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Ep 12. Thomas Hurka

“Perfectionism is a view that says we ought to aim at the good life, but the good life isn’t the most pleasant life. It involves one or more of knowledge, achievement, virtue, aesthetic appreciation”

Dr. Thomas Hurka is an award-winning Canadian moral philosopher and the Chancellor Henry N. R. Jackman Distinguished Professor of Philosophical Studies at the University of Toronto best known for his ideas about the good life captured in his 1993 book Perfectionism.

Perfectionism, according to Dr. Hurka, is the philosophical view that humans ought to aim at the good life for themselves and for other people even if it’s not the most pleasant life. In his version of the theory, goods such as knowledge, achievement, virtue and aesthetic appreciation are essential components of the good life.

In 2011, Dr. Hurka published The Best Things in Life: A Guide to What Really Matters, a book containing many of his ideas on perfectionism distilled for the general audience. His other notable work in philosophy includes the books Virtue, Vice and Value (2001) and British Ethical Theorists from Sidgwick to Ewing (2014).

The above interview with Dr. Hurka was conducted near the end of his teaching career at the University of Toronto. In it, he talks about:

  • Making philosophy interesting to students and laypeople

  • Philosophical thinking

  • Perfectionism and the good life

  • Building a good life, the perfectionist way

  • Should you get a divorce and how best to raise a child

  • His book Virtue, Vice and Value: what makes us virtuous and what makes us evil

  • His stint as a philosophy columnist with The Globe and Mail

  • Life after retirement: “Maybe at this point in my life I get to have less knowledge and less achievement and just do the Brave New World thing”

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