Saturday, September 23, 2017

Katja Maria Vogt's "Desiring the Good"

Katja Maria Vogt is Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University, New York City. In her books and papers, she focuses on questions that figure both in ancient and contemporary discussions: What are values? What kind of values are knowledge and truth? What does it mean to want one’s life to go well?

Vogt applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Desiring the Good: Ancient Proposals and Contemporary Theory, and reported the following:
Yes, you can get a sense of what Desiring the Good is about by reading page 99. On this page, I address Aristotle’s dictum that the good is different for human beings and for fish. What this really refers to is a way of doing ethics. In ethics, the thought goes, we ask what is good for human beings. This is not a weird kind of species egoism; it is, rather, the question of how we, as human beings, should live. This may well include that we ask what is good for fish as well as other non-human animals and take this into account in our actions. But we don’t ask how fish should arrange their lives: we ask how we should live.

Desiring the Good offers a new version of ancient-inspired ethics, one that considers ordinary motivations as an inroad to ethical theory. On the view I defend, human motivation is guided by the agent’s conception of a good human life. I distinguish among the motivation for small-scale actions like having a cup of tea, for mid-scale actions or pursuits such as moving to London, and the largest-scale motivation to have one’s life go well. One of my projects throughout the book is to explore the relation between these three levels.

On my account, ordinary action is already en route toward the good. We all have a conception of a good human life, even if much of it is implicit, confused, and a work in progress. We all are aiming at what is, by our own lights, a good human life, yet this conception may be muddled and flawed. If so, then ethics has its job cut out for it. If we operate with some such conception anyway, we better get clear about it—in the hopes that what guides our everyday motivations and larger-scale decisions is on target.
Visit Katja Maria Vogt's website.

--Marshal Zeringue