Desires Right and Wrong

Desires Right and Wrong

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From Publishers Weekly

Adler, author of The Dialectic of Morals and America’s philosopher for everyman, presents a thorough study of morality in the modern age, examining “real” and “apparent” good (defined respectively as needs and wants) and “right” versus “wrong” desires. Stating his positions clearly for the general reader, he reaffirms his Aristotelian roots by defining moral virtue as “the habit of right desire.” Excessive desires–for example, gluttony and lust–mistake means for ends; these, like the desire for fame or power, cannot in themselves produce happiness; only by acting out higher moral values that contribute to the total good can one really be happy. Adler, chairman of Encyclopaedia Britannica ‘s editorial board, is comfortable with Western philosophy from Plato to Kant and gifted at making his arguments understandable. His treatise will reward readers weary of 20th-century materialism. BOMC dividend.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.


From Library Journal

This book has three parts: a 16-page summary of how it came to be written and of its presuppositions and objectives; a 106-page essay on morality proposing that recognizing what ought to be desired enables all normal people to attain a good life, provided that luck does not prevent it; and two appendixes of about 70 pages of relevant material. Adler regards happiness, not as an experienceable state, but as a well-lived life that attains everything that is really good. Accordingly, during our lifetime, we should distinguish real from apparent goods and desire them appropriately, i.e., neither too much nor too little. After discussing what he believes are specific right and wrong desires, he criticizes other moral philosophers such as Plato, Hume, Mill, and Dewey. Adler intends the book for the lay reader. It is often simplistic and sometimes dogmatic, but its clear exposition and concrete examples should help the reader separate the good from the bad in it.
-Robert Hoffman, York Coll., CUNY
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.
An Amazon Review: by bronx book nerd VINE VOICE
Mortimer Adler was one of the more prolific “popularizers” of philosophy in the 20th century. In this work he tries to make the case, mostly successfully, in my opinion, that Aristotle’s ethics are the most appropriate because they rightly account for human nature. Beginning with the fact that humans have a common nature and therefore the same needs worldwide, regardless of the individual culture or environment, Adler proceeds to identify these needs – for social interaction, for safety, for knowledge, etc. He makes the point throughout that happiness is not an emotion or a feeling or a state of mind, but rather the culmination of a life well lived, where the individual, for the most part, has chosen real goods in moderation, and used apparent innocuous goods as means and in moderation. In addition, Adler emphasizes that it is more than simply choosing right over wrong but that also good fortune plays a role in having a happy life, in the form of governments that provide freedom and an adequate standard of living, for example, as well as the avoidance of accidents, etc.

Happiness is also constituted by someone choosing the totum bonum, i.e. all the real goods, as opposed to the summun bonum, i.e. the one greatest good. In addition, one cannot determine whether one has lived a happy life until that life is completed; in essence, one is always building a happy life until it’s over. Quick aside: this is the “pursuit of happiness” that the Founding Father’s referred to in the Declaration of Independence, not the pursuit of pleasure or happiness as is commonly understood (e.g. the Mets winning the World Series.)

In typical Adlerian style, the author covers ground repeatedly. However, I think the repetition is necessary because of the, at times, difficult nature of the subject. For example, Adler emphasized the differences between pleasure as the object of desire and as the satisfaction of desire. Understanding this difference and how the utilitarians erred by mixing these up is made easier by reinforcement of the concepts.

Although generally a clear presentation of the issues involved, I think Adler misinterpreted some ideas himself. For example, he calls the Stoics to task for their claim that the only evil is moral evil. According to Adler, if a man is mistreated but does not see it as moral evil because it is not his evil, than there can be no concept of justice, which the Stoics also proclaim. The recognition of moral evil as coming from one’s own acts, however, does not take someone else off the hook. Even though you may Stoically deal with slander, that does not mean that the other’s moral evil does not count as an injustice.

Adler converted to Roman Catholicism near the end of his life. I was therefore surprised to find included in the appendix from an earlier book a lengthy passage on the acceptance of fornication (or sex outside of marriage). Adler’s assumption was that it caused no harm, although that is obviiously debatable – children born out of wedlock have many problems, abortion, STD’s, etc. It seems as if Adler was taken in by the Zeitgeist of the 60’s.