On Kindness

Adam Phillips, Barbara Taylor

On Kindness

The pleasures of kindness have been well known since the dawn of Western thought. Kindness, declared Marcus Aurelius, was mankind's 'greatest delight' - and centuries-worth of thinkers and writers have echoed him. But today many people seem to find these pleasures literally incredible. Instead of embracing the benefits of kindness, as a species we seem to be becoming deeply and fundamentally antagonistic to each other, with motives that are generally self-seeking.This book explains how and why this has come about, and argues that the affectionate life - a life lived in instinctive sympathetic identification with the vulnerabilities and attractions of others - is the one we should all be inclined to live. 'We mutually belong to one another,' as the philosopher Alan Ryan writes, and the good life is one 'that reflects this truth'. What the Victorians called 'open-heartedness' and the Christians 'caritas' remains essential to our emotional and mental health, for reasons both obvious and hidden, argue the authors of this elegant and indispensable exploration of the concept of kindness. 3.4 out of 5 based on 4 reviews
On Kindness

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre Society, Politics & Philosophy
Format Hardback
Pages 128
RRP £14.99
Date of Publication January 2009
ISBN 978-0241144336
Publisher Hamish Hamilton
 

The pleasures of kindness have been well known since the dawn of Western thought. Kindness, declared Marcus Aurelius, was mankind's 'greatest delight' - and centuries-worth of thinkers and writers have echoed him. But today many people seem to find these pleasures literally incredible. Instead of embracing the benefits of kindness, as a species we seem to be becoming deeply and fundamentally antagonistic to each other, with motives that are generally self-seeking.This book explains how and why this has come about, and argues that the affectionate life - a life lived in instinctive sympathetic identification with the vulnerabilities and attractions of others - is the one we should all be inclined to live. 'We mutually belong to one another,' as the philosopher Alan Ryan writes, and the good life is one 'that reflects this truth'. What the Victorians called 'open-heartedness' and the Christians 'caritas' remains essential to our emotional and mental health, for reasons both obvious and hidden, argue the authors of this elegant and indispensable exploration of the concept of kindness.

Reviews

The Sunday Times

Ed King

The second half of the book focuses on psychoanalytic accounts of kindness in which affection is in constant conflict with sexual desire. The authors aren't interested in the Hollywood notion that we are all good people under our social masks and that we just need to dig beneath our layers of 21st-century cynicism to release the inherent kindness within. Instead, they propose a robust idea of kindness that takes into account Freud's insights into the ambivalence of human relationships. Although the book is a little too Eurocentric, this is intelligent, concise and challenging stuff.

04/01/2009

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The Financial Times

Anna Metcalfe

[A] neatly compressed history of a recurrent philosophical debate. The Romans saw kindness as “mankind’s greatest delight” while the Victorian term was “open-heartedness”. Ideas about kindness have changed, however. Careers have sidelined mothers’ child-rearing compassion. Far from being an assumed virtue, kindness is now either a “cover story” featuring figures such as Diana or Mother Teresa, or a sign of weakness.

19/01/2009

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The Observer

Mary Warnock

The most fascinating part of this story is how the great charitable philanthropists of the 19th century, the industrial giants of their day, the founders of schools, hospitals and universities, came to be denigrated, charity itself becoming suspect, a thinly disguised form of imperialism, an assertion of power or an assuaging of guilt. Having given us an entirely readable and absorbing short history of kindness, or caritas, Phillips and Taylor follow up with two chapters on the psychoanalytical take on the concept. This is a bit of a shock to the reader, the gear-change needed being quite violent... I hope that the brevity of this book will not tell against it. A concentrated essay on a limited but deeply important subject is to be highly valued.

11/01/2009

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The Spectator

Theodore Dalrymple

There was... scope for a short book on kindness: it is a subject that soon leads to profound questions of moral and political philosophy. This book, alas, is not the book required. The reason for this is that, sandwiched between two sections that are clear, succinct and readable, even where (in my opinion) they are mistaken, is another irrelevant one, written in the barbarous locutions of psychoanalysis, with all its evidence-free abstractions. There is, moreover, nothing like the prose of psychoanalysts for making the brief seem long and for turning interest into tedium.

14/01/2009

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