How to Live a Good Life
A collection of essays by fifteen philosophers presenting a thoughtful, introductory guide to choosing a philosophy for living an examined and meaningful life. A VINTAGE ORIGINAL Socrates famously said "the unexamined life is not worth living," but what does it mean to truly live philosophically?This thought-provoking, wide-ranging collection brings together essays by fifteen leading philosophers reflecting on what it means to live according to a philosophy of life. From Eastern philosophies (Daoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism) and classical Western philosophies (such as Aristotelianism and Stoicism), to the four major religions, as well as contemporary philosophies (such as existentialism and effective altruism), each contributor offers a lively, personal account of how they find meaning in the practice of their chosen philosophical tradition.Together, the pieces in How to Live a Good Life provide not only a beginner's guide to choosing a life philosophy but also a timely portrait of what it means to live an examined life in the twenty-first century.

How to Live a Good Life Details

TitleHow to Live a Good Life
Author
ReleaseJan 7th, 2020
PublisherVintage
Rating
GenrePhilosophy, Self Help, Nonfiction, Writing, Essays

How to Live a Good Life Review

  • Ryan Boissonneault
    January 1, 1970
    A philosophy of life is a considered set of principles by which one finds meaning, purpose, and coherence in the world. A philosophy of life contains an epistemology (what can be known), a metaphysics (how the world works), an ethical framework (how to behave and treat others), and variously a political philosophy that describes how society should be structured. It is hard to live a morally worthwhile and meaningful life without some set of guiding principles and ideals, and this is perhaps why A philosophy of life is a considered set of principles by which one finds meaning, purpose, and coherence in the world. A philosophy of life contains an epistemology (what can be known), a metaphysics (how the world works), an ethical framework (how to behave and treat others), and variously a political philosophy that describes how society should be structured. It is hard to live a morally worthwhile and meaningful life without some set of guiding principles and ideals, and this is perhaps why so many people feel lost in contemporary times. Religion doesn’t feel relevant anymore, yet philosophy is something most people are not exposed to unless they happen to stumble upon it by chance or by their own volition (philosophy is conspicuously absent in public education). That’s what makes How to Live a Good Life potentially invaluable in today’s climate. The reader gains exposure to 15 ways of life that can provide the meaning, purpose, and coherence necessary to live productive and fulfilling lives. Each way of life is described by a prominent academic that—in addition to their academic qualifications—also identifies and practices the philosophy/religion. This makes for a fascinating read; instead of a series of encyclopedia entries, you get very personal accounts (without sacrificing scholarly rigor) of how each philosophy/religion brings meaning to each author’s life, providing an insider’s view of each subject.Unfortunately, the book has a significant flaw that I can’t overlook (I tried). You’ll notice that the subtitle is A Guide to Choosing Your Personal Philosophy. Since I think the way that we use words matters, it is worth thinking more deeply about what the term philosophy actually means. Philosophy has various definitions, but dictionary.com has a good one; it defines philosophy as “the rational investigation of the truths and principles of being, knowledge, or conduct.” We can flesh out this definition by considering the history of the field. Philosophy is the pursuit of wisdom via rational investigation that takes nothing for granted and provides arguments for its positions and conclusions. The key elements in philosophical reasoning are doubt, questioning, and especially the provision of arguments.Now, I understand that religion presents a viable way of life for many people, but it is simply not philosophy. The philosopher A.C. Grayling said it best in his History of Philosophy: “If the starting point for reflection is the acceptance of religious doctrine, then the reflection that follows is theology, or theodicy, or exegesis, or casuistry, or apologetics, or hermeneutics, but it is not philosophy.”In the introduction of How to Live a Good Life, commenting on the various “philosophies” of life, the authors write, “To the degree that the metaphysics includes a significant reference to a transcendental reality, and particularly to a god or gods, that tradition falls more on the side of religion than philosophy, but that distinction is not crucial.” What?? That distinction is not crucial? Are the authors really claiming that, if you believe that a personal god created the entire universe specifically for you and then revealed his plans in an ancient book, that this is not a relevant distinction between a field (philosophy) that is not supposed to take unargued positions for granted?To clarify, if people want to be religious, that is their prerogative, but if you read the book, the section on religious traditions feels entirely out of place. Why? Because, unlike the chapters on philosophy (like Aristotelianism, Stoicism, Existentialism, etc.), the religious authors refuse to argue for their positions. Here are some examples.On the chapter on Hinduism, Deepak Sarma writes, “When pressed on the issue of its origins or the location of karma, its ontological status, Hindus, even those professing the most systematic Hindu tradition, do not offer an explanation” Later, he writes, “Visnu is the actuator for the establishment of the universe, which is the location where karma can manifest....Beyond this Hindus neither ask, nor offer answers to, further metaphysical questions that arise from this belief ...This, like the lack of origins of karma, seems acceptable to me.” (I can’t help but think of Hitchens’ razor when I read this. As the late Christopher Hitchens said, "What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.")In the chapters on Judaism and Christianity, the authors describe why they think their respective religions are good for the world and how they provide meaningful narratives, but not why we should think they are true. Commenting on Christianity, Alister McGrath writes, “I shall make no attempt to defend or justify a Christian approach to meaning; my task here is simply to present and explore it.”This sure does not seem to fit the bill of Socrates’ “examined life.” Taking for granted the ultimate origin and purpose of the entire universe is one big fat unargued assumption. And this isn’t humility, it’s the opposite; to think that your religion has conclusive answers to the most difficult problems known to man—and that you don’t even have to argue for its truth!—is actually hubris on the largest imaginable scale. This is why a general feeling of intellectual disingenuity pervades the chapters on religion. I’ll reiterate, because I know I’ll be called out for what I’m not saying. People have the right to be religious and to form their own beliefs, and there are plenty of very good and decent religious individuals that contribute greatly to the community. But don’t call religion philosophy, because it is most certainly not, and this book creates the false impression that two distinct disciplines are the same when in fact they disagree in the deepest possible epistemological sense. So I have very mixed feelings about this book. The essays on philosophy are generally well thought out and interesting, and even the essays on religion help to show how the religious mind works and why people tend to follow religions. So overall, it’s a fascinating book, and even if you identify more strongly with one way of life, you should be able to find useful insights from the teachings of the others. You might, however, call into question the entire idea of choosing a personal philosophy in the sense of molding yourself to one particular doctrine. If the purpose of a life philosophy is living a good and meaningful life, then isn’t it more important to live by the principles that make the most sense to you—and deliver the most benefits—rather than trying to ensure that you are a “true” Stoic, Epicurean, or Christian? This, I believe, is what Socrates was trying to tell us. No one has all the answers, and universal rules always have exceptions. We are limited and fallible, and the best we can do is examine our actions—not according to conformance to dogma or doctrine—but in accordance with our rational faculties that all humans share. We can select a general orientation to life, but not at the expense of surrendering our critical faculties to the conformity to orthodoxy.
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  • Linda Bond
    January 1, 1970
    Contained within the pages of this philosophical collection are essays by fifteen writers who comment on a variety of philosophical systems, both Western and Eastern. From Daoism to Stoicism, each writer shares the meaning they have found and want to share with us. As we seek our own “way” in life, this is a wonderful guide to “the examined life” we hope will make it all worth living. It is highly recommended for both its coverage of a broad range of important ideas and for its accessible Contained within the pages of this philosophical collection are essays by fifteen writers who comment on a variety of philosophical systems, both Western and Eastern. From Daoism to Stoicism, each writer shares the meaning they have found and want to share with us. As we seek our own “way” in life, this is a wonderful guide to “the examined life” we hope will make it all worth living. It is highly recommended for both its coverage of a broad range of important ideas and for its accessible delivery.I met this book at Auntie's Bookstore in Spokane, WA
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  • Anne Simpson
    January 1, 1970
    This was a good introduction to many different religions, philosophies, or credos for living a good life - generally agreed to be a moral life. It served its purpose, and gave me ideas of particular philosophies I would like to read more about.
  • Hiram Crespo
    January 1, 1970
    My full book review is here. The book is ideal for people who wish to more clearly articulate, or re-assess, their personal philosophy in life.
  • Derek Parsons
    January 1, 1970
    Typically the writing in books of this nature (multiple authors, individual essays) is very uneven. That is not the case with How to Live a Good Life. I found it well balanced, evenly written, concise, and insightful, leaving me (and presumably other readers) with the now daunting challenge of actually applying some of what I read.
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  • Lee Barry
    January 1, 1970
    Particularly liked the essays by Robin Want (Daoism) Skye Cleary (Existentialism).
  • Robert
    January 1, 1970
    I really liked the idea behind this book and in the end I was partially satisfied and partially disappointed.The slightly disappointing part is that for many of the essays I didn't get much of an insight into how the authors actually applied the philosophies in their lives and why they preferred them to the alternatives. In other words, I preferred the more personal essays from committed practitioners to the detached ones that just described things in a dry academic way.But on the positive side I really liked the idea behind this book and in the end I was partially satisfied and partially disappointed.The slightly disappointing part is that for many of the essays I didn't get much of an insight into how the authors actually applied the philosophies in their lives and why they preferred them to the alternatives. In other words, I preferred the more personal essays from committed practitioners to the detached ones that just described things in a dry academic way.But on the positive side I thought it was really helpful to see the philosophies put side by side, it really helped me to see the commonalities and think about about the common human needs that the philosophies are addressing.Parenthetically as of right now in the US, it seems that Stoicism is seeing a surge in popularity and Effective Altruism seems to be attracting adherents among millennials. And of course Buddhism has been steadily becoming more popular in the West for decades.It will be interesting to see how the "personal philosophy" landscape evolves in the coming decades given the decline of traditional religion and seeming dissatisfaction with "default secular humanism."
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