Reinventing the Good Life

An empirical contribution to the philosophy of care

Jeannette Pols


ISBN: 9781800086043

Publication: December 04, 2023

Ever since Adam Smith’s musings on ‘the invisible hand’ became more famous than his work on moral sentiments, social theorists have paid less attention to everyday ethics and aesthetics. Smith’s metaphor of the invisible hand posits that social outcomes emerge by dint of the behaviours of individuals rather than their intentions or virtues.

Modernist and scientific approaches to determining the common good or good forms of governance have increasingly relied on techniques of generalisation and rationalisation. This shift has meant that we no longer comprehend why and how people display a deep concern for everyday life values in their social practices. People continue to enact these values and live by them while academics lack the vocabulary and methods to grasp them.

By reconstructing the history of ideas about everyday-life values, and by analysing the role of such values in contemporary care practices for patients with chronic disease in the Netherlands, Reinventing the Good Life explores new ways to study the values of everyday life, particularly in situations where the achievement of a clear cut or uniform good is unlikely. The book presents a practice-based epistemology and methodology for studying everyday care practices and supporting their goodness. This analytical approach ultimately aims to generate ideas that will allow us to relate in more imaginative ways to the many pressing concerns that we are forced to live with today.

Jeannette Pols is Professor of Anthropology of Everyday Ethics in Healthcare at the University of Amsterdam.

List of tables

1 Introduction: on the shifting specificities of the good and the bad in everyday life
2 Folding words and practices: methodological notes on exploring the good life

Part I: Shaping the good life – and the end of its theorisation
3 Dignity in long term psychiatry: principles and everyday values for caregivers
4 The end of morality: Adam Smith and the taming of the passions
5 Giving voice or making voice? The principle of autonomy and everyday patient values in care for people with learning disabilities
6 The particularity of universalism: life in the salons, or citizens against aesthetics

Part II: Reconceptualising the good life
7 Aesthetic values as social values: women losing their hair due to chemotherapy
8 Imperfect lives: Foucault’s archaeological reading of the Cynics
9 The self as a practice of worth: on imminent aesthetic socialities

Part III: Researching the good life
10 ‘Quality of life’ and everyday values: living with ALS and a feeding tube
11 Petrarch’s practice of letter writing: the good life in research
12 Reinventing research practices for studying the values of everyday life
13 Conclusions: reinventing the good life, grasping specificities


Format: Hardback

Size: 234 × 156 mm

388 Pages

Copyright: © 2023

ISBN: 9781800086043

Publication: December 04, 2023

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