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Smith, Steven G. Worth Doing.

SMITH, Steven G. Worth Doing. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004. xii + 261 pp. Cloth, $48.00--This book is a foray into the concept of worth and an attempt to get a handle on what "a theory of worth would look like" (p. xii). Moreover, it is an effort at least to begin the conversation about how it is that we might go about ranking worthy pursuits and the variations within the realms of worth that we ought to recognize. The book is divided into seven chapters, with chapters 1 and 7 serving respectively as a sort of introduction and conclusion to the volume, while chapters 2 through 5 address the concept of worth as it applies to certain dominant aspects of our lives: play, work, action, and loving. Chapter 6 surveys a few alternative realms of our lives where worth seems a relevant moral concept.

Chapter 1 makes a persuasive case for the "worthiness of worth thinking" within moral thought. Perhaps more importantly, it demonstrates that any systematic attempt to consider the meaning of a good and worthwhile life must seriously address the concept of worth: "we need ideals of worthiness to address the more threateningly and excitingly open questions about how to live" (p. 10).

Chapter 2 is a thought-provoking and helpful treatise on the philosophy of sport. Grappling with the distinction between play, sport, and work, Smith adeptly employs a wealth of examples and illustrations to add some clarity to our pretheoretical assumptions about the distinctions that exist in these fields. The chapter also contains an exceptionally noteworthy discussion of rooting and what it means to be a fan. In this chapter, Smith also draws some key distinctions between play and nonplay.

Chapter 3 follows nicely on the heels of the previous discussion. We all inevitably have moments in our lives where we assess the worthiness of the work that we do. We wonder if we have a job, a career, a vocation, a profession, or if we simply earn a paycheck as a means to care for our family. We struggle with what these distinctions are in the first place. This chapter helps make sense out of our wonder about the worthiness of work. Not only does Smith nicely lay out the different realms of work, but he includes a helpful historical discourse on the worthiness of work which even goes so far as to include an interesting discussion of the Buddhist concept of "right livelihood." Smith asks exactly the question we all wonder about: "Are all occupations of equal worth?" He goes on to help us flesh out our assumptions about why they are not.

Chapter 4 deals with the concept of worth as it might be applied to notions such as deeds, honor, fame, glory, power, helping, fighting, leading, following, crime, and war. The chapter ends with an interesting discussion of divine and human actions as they appear in Hellenistic, Hebrew, and Chinese intellectual traditions.

Chapter 5 addresses "worth thinking" as it appears in our conceptualizations of love. Smith draws important distinctions between the different realms of love and overlays notions of worthiness upon them. The chapter includes helpful discussions of worth as it appears in our thoughts about sex, friendship, and parenting. Smith also discusses the worth of love as it appears in the notion of loving one's enemy, demonstrating love toward the dead, and the love of the self.

Chapter 6 serves as a quick survey of "worth thinking" as it appears or might appear in a variety of domains not worthy of their own chapter. This chapter, entitled "On the Borders of Worth" delves into the worth within our notions of dying, sleeping, drunkenness, worship, music, and meditation.

The seventh and final chapter of the book urges us to recognize the centrality of the concept of worth in our moral thinking and persuasively argues that more systematic thought about worth is important.

Although not presented in a tightly analytic style, nor reaching clear and resolute conclusions, the book traces ideas and the implications of ideas to appealing endpoints. More notably, the book provokes original and interesting thoughts on behalf of the reader along the way. In many ways Worth Doing touches on some of the best aspects of philosophical inquiry: it is conceptually rich, well written and thought out, and provocative. It is definitely a philosopher's book, a book for the curious mind.--Michael P. Nelson, University of Idaho.
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Author:Nelson, Michael P.
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 2005
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