In Search of Goodness

March 31, 2011
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“Be good and you will be lonesome.”—Mark Twain
What constitutes goodness? For Twain, there’s humor in how we uphold the idea of the “good” alongside an exalted code of social behavior. Follow it too righteously and you might miss out on the fun, something quite literally suggested by Katharine Hepburn in an often-quoted line: “If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun.” But is goodness really about the nature of our actions? What does a good life look like? How does one become good? And how is a good life involved with the lives of others?
In Search of Goodness, a new collection edited by Ruth W. Grant, grapples with just these questions. Contributors explore the concept of the good from diverse angles and multiple approaches, from film and literature to cognitive psychology and moral philosophy, all while enlisting a cast of characters that includes Billy Budd, Shel Silverstein, Iris Murdoch, Achilles, and Oskar Schindler, among others. In Search of Goodness problematizes the dichotomies that have long governed our discussions of the good while at the same time offering an array of insights which help us to understand this complex ideal.
Grant, a professor of political science and philosophy at Duke University and a senior fellow at Duke’s Kenan Institute for Ethics, recently discussed goodness, altruism (a word coined by Auguste Comte in the nineteenth century), egoism, and other ethical concepts featured in the book in a short (and fascinating) video lecture:

For more information on In Search of Goodness, visit the book’s UCP page here. To learn more about Grant’s work and other projects at the Kenan Institute, find them on the web here.

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