Most American young people, like their ancestors, harbor desires for a worthy life: a life of meaning, a life that makes sense. But they are increasingly confused about what such a life might look like, and how they might, in the present age, be able to live one. With a once confident culture no longer offering authoritative guidance, the young are now at sea--regarding work, family, religion, and civic identity. The true, the good, and the beautiful have few defenders, and the higher cynicism mocks any innocent love of wisdom or love of country. We are supercompetent regarding efficiency and convenience; we are at a loss regarding what it's all for.
Yet because the old orthodoxies have crumbled, our "interesting time" paradoxically offers genuine opportunities for renewal and growth. The old Socratic question "How to live?" suddenly commands serious attention. Young Americans, if liberated from the prevailing cynicism, will readily embrace weighty questions and undertake serious quests for a flourishing life. All they (and we) need is encouragement.
This book provides that necessary encouragement by illuminating crucial--and still available--aspects of a worthy life, and by defending them against their enemies. With chapters on love, family, and friendship; human excellence and human dignity; teaching, learning, and truth; and the great human aspirations of Western civilization, it offers help to both secular and religious readers, to people who are looking on their own for meaning and to people who are looking to deepen what they have been taught or to square it with the spirit of our times.
Leon R. Kass is the Madden-Jewett Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and Professor Emeritus in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. Originally trained in medicine and biochemistry, he has been engaged for decades with ethical and philosophical issues raised by biomedical advance, and, more recently, with broader moral and cultural issues. He taught at St. John's College (Annapolis) and Georgetown University before returning to the University of Chicago, where for thirty-four years he was an award-winning teacher deeply involved in undergraduate education and committed to the "big questions" and the study of classic texts. His books include: The Hungry Soul: Eating and the Perfecting of Our Nature; Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying (with Amy A. Kass); Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity: The Challenge for Bioethics; The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis; and What So Proudly We Hail: The American Soul in Story, Speech, and Song (with Amy A. Kass and Diana Schaub). Dr. Kass served on the National Council on the Humanities and as chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics. He was an inaugural recipient of the Bradley Prize in 2003. In 2009 he delivered the Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities.