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A Decent Life: Morality for the Rest of Us

por Todd May

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You're probably never going to be a saint. Even so, let's face it: you could be a better person. We all could. But what does that mean for you?   In a world full of suffering and deprivation, it's easy to despair--and it's also easy to judge ourselves for not doing more. Even if we gave away everything we own and devoted ourselves to good works, it wouldn't solve all the world's problems. It would make them better, though. So is that what we have to do? Is anything less a moral failure? Can we lead a fundamentally decent life without taking such drastic steps?   Todd May has answers. He's not the sort of philosopher who tells us we have to be model citizens who display perfect ethics in every decision we make. He's realistic: he understands that living up to ideals is a constant struggle. In A Decent Life, May leads readers through the traditional philosophical bases of a number of arguments about what ethics asks of us, then he develops a more reasonable and achievable way of thinking about them, one that shows us how we can use philosophical insights to participate in the complicated world around us. He explores how we should approach the many relationships in our lives--with friends, family, animals, people in need--through the use of a more forgiving, if no less fundamentally serious, moral compass. With humor, insight, and a lively and accessible style, May opens a discussion about how we can, realistically, lead the good life that we aspire to.   A philosophy of goodness that leaves it all but unattainable is ultimately self-defeating. Instead, Todd May stands at the forefront of a new wave of philosophy that sensibly reframes our morals and redefines what it means to live a decent life.… (mais)
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A Decent Life by Todd May puts into words a way of living a decent life, which in his terms is one that is moral without being either unattainable or too difficult (as in requiring so much selfless action as to be counter to one's own happiness).

Like one of my early professors of ethics and moral philosophy used to say, the theories that we study are just that, theories. Each has strengths and weaknesses. More practically, they each seem particularly useful in some situations while being almost absurd in others. He referred to these as the elements in a moral or ethical toolbox. In other words, we take life as it happens and do what we feel is the most ethical thing for each situation. Not quite the same as what has been called situational ethics, which still has some strict aspects to it. Some situations call for a utilitarian approach while others call for a Kantian approach. Some, well, a bit of a mix and match. What May has done is try to give a little more form to this toolbox, without making it either unrealistic or too far toward the kind of moral relativism that basically results in a free-for-all where rationalizations substitute for moral contemplation.

His system, if it can be called one, has an extremely workable framework. If one is not too familiar with the various schools of thought beyond the very simple, almost overly simplified to serve as an easy foil, explanations May offers, this "decent life" would make the world a better place if followed by all or even most people. For those who have studied the topic a little bit and incorporated some elements into teaching of their own, you will likely find a few places where you would make a small adjustment to what you would include. That said, just coming up with something this well-considered and wide-ranging is quite an accomplishment.

If you don't care to spend a lot of time reading and studying different theories in moral philosophy, which is very understandable, this work will serve as a wonderful toolbox for you. May acknowledges in several places that many specific choices will be individual in nature while remaining within his system, while other such systems would, for the most part, have outcomes that everyone should come to if the theory is applied accurately. That "customization" makes this a valuable book for anyone who wonders how one can be a better member of society while also taking care of oneself.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley. ( )
  pomo58 | May 1, 2019 |
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You're probably never going to be a saint. Even so, let's face it: you could be a better person. We all could. But what does that mean for you?   In a world full of suffering and deprivation, it's easy to despair--and it's also easy to judge ourselves for not doing more. Even if we gave away everything we own and devoted ourselves to good works, it wouldn't solve all the world's problems. It would make them better, though. So is that what we have to do? Is anything less a moral failure? Can we lead a fundamentally decent life without taking such drastic steps?   Todd May has answers. He's not the sort of philosopher who tells us we have to be model citizens who display perfect ethics in every decision we make. He's realistic: he understands that living up to ideals is a constant struggle. In A Decent Life, May leads readers through the traditional philosophical bases of a number of arguments about what ethics asks of us, then he develops a more reasonable and achievable way of thinking about them, one that shows us how we can use philosophical insights to participate in the complicated world around us. He explores how we should approach the many relationships in our lives--with friends, family, animals, people in need--through the use of a more forgiving, if no less fundamentally serious, moral compass. With humor, insight, and a lively and accessible style, May opens a discussion about how we can, realistically, lead the good life that we aspire to.   A philosophy of goodness that leaves it all but unattainable is ultimately self-defeating. Instead, Todd May stands at the forefront of a new wave of philosophy that sensibly reframes our morals and redefines what it means to live a decent life.

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