's Living Ethics: an outstanding, accessible commentary and a valuable work in environmental ethics in its own right.

(Environmental Values)

Thoreau left Walden when he found that his daily walks were wearing paths in the woods. Phil Cafaro has no analogous reluctance to be a pathbreaker in the field of environmental philosophy. This is an important contribution not only to Thoreau scholarship but to environmental virtue ethics as well. Indeed, Cafaro has done as much as anyone to make these fields grow.

(David Schmidtz author of Rational Choice and Moral Agency)

Philip Cafaro's analysis expands virtue ethics beyond concern for persons in dialogue with their society to a more inclusive concern: our residence in the natural world. Thoreau is a splendid role model for excellence in personal life, in citizenship, and in living on Earth. Cafaro's insights complement those of his hero. The great strength of this book lies in its critical vision of the examined life in a world well worth living in.

(Holmes Rolston III author of Environmental Ethics: Duties to and Values in the Natural World)

Philip Cafaro understands very clearly and communicates very effectively the profoundly ethical basis for Thoreau's writings and convincingly details the many facets of Thoreau's ethical philosophy. Thoreau is one of America's greatest writers, as everyone will admit, but scholars and critics have rarely given sufficient emphasis to Thoreau's ethics, which Cafaro rightly places center stage. Thoreau's Living Ethics constitutes an extremely valuable contribution to Thoreau studies.

(Bradley P. Dean editor of the Thoreau Society Bulletin)

Thoreau's Living Ethics is the first book-length study of Thoreau's ethics in the English-speaking world. . . . Cafaro has done a substantial amount to open up a new field: environmental virtue ethics. . . . It is well worth having in a general collection and is a significant source for anyone working on or around Thoreau.


From the Publisher

Thoreau the philospher meets Thoreau the naturalist --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press (March 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 082032843X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0820328430
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,322,970 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
"Thoreau's Living Ethics" is one of the most engaging philosophy books I have read this year. It examines every facet of Thoreau's virtue ethics, holding Thoreau's ethic up to the light like a diamond and watching it glitter. Cafaro gently questions Thoreau's suppositions and probes the consequences of his beliefs, without ever losing his admiration for this deep thinker who escaped to the deep woods. This is a great book not only for finding out what made Thoreau tick, but for holding up one's own life to the spotlight he created.

The author begins with an explanation of virtue ethics, which focuses on human excellence. The basic concept of virtue ethics, which can be found in Aristotle and Spinoza as well, is that if I am the best person I know how to be, society as a whole will benefit. Most importantly, I will live up to what I was created to be.

Thoreau's personality brought a special emphasis on self-creation and following one's own particular inward nature. He deplored doing things just to be admired by others or to follow the crowd. There are hazards in this perspective, of course, such as the danger of becoming antisocial or reclusive, but Cafaro addresses these carefully, by showing how Thoreau's beliefs caused him to live a life in balance between isolation and community.

If one's true beliefs can only be known by his conduct, Thoreau life passed the test. He was well-beloved by the community in which he lived, in spite of what might be seen as a sometimes cold and distant manner. His ability to find evidences of the divine all around him speaks to those of us who mired in an age increasingly isolated from nature. Most impressively, Thoreau was remarkably free from the need for a large number of possessions to make him happy. Those who are looking for a distinctive set of ethical beliefs from a powerful and original thinker will enjoy this book immensely.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Philip Cafaro pulls together and organizes the best ideas from Thoreau's books, lectures, letters and journal. His book offers the most comprehensive and detailed summation and discussion of Thoreau's ideas I have read, revealing Thoreau as a philosopher of real stature, of great depth and of original thought. Thoreau's Living Ethics stands as a more complete expression of those ideas than any one of Thoreau's own efforts.

This is the most welcome and thought-provoking book I have read all year. Although I have read and enjoyed much of Thoreau's own writings, I have in the past discounted or dismissed certain of his ideas. I did not always understand what Thoreau was aiming at. Now I have a much greater respect for Thoreau's achievements, for his concrete advances and applications. So even a long-time student of Thoreau's works can find new starting points for further study in this book.

This is a serious work about serious ideas, but the author's obvious deep interest in his subject and those ideas lights up every well-reasoned and cleanly-assembled page. This book must have been a labor of love, based on Cafaro's detailed scholarship and enthusiasm. Even then, the author does not idolize Thoreau. Though he puts Thoreau's ideas in the best possible light and context, Cafaro also offers pertinent criticisms and background information when required to fill in the gaps.
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Format: Hardcover
Cafaro, a professional philosopher (and professor of Philosophy), has done an excellent job of emphasizing and explicating the central concern of Thoreau's career, which was how to live (that most ethical of issues). For this he deserves well. Get this book. Read it. You'll be glad you did. And then go back and begin re-reading Mr. Thoreau's writings with greater understanding and deeper insights. And, finally, express your gratitude to Cafaro for his contribution. Like I said, he deserves it. Congratulations, Professor Cafaro.
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