This book has presented a concept of a good life as one devoted to doing good, where doing good is conceived to consist of contributing to the sustainable expansion of abilities to whatever extent one is able. These concepts are taken to apply to individuals and to all groups having some social identity. An ability was defined to be anything a person or group could do (including, for a person, breathing and seeing and remembering) or do consistently (as being truthful).
The book has also presented a concept of well-being involving finding an appropriate niche or series of niches chosen to afford one an opportunity to function fully, being fully effective in contributing to the well-being of others. These concepts provided a more detailed picture of what a good life typically consisted of.
Of central importance is the fact that abilities and levels of doing things well or poorly can be recognized, sometimes easily and sometimes only after careful observation and study. The recognition of needed abilities comes from seeing frustration and suffering–opposites of well-being–and from recognizing inabilities and inadequacies.
The book also presented a description of the Aristotelian principle which was taken as defining the ingredients determining the quality of life. This description was entirely consistent with the description of well-being. The purpose for this was to show that what had been called “a good life” was a life that yielded enduring satisfaction to the extent that any way of life could. (Living a good life is not protection against misfortune or pain and suffering.)
The concepts of well-being and quality of life apply to groups as well as individuals.
The goal of doing the most good also applies to both. It means planning one’s life so as to contribute as much as possible to the sustainable expansion of abilities during the course of one’s expected lifetime. It also means doing the most good in each immediate situation and in the short term to the extent that the lifetime goal will not be unduly jeopardized. (A situation might arise that would make it appropriate not only to risk one’s own life but the lives of others. The rule do what you would have others do would apply.)
The concept of doing the most good also includes the ideas of the integration and the redirecting of abilities. The integration of abilities involves combining them to achieve some higher level capacity or set of capacities. What is to be sought particularly is the combining of the abilities of large or small numbers of individuals so as to create a thoughtfully directed effectiveness. Groups need to seek personhood, which involves acting on the basis of the knowledge one has gained in the course of acquiring and exercising abilities, forming and testing hypotheses, seeking an understanding of principles with others, and becoming an intelligent and morally responsible agent. The redirecting of abilities involves combining them in new ways to serve new purposes and meet changing conditions.
It is not assumed that a large number of persons or groups will quickly adopt these concepts or will quickly devote themselves to doing the most good. Those who do do so will be helped and strengthened by sharing their life experiences with others who have. These persons and groups will need to create among themselves a shared consciousness of what they are doing. (This does not imply any kind of special secrecy.)
Two ethical issues were examined, abortion and loss. This examination showed that ethical issues in general can be difficult. There may not be any clear, irrefutable answer. However, this conceptual framework provides guidelines as to what evidence to look for to find a firmer ground for decisions on a given issue.
Although the theory recommends that every person and group find for themselves their proper function in society (their niche or series of niches), some activities have special roles. Accordingly, special attention was given to the role of the arts, religion, the humanities and social sciences, and government.
There were many rather specific conclusions reached along the way, especially in the sections on ethical issues and shared consciousness. The conclusions that can be drawn now at the end of our investigation are rather varied.
The most important conclusions to be drawn here are that the claims made at the beginning have been substantiated. The concepts of a good life, well-being, and doing good do give a coherent purpose to life, do tend to bring enrichment, fulfillment, and ennoblement to life. They do provide an approach for greatly reducing the acrimony, cynicism and frustration surrounding ethical issues. They also provide an approach to reaching agreement as to what is worth doing, what goals to choose, and what resolution of disputes to settle upon. It might also be added that this framework provides an approach to choosing public policies. It is an approach which relies only on the objective evidence available. It does not make any compromises with religious beliefs, but at the same time it leads to policies which allow full freedom for individuals to follow their religious beliefs in their private decisions.