Coming to campus? Visit this page for important information.

Time to re-think 'the good life,' philosophy professor suggests

It’s time for society to consider a new definition of materialism and re-think what constitutes ‘the good life,’ according to a philosophy professor who has written a new book on the subject.

In its standard interpretation, materialism says the only things that truly exist are matter and energy and that our reality is defined by them. Ethically, the term has come to be negatively associated with material greed and a fascination with amassing wealth and commodities.

“It’s not about accumulating things,” said Jeff Noonan, head of the philosophy department and author of Materialist Ethics and Life-Value.

His new book argues that a proper understanding of materialism proves the objective reality of value, grounded in the caring relationships living things establish with one another and their worlds. Materialism as a life ethic, Dr. Noonan suggests, shows us that the current patterns of global economic activity are not only unsustainable, but unethical.

“The primary goal of the book is to encourage people to think about what’s truly important in their lives – having someone to love and care about, quality health care and education and meaningful work – and what is universally important within the context of the resources we have available,” he said.

Noonan argues that the true crisis affecting the world today is not sluggish rates of economic growth but the model of measuring economic and social health in terms of money-value.

“The fundamental problem that we face with capitalism is that it subordinates life to money,” he said. “Smaller groups of people are accumulating greater amounts of wealth while we all continue to use up the planet’s resources at an unsustainable rate. This is mutually irrational because we’re undermining the conditions for everyone, including the people who are making all the money.”

Good societies, the book posits, are those where major social institutions are governed by the goal of ensuring to each the resources they require to enjoy their lives and contribute meaningfully to the lives of others.   

“The more social institutions satisfy the necessary requirements of human life, the more they empower each person to develop end enjoy the capacities that make human life meaningful and valuable,” Noonan said.

Noonan will host a launch event for the book on Wednesday, April 18, at 7:30 p.m. at Reno’s Kitchen, located at 131 Elliott Street West. All are welcome.