Worth Doing

By Steven G. Smith

Subjects: Social Philosophy, Philosophy, Ethics
Paperback : 9780791461068, 275 pages, July 2011
Hardcover : 9780791461051, 275 pages, May 2004

Table of contents


1. Worth Thinking


1. 1 Worth questions
1. 2 Worth thinking as a moral system
1. 3 Worthwhileness and worthiness
1. 4 Worth domains
1. 5 Transworth and religion
1. 6 The ideal of practical lucidity
1. 7 Human-kind bias as a problem for worth thinking


2. Play


2. 1 The appeals of possibility
2. 2 Play as felt: fun, gladness, and joy
2. 3 Play as accomplished: games, prizes, tricksters, and gamblers
2. 4 Play as known: arts and sports
2. 5 How much should we play?
2. 6 Being as play


3. Work


3. 1 The claims of necessity
3. 2 Feeling work: labor
3. 3 Work as accomplishment
3. 4 The verbs of work
3. 5 Knowing work
Product, job, occupation
Profession, vocation, career
Work and democracy
3. 6 "Dhamma work": the transworthy reconstruction of work
3. 7 Would God work?


4. Action proper


4. 1 The conditions of honor
4. 2 Self-display and the potentiality of collective power
4. 3 Helping and fighting
4. 4 Deeds, fame, and glory
4. 5 Collective action; leading and following
4. 6 Crime; war
4. 7 Divine-and-human action: Greek, Hebrew, and Chinese conceptions


5. Love


5. 1 Loving as doing
5. 2 "True" and "higher" loves
Romance (Eros)
5. 3 The worth of sex
5. 4 Marriage and divorce; eloping
5. 5 Parenting
5. 6 Love's limit-objects
The dead
The enemy


6. On the borders of worth


6. 1 Fulfilling a life plan
6. 2 Dying
With dignity
At home, at peace, surrounded by loved ones
In harness
As purification
By one's own hand
6. 3 Sleeping
6. 4 Intoxication; the Bataillean act
6. 5 Worship; the Sabbath; music
6. 6 Zazen
6. 7 Sacrifice as a crossroads of categories; queering


7. The state of worth


7. 1 What does worth thinking accomplish?
7. 2 Worth economics and politics
7. 3 Worth religion
7. 4 The pursuit of practical lucidity




A comprehensive look at how we rely on ideals of worthy action in the pursuit of moral happiness.


Distinguishing concepts of "worth" and worthiness of human lives and human activities from questions concerning value, well-being, or virtue, Steven G. Smith explores how worthwhile acts implement ideals of worthiness in four major domains—work, play, action in concert, and love. He touches on a wide range of theoretical material, including Western and Eastern philosophy, ancient and contemporary figures, interdisciplinary studies, and literary texts to provide a comprehensive look at how we rely on ideals of worthy action in the pursuit of moral happiness. A concluding chapter considers how the entire system of worth thinking works as a sort of moral economy in which cost-benefit calculations can be made, as a moral politics in which ideals can be asserted and negotiated, and as a religion in which ultimate valuations are anchored.

Steven G. Smith is Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Millsaps College and is the author of several books, including, most recently, Gender Thinking.


"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. " — Review of Metaphysics

"Worth Doing is worth reading. It is rich and thickly textured, encompassing psychological (empirical desire, satisfaction, contentment), as well as philosophical approaches (justice, the quest for the right and the good). The resulting discussion of the many dimensions of 'the good life' encompasses much more than philosophy alone traditionally covers, including work, play, love, the quest for authenticity, fulfillment or distinctiveness, as well as discussing the meaning of happiness and the challenge of embodying moral values in one's life. The chapters on play and love are brilliantly conceived and the section on death is a stunning tour de force. This is truly an outstanding book. " — George R. Lucas Jr. , author of The Rehabilitation of Whitehead: An Analytic and Historical Assessment of Process Philosophy

"…an astute contemporary assessment of what is worthwhile in life. " — CHOICE

"The author provides many new insights in his discussions of 'worth domains,' and I expect that his articulation of worth thinking will become a recognized and oft-discussed alternative to the dominant paradigms in ethical theory. " — Robert Metcalf, University of Colorado at Denver