Desires, Right, and Wrong

In DESIRES, RIGHT, AND WRONG, Adler argues that Aristotelian-based moral philosophy can be rational, objective, and relevant. The foundation of this argument is Adler’s belief that there is an irreducible and transcultural human nature for which certain needs are consistent, varying only in degree and even then within certain limits. We fail ethically when we confuse wants for needs and means for ends.

Happiness, Adler contends, is the ultimate goal, or total good, of life because it is the desire beyond which there is no desire. Adler qualifies this definition by adding that happiness must be the goal towards which our right desires move us and not a temporary state achieved when individual wants are met. Ultimately, however, living a morally virtuous life is a necessary but not sufficient means to the end of happiness, for fortune and good luck too play a decisive role. Needs such as health, freedom, and knowledge can be denied us if we lack good fortune or good luck, no matter how virtuous our lives.

Adler examines many other key issues in moral philosophy, including the roles of the contemplative life, freedom, empathy, and pleasure. He also addresses what he sees as the specific philosophical errors of Plato, Hume, Kant, Mill, and Dewey. Ultimately, however, this relatively short work focuses on establishing a rational, objective, and culminating statement of Adler’s belief that ethics need not be viewed as relativistic and subjective.