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Value and the Good Life

Value and the Good Life

Thomas L. Carson

For as long as humans have pondered philosophical issues, they have contemplated “the good life.” Yet most suggestions about how to live a good life rest on assumptions about what the good life actually is. Thomas Carson here confronts that question from a fresh perspective. Surveying the history of philosophy, he addresses first-order questions about what is good and bad as well as metaethical questions concerning value judgments.

Carson considers a number of established viewpoints concerning the good life. He offers a new critique of Mill and Sidgwick’s classic arguments for the hedonistic theory of value, employing thought experiments that invite us to clarify our preferences by choosing between different kinds of lives. He also assesses the desire- or preference-satisfaction theory of value in detail and takes a fresh look at both Nietzsche’s Ubermensch ideal and Aristotle’s theory of the good life.

In exploring foundational questions, Carson observes that many established theories rest on undefended assumptions about the truth of moral realism. Arguing against this stand, he defends the view that “good” means “desirable” and presents a divine preference version of the desire-satisfaction theory. In this he contends that, if there exists a kind and omniscient God who created the universe, then what is good or bad is determined by His preferences; if such a God does not exist, what is good or bad depends on what we as rational humans desire.

Value and the Good Life is the only book that defends a divine preference theory of value as opposed to a divine command theory of right and wrong. It offers a masterfully constructed argument to an age-old question and will stimulate all who seek to know what the good life truly is.

ISBN: 978-0-268-04353-7
344 pages
Publication Year: 2000

Thomas R. Carson is professor of philosophy at Loyola University Chicago and is also the author of Lying and Deception: Theory and Practice.

“… this is a very good book. It deserves praise on account of its many philosophical virtues. Carson has original and stimulating ideas on almost every issue he takes up; he even has something fresh to say about such old chestnuts as Mill’s argument for hedonism. His arguments are carefully crafted, and he seldom claims for them more than they actually deliver. His prose style is plain, simple, and clear. He takes bold stands on controversial topics and defends them vigorously.” —Faith and Philosophy

“_Value and the Good Life_ is a very rich work, one that makes significant contributions to several contemporary debates while also providing insights into the work of key historical figures; it is impossible to fully convey the range and depth of argument in a short review. Further, Carson’s divine-preference theory of value is promising and should gain significant attention from a wide range of philosophers. Highly recommended.” —Philosophy in Review

“Carson writes in an engaging, easygoing style. He is always open-minded and willing to acknowledge that his arguments depend on assumptions or intuitions that are not universally shared. . . . It is clear that Carson has an almost encyclopedic grasp of the relevant literature. . . . [His] views are sensible and intelligently defended. Anyone interested in recent work in axiology or metaethics will find the book worthy of careful study.” —Ethics

“Thomas Carson’s Value and the Good Life is a clear, well-written, wide-ranging essay on the theory of value. It is among the best defenses of a rational desire/preference theory of the good. Even those not inclined to accept such theories will profit from reading Carson’s discussion. . . . I think that readers interested in the realism/anti-realism debate in ethics or in the value theories of Nietzsche or Aristotle will also learn much from it.” —Business Ethics Quarterly

“A fine and very thorough book. It sheds much light on the nature of pleasure, on Mill’s arguments for hedonism, on views that base what is good-in-itself on what we’d desire if we were fully rational, and on problems with taking ‘fully rational’ to include ‘fully informed.’” —Harry J. Gensler, S.J., John Carroll University

“This is a fascinating book very clearly written and relentless in its argument. Carson knocks down the best arguments for moral realism, those of Moore, Broad, Ewing, Ross, the Cornell realists, and the contemporary British realists. In the end, he defines a divine preference theory of rationality as the most plausible theory of rationality consistent with moral antirealism. This is one of the very best discussion of these issues that I have ever read.” —James Sterba, University of Notre Dame

“Carson has articulated an illuminating, path-breaking theory of values and the good life. His account of ideal preference-satisfaction is carefully developed in the context of classical philosophical work as well as cutting-edge recent contributions. Carson’s work is packed with arguments, clever thought experiments, and a fascinating conjecture about the role of theism in moral theory. It will be of interest to anyone concerned with moral theory, the theory of value, religious ethics, and the concepts of rationality, preference, and desire. I am very impressed with the work, and am happy to endorse a wide readership.” —Charles Taliaferro, St. Olaf College

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Value and the Good Life

Thomas L. Carson

 Value and the Good Life
Paper Edition

For as long as humans have pondered philosophical issues, they have contemplated “the good life.” Yet most suggestions about how to live a good life rest on assumptions about what the good life actually is. Thomas Carson here confronts that question from a fresh perspective. Surveying the history of philosophy, he addresses first-order questions about what is good and bad as well as metaethical questions concerning value judgments.

Carson considers a number of established viewpoints concerning the good life. He offers a new critique of Mill and Sidgwick’s classic arguments for the hedonistic theory of value, employing thought experiments that invite us to clarify our preferences by choosing between different kinds of lives. He also assesses the desire- or preference-satisfaction theory of value in detail and takes a fresh look at both Nietzsche’s Ubermensch ideal and Aristotle’s theory of the good life.

In exploring foundational questions, Carson observes that many established theories rest on undefended assumptions about the truth of moral realism. Arguing against this stand, he defends the view that “good” means “desirable” and presents a divine preference version of the desire-satisfaction theory. In this he contends that, if there exists a kind and omniscient God who created the universe, then what is good or bad is determined by His preferences; if such a God does not exist, what is good or bad depends on what we as rational humans desire.

Value and the Good Life is the only book that defends a divine preference theory of value as opposed to a divine command theory of right and wrong. It offers a masterfully constructed argument to an age-old question and will stimulate all who seek to know what the good life truly is.

ISBN: 978-0-268-04353-7

344 pages

“… this is a very good book. It deserves praise on account of its many philosophical virtues. Carson has original and stimulating ideas on almost every issue he takes up; he even has something fresh to say about such old chestnuts as Mill’s argument for hedonism. His arguments are carefully crafted, and he seldom claims for them more than they actually deliver. His prose style is plain, simple, and clear. He takes bold stands on controversial topics and defends them vigorously.” —Faith and Philosophy

“_Value and the Good Life_ is a very rich work, one that makes significant contributions to several contemporary debates while also providing insights into the work of key historical figures; it is impossible to fully convey the range and depth of argument in a short review. Further, Carson’s divine-preference theory of value is promising and should gain significant attention from a wide range of philosophers. Highly recommended.” —Philosophy in Review

“Carson writes in an engaging, easygoing style. He is always open-minded and willing to acknowledge that his arguments depend on assumptions or intuitions that are not universally shared. . . . It is clear that Carson has an almost encyclopedic grasp of the relevant literature. . . . [His] views are sensible and intelligently defended. Anyone interested in recent work in axiology or metaethics will find the book worthy of careful study.” —Ethics

“Thomas Carson’s Value and the Good Life is a clear, well-written, wide-ranging essay on the theory of value. It is among the best defenses of a rational desire/preference theory of the good. Even those not inclined to accept such theories will profit from reading Carson’s discussion. . . . I think that readers interested in the realism/anti-realism debate in ethics or in the value theories of Nietzsche or Aristotle will also learn much from it.” —Business Ethics Quarterly

“A fine and very thorough book. It sheds much light on the nature of pleasure, on Mill’s arguments for hedonism, on views that base what is good-in-itself on what we’d desire if we were fully rational, and on problems with taking ‘fully rational’ to include ‘fully informed.’” —Harry J. Gensler, S.J., John Carroll University

“This is a fascinating book very clearly written and relentless in its argument. Carson knocks down the best arguments for moral realism, those of Moore, Broad, Ewing, Ross, the Cornell realists, and the contemporary British realists. In the end, he defines a divine preference theory of rationality as the most plausible theory of rationality consistent with moral antirealism. This is one of the very best discussion of these issues that I have ever read.” —James Sterba, University of Notre Dame

“Carson has articulated an illuminating, path-breaking theory of values and the good life. His account of ideal preference-satisfaction is carefully developed in the context of classical philosophical work as well as cutting-edge recent contributions. Carson’s work is packed with arguments, clever thought experiments, and a fascinating conjecture about the role of theism in moral theory. It will be of interest to anyone concerned with moral theory, the theory of value, religious ethics, and the concepts of rationality, preference, and desire. I am very impressed with the work, and am happy to endorse a wide readership.” —Charles Taliaferro, St. Olaf College