Sunday, May 30, 2021

Samuel Clark's "Good Lives"

Samuel Clark is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, Department of Politics, Philosophy, and Religion at Lancaster University..

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Good Lives: Autobiography, Self-Knowledge, Narrative, and Self-Realization, and reported the following:
A reader who opened my book at page 99 would find herself in the middle of a discussion of how to divide the huge range of theories of the good life into families. I argue that there’s no one right way to do this: we should instead think of taxonomies as sometimes useful ways of lumping and splitting, to be tailored to particular interests. This conveys one of my major topics: what it is for someone’s life to go well for her. It also gives some of the flavour of my writing: my love of lists and conceptual maps, my general geekiness about philosophy. But if the reader stopped there, she would have glanced at the cellars without exploring the main house.

Good Lives is about self-knowledge: our attempts to gain it; the powers and limits of telling and hearing stories in doing so; what we can learn about what we are and about how best to live. I argue that reasoning with autobiography is a way to this self-knowledge. We can learn about ourselves, as human beings and as individuals, by reading, thinking through, and arguing about this distinctive kind of text. Reasoning with Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son is a way of learning about the nature of the good life and the roles that pleasure and self-expression play in it. Reasoning with Siegfried Sassoon’s Memoirs is a way of learning about transformative experience, self-alienation, and therefore the nature of the self. My book develops and defends this claim, by answering a series of questions. What is an autobiography? How can we learn about ourselves from reading one? On what subjects does autobiography teach? What should we learn about them? In particular, should we learn something about the importance of stories in human life: could our storytelling about our own lives make sense of them as wholes, unify them over time, or make them good for us? Could storytelling make the self? The overall aim of the book is a critique of stories and a defence of a self-realization account of the self and its good. I investigate the wide range of extant accounts of the self and of the good life, and argue for my own account, by reading and reasoning with autobiographies of self-discovery, martial life, and solitude. I conclude: autobiography can be reasoning in pursuit of self-knowledge; each of us is an unchosen, initially opaque, seedlike self; our good is the development and expression of our latent capacities, which is our individual self-realization; stories play much less role in our lives than some thinkers have supposed, and the development and expression of potential much more.
Learn more about Good Lives at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue