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Book cover: The Best Things in Life
Photo Courtesy of Oxford University Press

Better Living

Happiness is often a component of a good life. But it’s not the only one

U of T philosophy professor Thomas Hurka’s pocket-sized book, The Best Things in Life: A Guide to What Really Matters (Oxford University Press), tackles life’s big concerns. It explores and offers answers to questions such as: How should we live? What brings us the most joy? What makes a life “good?”

In addressing these profound issues, Hurka often challenges the thinking of “high-minded” philosophers such as Aristotle, Immanuel Kant and others. Instead, Hurka provides readers with a populist philosophical guide to understanding what really matters in life.

Hurka reasons that some combination of pleasure, knowledge, achievement, virtue and personal love can be cause for anyone to deem life worthwhile and desirable. The means to create a good life is, Hurka suggests, open to everyone since there isn’t just one ultimate good but many, including the satisfaction of completing a challenging task and knowing your inner self. That’s why a “good” life can take a variety of forms. “There isn’t one life that’s best for everyone,” Hurka writes.

As well, the pursuit of a good life, Hurka argues, requires that we recognize the everyday experiences and activities that will likely make us happy, while understanding that happiness isn’t the paramount measure of a good life. “To live a good life you need to be happy, understand things and achieve worthwhile goals,” Hurka writes.

As for love, Hurka believes that it has been “the subject of some very silly philosophy” by those who claim that the object of “genuine love” is always another’s moral character. For Hurka, love is a “splendid” aspect of a good life that can spring suddenly from “animal lust” and can die just as quickly. “It can hurt and it can harm, but for most of us love’s glories are worth the gamble,” Hurka concludes.

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