Ideas about living a moral life can be found in all cultures across time. In previous eras, education was meant to inculcate personal virtue and shape character. In centuries of religious teaching, moral behavior comes from God or some other deity. In more contemporary philosophy, where ideals for democracy, for example, embrace principled notions of liberty, equality, respect, and dignity for all, people are free to define for themselves what a moral life is. This conversation spans a variety of perspectives among observers and scholars who think deeply about these issues. David Brooks suggests that, “We have words and emotional instincts about what feels right and wrong,” yet questions the criteria we use to “help us think, argue, and decide.” New Yorker author Larissa MacFarquhar profiles a number of do-gooders whose deep, even extreme moral commitment leads as frequently to criticism as to admiration. Columbia philosophy professor Michele Moody Adams believes that we find our best selves through serious self-examination and constant scrutiny. And Stanford political philosopher Rob Reich engages us all in deep exploration of these questions.
Big IdeaI do think that there’s a piece of us that doesn’t care about money, popularity, or fame. It just wants meaning. It wants that sense of purpose, and it hungers for that.David Brooks