We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more

Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide.

Price: $16.50

Paperback 208 pp.



Publication date:
March 2015

Imprint: OUP US

Share on Facebook

Add to Favourites Tell a Friend

The Best Things in Life

A Guide to What Really Matters

Thomas Hurka

Series : Philosophy in Action

For centuries, philosophers, theologians, moralists, and ordinary people have asked: How should we live? What makes for a good life?

In The Best Things in Life, distinguished philosopher Thomas Hurka takes a fresh look at these perennial questions as they arise for us now in the 21st century. Should we value family over career? How do we balance self-interest and serving others? What activities bring us the most joy? While religion, literature, popular psychology, and everyday wisdom all grapple with these questions, philosophy more than anything else uses the tools of reason to make important distinctions, cut away irrelevancies, and distill these issues down to their essentials. Hurka argues that if we are to live a good life, one thing we need to know is which activities and experiences will most likely lead us to happiness and which will keep us from it, while also reminding us that happiness isn't the only thing that makes life good. Hurka explores many topics: four types of good feeling (and the limits of good feeling); how we can improve our baseline level of happiness (making more money, it turns out, isn't the answer); which kinds of knowledge are most worth having; the importance of achieving worthwhile goals; the value of love and friendship; and much more. Unlike many philosophers, he stresses that there isn't just one good in life but many: pleasure, as Epicurus argued, is indeed one, but knowledge, as Socrates contended, is another, as is achievement. And while the great philosophers can help us understand what matters most in life, Hurka shows that we must ultimately decide for ourselves.
This delightfully accessible book offers timely guidance on answering the most important question any of us will ever ask: How do we live a good life?

Readership : Lay readers interested in the ancient philosophical question of what makes for a good human life, students of philosophy who are looking for an accessible discussion of questions related to the good life.


  • "The book is filled with common sense and practical wisdom. As a practical 'guide to what really matters' for general readers and philosophers alike, it is a worthy modern representative of a tradition of ethical writing that goes back to Aristotle's own guide to what really matters, written for his son Nicoachus. From my point of view, that is high praise indeed."

    --Robert Kane, Ethics

  • "A stimulating read and a great way to get you focused on the right things..."

    --Fareed Zakaria, CNN

  • "Thomas Hurka's The Best Things in Life is that rare thing: a philosophical work written with such simplicity and verve that it will engage beginning students, but with enough subtlety and sophistication that it will also reward careful study by specialists. An important contribution to ethics."

    --Richard Kraut, Notre
    Dame Philosophical Reviews

  • "Most of us know the main sorts of things that can make a life worth living: happiness and pleasure, friendship and love, accomplishment, knowledge, and virtue. But few of us could probably say very much about just what these things really are, and what, exactly, makes them so valuable. That's where Tom Hurka comes in. The Best Things in Life provides an original and fascinating philosophical guide to some of life's most important questions. For the most part, of course, it's not exactly a practical guide-it won't tell you how to find love, or how to be virtuous or successful. But it will give you a far better sense of what you should be looking for, and why."

    --Shelly Kagan, Yale University

  • "Thomas Hurka's The Best Things in Life strikes the uncommon balance of being engaging to those new to philosophy, and being enriching and rewarding to professionals. .... The book is indeed a total success in this respect -- Hurka's genial tone is engaging, easy-going, straightforward and entirely unpretentious; the philosophical material is plausible and engaging enough for non-philosophers, yet sophisticated and challenging enough for a philosophical audience."

    --Gwen Bradford, The Journal of Value Inquiry

1. Introduction
2. Feeling Good
3. Knowing What's What
4. Achieving Goals
5. Being Good
6. Loving and Being Loved
7. Putting it Together

There are no Instructor/Student Resources available at this time.

Thomas Hurka is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto and the author of Drawing Morals; Virtue, Vice, and Value; Principles: Short Essays on Ethics; and Perfectionism.

Making Sense - Margot Northey and Joan McKibbin
What's It All About? - Julian Baggini
Reflections On How We Live - Professor Annette Baier
Reasons and the Good - Roger Crisp
Happiness and the Good Life - Mike W. Martin
A Guide to the Good Life - William B Irvine

Special Features

  • An engaging, accessible survey of the different things that can make life worth living: pleasure, knowledge, achievement, virtue, love, and more.
  • Philosophically sophisticated but written in lively prose, the book addresses issues of interest to everyone.
  • While informed by the classic texts of philosophy, the book is written for a non-academic reader and addresses its topic as it arises for us in the 21st century.