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29+ Works 573 Members 3 Reviews

About the Author

Todd May is the Class of 1941 Memorial Professor of the Humanities at Clemson University. He is the author of many books, including A Fragile Life and A Significant Life, both also published by the University of Chicago press.

Works by Todd May

Death (2009) 89 copies
The Philosophy of Foucault (2006) 27 copies

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Common Knowledge



Although I felt this work suffered from some of the same problems as May's *Death* - in that it can read a bit belabored at parts - I did enjoy this book more for the topic/s covered. I have to say that I'm not completely convinced May argued away Camus' main point as much as he set out to do, because he never convinces that the world is not ultimately and inherently meaningless and absurd, he does show how meaning can be created from more than just arbitrary values by basing it on values seemingly true among humans. Maybe the better way to think about this topic is combining it with the poetic naturalism found in Sean Carroll's book The Big Picture. The ultimate description of life and the universe may be random and "meaningless" but that is not a useful way to talk about meaning in human lives. For that, another level of language needs to be used which would be the language and thoughts described by May.… (more)
23Goatboy23 | Jan 17, 2020 |
I'll be honest, I picked up and started reading Todd May's "Death" because it was mentioned on "The Good Place." And when in the first few pages May states that "Death is the most important fact about us" I was intrigued and excited. Thinking about death, and how it affects our lives, has been an ongoing preoccupation of mine. I wanted so much from this short book yet ultimately found myself disappointed by it. And that disappointment occurred even though I agree with most of May's main points.

Maybe it's because May was writing for young readers or readers only just coming to this subject matter for the first time. Regardless, it was hard to escape the feeling that May was avoiding the meat and depth of his subject in much the same way he suggests most people avoid facing the fact of their own future death. I could quibble and say that May sometimes jumps to conclusions not yet fully supported by his arguments, but really my disappointment lies with the way May takes what seems like a very long road to get to his main points without treading deeply enough to truly highlight the importance of those points or examine them in enough detail once there.

I have no doubt that these hesitations on my part would be put aside if I was ever lucky enough to have a conversation with May in which we could pause and dig more fully at the various junctions of his argument. Unfortunately a book does not allow that level of mutual investigation so that all I am left with is the argument as presented.

I am already well into May's book "A Significant Life" and am already finding it more engaging, so again I have to assume it was the format of this book and not May's thoughts which led to my general appraisal.
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23Goatboy23 | Jan 17, 2020 |
A Decent Life by Todd May puts into words a way of living a decent life, which in his terms is one that is moral without being either unattainable or too difficult (as in requiring so much selfless action as to be counter to one's own happiness).

Like one of my early professors of ethics and moral philosophy used to say, the theories that we study are just that, theories. Each has strengths and weaknesses. More practically, they each seem particularly useful in some situations while being almost absurd in others. He referred to these as the elements in a moral or ethical toolbox. In other words, we take life as it happens and do what we feel is the most ethical thing for each situation. Not quite the same as what has been called situational ethics, which still has some strict aspects to it. Some situations call for a utilitarian approach while others call for a Kantian approach. Some, well, a bit of a mix and match. What May has done is try to give a little more form to this toolbox, without making it either unrealistic or too far toward the kind of moral relativism that basically results in a free-for-all where rationalizations substitute for moral contemplation.

His system, if it can be called one, has an extremely workable framework. If one is not too familiar with the various schools of thought beyond the very simple, almost overly simplified to serve as an easy foil, explanations May offers, this "decent life" would make the world a better place if followed by all or even most people. For those who have studied the topic a little bit and incorporated some elements into teaching of their own, you will likely find a few places where you would make a small adjustment to what you would include. That said, just coming up with something this well-considered and wide-ranging is quite an accomplishment.

If you don't care to spend a lot of time reading and studying different theories in moral philosophy, which is very understandable, this work will serve as a wonderful toolbox for you. May acknowledges in several places that many specific choices will be individual in nature while remaining within his system, while other such systems would, for the most part, have outcomes that everyone should come to if the theory is applied accurately. That "customization" makes this a valuable book for anyone who wonders how one can be a better member of society while also taking care of oneself.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.
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pomo58 | May 1, 2019 |

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