In Search of the Good Life: A Pedagogy for Troubled Times

In Search of the Good Life: A Pedagogy for Troubled Times

In Search of the Good Life: A Pedagogy for Troubled Times

In Search of the Good Life: A Pedagogy for Troubled Times


The great German novelist Thomas Mann implored readers to resist the persistent and growing militarism of the mid-twentieth century. To whom should we turn for guidance during this current era of global violence, political corruption, economic inequality, and environmental degradation? For more than two millennia, the world's great thinkers have held that the ethically "good life" is the highest purpose of human existence. Renowned political philosopher Fred Dallmayr traces the development of this notion, finding surprising connections among Aristotelian ethics, Abrahamic and Eastern religious traditions, German idealism, and postindustrial social criticism. In Search of the Good Life does not offer a blueprint but rather invites readers on a cross-cultural quest. Along the way, the author discusses the teachings of Aristotle, Confucius, Nicolaus of Cusa, Leibniz, and Schiller, in addition invoking more recent writings of Gadamer and Ricoeur, as guideposts and sources of hope during our troubled times. Among contemporary themes Dallmayr discusses are the role of the classics in education, proper and improper ways of spreading democracy globally, the possibility of transnational citizenship, the problem of politicized evil, and the role of religion in our predominantly secular culture. Dallmayr restores the notion of the good life as a hallmark of personal conduct, civic virtue, and political engagement, and as the road map to enduring peace. In Search of the Good Life seeks to arouse complacent and dispirited citizens, guiding them out of the distractions of shallow amusements and perilous resentments in the direction of mutual learning and civic pedagogy -- a direction that will enable them to impose accountability on political leaders who stray from fundamental ethical standards.


Caminante, so tus huellas
el camino, y nada más;
caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.

—Antonio Machado

This book was written in dark times, in an attempt to stave off despair. It was begun when war had once again been launched—an unprovoked and illicit war that by now has cost the lives of several hundred thousand people (mostly civilian). the rhetoric surrounding the war was deceptive, full of “double-speak” and disinformation. in large measure, the public media—those institutions designed to provide genuine information and to stimulate critical debate—had fallen in line with official governmental pronouncements, thus abdicating their educational role. To make matters worse, the intellectual community in large numbers had followed the lead of the media, thereby enhancing the dominant mood of conformism and silencing the voice of conscience and public dissent. in this somber surrounding, I remembered (almost by happenstance) an ancient teaching that has reverberated through the centuries, an adage that I had learned as a schoolboy: the point of politics is to promote the well-being of the people and to cultivate the “good life” (eu zen). It seems to me that most of the forces in contemporary life have conspired to erase this adage from memory or to render it unintelligible.

Born out of anguish, this book is addressed to people who, like me, are troubled by the agonies of our time. It is not intended principally for academic philosophers or political theorists untouched by such agonies. As it happens, much of political theorizing or philosophizing today is a “professional” enterprise, that is, confined strictly to . . .

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