Salon 42 is focused on good, a noun that is very hard to define. Common phrases such as “for the common good” or “towards the greater good” mean well, but fail to specify for whom and in what form such good is pursued. Good is perhaps best described through this ambiguity and multiplicity, with its only constant being the fact that across time and space, it has consistently meant different things to different people and groups. As we reflect on the past five years, which have brought to the fore with renewed sharpness the systemic issues that afflict our planet, the need to discuss the idea of good is impellent.
We will pose the following questions: Who decides what ”good” is? What does it mean to “do good”? How is it evaluated and measured? How have conceptions of good changed across time and place? What, if anything, has remained consistent? Who is in the position to do good? Who has the obligation to do it? To what degree is the sense of good innate versus learned? How much variation exists from person to person? Given the impossibility of a universal good, how encompassing can it be? Can there be an act of good that transcends class, race, age, species, or beyond?
This Salon took place on June 9, 2023
Miroslav Volf is the Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School and is the Founder and Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. He was educated in his native Croatia, the United States, and Germany, earning doctoral and post-doctoral degrees (with highest honors) from the University of Tübingen, Germany. He has written or edited more than 20 books, over 100 scholarly articles, and his work has been featured in the Washington Post, Christianity Today, Christian Century, Sojourners, and several other outlets, including NPR’s Speaking of Faith (now On Being with Krista Tippett) and Public Television’s Religion and Ethics Newsweekly. Some of his most significant books include: Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (1996; revised edition, 2019), Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace (2006), Allah: A Christian Response (2011), After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity (1998), A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good (2011), The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World (2006; revised edition, 2020), Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World (2016), For the Life of the World: Theology that Makes a Difference (2019), and Life Worth Living: A Guide to What Matters Most (2023).
Agustín Fuentes is a Professor at Princeton University and an anthropologist whose research focuses on the biosocial, delving into the entanglement of biological systems with the social and cultural lives of humans, our ancestors, and a few of the other animals with whom humanity shares close relations. From chasing monkeys in jungles and cities, to exploring the lives of our evolutionary ancestors, to examining human health, behavior, and diversity across the globe, Professor Fuentes is interested in both the big questions and the small details of what makes humans and our close relations tick. Earning his BA/BS in Anthropology and Zoology and his MA and PhD in Anthropology from UC Berkeley, he has conducted research across four continents, multiple species, and two-million years of human history. His current projects include exploring cooperation, creativity, and belief in human evolution, multispecies anthropologies, evolutionary theory and processes, and engaging race and racism. Fuentes is an active public scientist, a well-known blogger, lecturer, tweeter, and an explorer for National Geographic. Fuentes was recently awarded the Inaugural Communication & Outreach Award from the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, the President’s Award from the American Anthropological Association, and elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Neela Saldanha is the executive director at the Yale Research Initiative on Innovation and Scale (Y-RISE) at Yale University, which focuses on developing the science around scaling policy interventions. Neela is a behavioral scientist by training with phenomenal experience in multiple areas such as consulting, teaching, researching, and writing. Prior to joining Yale, among her many roles, she helped set up the Centre for Social and Behaviour Change (CSBC) at Ashoka University, where she also served as a director for a few years. Neela holds a PhD in marketing from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta.
Erica Caple James is a medical and psychiatric anthropologist who received an A.B. from Princeton University (Anthropology 1992), an M.T.S. from Harvard Divinity School (1995), and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard University (Social Anthropology 1998, 2003). Her work focuses on global health and security; violence and trauma; human rights and humanitarianism; democratization and postconflict transition processes; race, gender, and culture; and religion and healing. Her first book, Democratic Insecurities: Violence, Trauma, and Intervention in Haiti (2010), documents the psychosocial experience of Haitian torture survivors targeted during the 1991-94 coup period and analyzes the politics of humanitarian assistance in “post-conflict” nations making the transition to democracy. Her second major book project, entitled Wounds of Charity: Corporate Catholicism in the Archdiocese of Boston, analyzes the “biopolitics of charity” at a faith-based social service organization promoting health and education programs for Haitian immigrants and refugees. Her third project, Governing Gifts: Law, Risk, and the “War on Terror”, continues this focus on the politics of charity by tracing the impact of U.S. anti-terrorism financing laws and practices on both faith-based and secular NGOs in the United States. She is editing a volume called Faith, Charity, and the Security State and has recently launched the Global Health and Medical Humanities Initiative.
Marcia Day Childress is Professor Emerita of Medical Education and Harrison Distinguished Teaching Professor Emerita in the School of Medicine. For twenty-five years (1996-2021), she directed Programs in Humanities in the Center for Health Humanities and Ethics, including humanities and arts courses and co-curricular activities for medical students. During those same years, she directed and produced the Medical Center Hour, the School of Medicine’s weekly public forum on medicine, society, and healthcare, which marked its fiftieth year of continuous production in 2020-2021. She was founding director of the center-based Edward W. Hook Scholars Program, a four-year track for selected medical students who wish to make the humanities, bioethics, or arts part of their pathway into medicine. A literature scholar by training, Professor Childress designed and taught medical school courses in Literature and Medicine and Images of Medicine, directed senior students’ research in humanities and the arts, and oversaw humanities elective courses for medical students. She co-developed Clinician’s Eye, an art museum-based visual analysis workshop for health professionals. Together with a law professor, she led Interprofessional Seminars in Ethical Values and Professional Life for medical, law, and graduate design students. Within and beyond the medical school, she developed and led numerous special programs, interprofessional conferences, and public events featuring humanities and arts in relation to health, healthcare, and health professional education.
Ani Liu is an internationally exhibiting research-based artist working at the intersection of art & technoscience. Integrating emerging technologies with cultural reflection and social change, Ani’s most recent work examines the biopolitics of reproduction, labor, care work and motherhood. Ani’s work has been exhibited internationally, at the Venice Biennale, Milan Triennale, Ars Electronica, the Queens Museum Biennial, MIT Museum, MIT Media Lab, Mana Contemporary, Harvard University, and Shenzhen Design Society. Ani is the winner of numerous awards including the Princeton Arts Fellowship, the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) Fellowship, the Virginia Groot Foundation Fellowship, the S&R Washington Prize, the YouFab Global Creative Awards, the Biological Art & Design Award, Triangle Arts Residency. Ani’s work has been featured in the New York Times, Art in America, Artnet News, the Brooklyn Rail, Hyperallargic, and her solo show in Ecologies of Care was named as a best of 2022 highlight in Artforum. She has been profiled by Science Friday, National Geographic, PBS, the MIT Tech Review, BOMB Magazine, VICE, WIRED, TED and Gizmodo, amongst many others. Ani is passionate about integrating multidisciplinary approaches to art making, and is currently an Associate Professor of Practice at the University of Pennsylvania. Ani has previously taught at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Princeton University, Columbia University, and is on critique panels at Harvard, Princeton, Dartmouth, MIT, University of Pennsylvania, NYU, Pratt, Parsons, The New School.
Steven Pinker is the Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. He is an experimental cognitive psychologist and a popular writer on language, mind, and human nature. A native of Montreal, he earned his bachelor’s degree at McGill University in 1976, his PhD from Harvard in 1979, and taught at Harvard, Stanford, and MIT before returning to Harvard in 2003. Pinker’s research on vision, language, and social relations has won prizes from the National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Institution of Great Britain, the Cognitive Neuroscience Society, the American Psychological Association, and the Association for Psychological Science. He has also received eight honorary doctorates, several teaching awards at MIT and Harvard, and numerous prizes for his books The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, The Blank Slate, The Better Angels of Our Nature, and The Sense of Style. He is Chair of the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary, and often writes for The New York Times, Time, and other publications. He has been named Humanist of the Year, Foreign Policy’s “100 Global Thinkers,” and Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World Today.” He is currently doing research on a diverse array of topics in psychology, including the role of common knowledge (where two or more people know that the others know what they know) in language and other social phenomena; historical and recent trends in violence and their explanation; the psycho-linguistics of good writing; the nature of the critical period for acquiring language; the neurobiology and genetics of language; and the nature of regular and irregular phenomena in grammar.
Michael Rossi is an Associate Professor of the History of Medicine and Chair of the Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science at the University of Chicago. He is a historian of medicine and science in the United States from the nineteenth century to the present. His work focuses on the historical and cultural metaphysics of the body: how different people at different times understood questions of beauty, truth, falsehood, pain, pleasure, goodness, and reality vis-à-vis their corporeal selves and those of others. His first book manuscript traces the origins of color science—the physiology, psychology, and physics of color—in the late-nineteenth-century United States to a series of questions about what modern America ought to be: about the scope of medical, scientific, and political authority over the sensing body; about the nature of aesthetic, physiological, and cultural development between individual and civilization; about the relationship between aesthetic harmony, physiological balance, and social order. His second project looks at how linguists, anatomists, and speech pathologists moved, over the course of the twentieth century, from viewing language as a function of sound-producing organs (tongue, lips, palate, larynx, etc.) to searching for a notional “language organ” within the brains of all human beings. Such interpretative shifts in understanding human anatomy are neither an ancient phenomenon nor one limited to extreme medical specialization, but rather are ongoing issues, providing a window on the social, political, and philosophical understanding of modern bodies, medicine, and science.
Timothy Morton is Rita Shea Guffey Chair in English at Rice University. He has collaborated with Björk, Laurie Anderson, Jennifer Walshe, Hrafnhildur Arnadottir, Sabrina Scott, Adam McKay, Jeff Bridges, Justin Guariglia, Olafur Eliasson, and Pharrell Williams. Morton co-wrote and appears in Living in the Future’s Past, a 2018 film about global warming with Jeff Bridges. He is the author of the libretto for the opera Time Time Time by Jennifer Walshe. He is the author of Being Ecological (2018), Humankind: Solidarity with Nonhuman People ( 2017), Dark Ecology: For a Logic of Future Coexistence (2016), Nothing: Three Inquiries in Buddhism (2015), Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World (2013), Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality (2013), The Ecological Thought (2010), Ecology without Nature (2007), eight other books and 250 essays on philosophy, ecology, literature, music, art, architecture, design and food. Morton’s work has been translated into 10 languages.
Mariana Mazzucato (PhD) is Professor at University College London (UCL), where she is Founding Director of the UCL Institute for Innovation & Public Purpose (IIPP). She advises policy makers around the world on innovation-led inclusive and sustainable growth. Her current roles include being Chair of the World Health Organization’s Council on the Economics of Health for All, Co-Chair of the Global Commission on the Economics of Water, Co-Chair on the Council on Urban Initiatives, member of the South African President’s Economic Advisory Council, the UN High Level Advisory Board for Economic and Social Affairs, the European Space Agency’s High-Level Advisory Group on Human and Robotic Space Exploration for Europe, Argentina’s Economic and Social Council and Vinnova’s Advisory Panel in Sweden and the OECD High-Level Advisory Panel on Climate and Economic Resilience. She is winner of international prizes including the Grande Ufficiale Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana in 2021, Italy’s highest civilian honour, the 2020 John von Neumann Award, the 2019 All European Academies Madame de Staël Prize for Cultural Values, and the 2018 Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought. She was named as one of the ‘3 most important thinkers about innovation‘ by The New Republic, one of the 50 most creative people in business in 2020 by Fast Company, and one of the 25 leaders shaping the future of capitalism by WIRED. Most recently, Pope Francis appointed her to the Pontifical Academy for Life for bringing “more humanity” to the world. She is the author of four highly-acclaimed books: The Entrepreneurial State (2013), The Value of Everything (2018), Mission Economy (2021), and The Big Con (2023).
ON MORAL PHILOSOPHY
Harman, Gilbert. The Nature of Morality: An Introduction to Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977. (Free PDF)
Hartman, Gilbert. “Moral Philosophy and Linguistics.” Explaining Value: and Other Essays in Moral Philosophy.” Oxford: Oxford Press, 2000.
John, Jory and Pete Oswald. The Good Egg. New York: HarperCollins, 2019.
“Michael Schur discusses ‘How to Be Perfect: The Correct Answer to Every Moral Question.’” YouTube video, 1:07:17. Posted by “HarvardBookStore,” April 22, 2023.
Miller, Steven A. “Fools and Philosophers: On Michael Schur’s ‘How to Be Perfect’.” Los Angeles Review of Books. June 26, 2022.
Rosa, Hartmut. “Two Versions of the Good Life & Two Forms of Fear: Dynamic Stabilization and the Resonance Conception of the Good Life.” Yale Center for Faith & Culture. June 1, 2018.
Schur, Michael. How to Be Perfect: The Correct Answer to Every Moral Question. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2022.
Volf, Miroslav, Matthew Croasmun, and Ryan McAnnally-Linz. Life Worth Living: A Guide to What Matters Most. New York: Penguin, 2023.
Waldinger, Robert. “What Makes a Good Life? Lessons from the Longest Study on Happiness.” TED, filmed November 2015.
Waldinger, Robert. The Good Life: Lessons from the Longest Study on Happiness. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2021.
ON EFFECTIVE ALTRUISM
Lewis-Kraus, Gideon. “The Reluctant Prophet of Effective Altruism.” The New Yorker. August 8, 2022.
Maranges, Tommy. “Peter Singer’s Drowning Child Argument.” Philosophy Bro. June 4, 2015.
Matthews, Dylan. “Join Wall Street. Save the world.” The Washington Post. May 31, 2013.
Singer, Peter. The Life You Can Save. New York: Random House, 2009. (Free download.)
Singer, Peter. “What Should a Billionaire Give – and What Should You?” The New York Times Magazine. December 17, 2006.
Singer, Peter. “The why and how of effective altruism.” TED video, 17:06. May 2013.
Singer, Peter. “The Ethical Cost of High-Price Art.” Project Syndicate. June 4, 2014.
Stein, Joshua and Olúfẹ́mi O Táíwò. “Is the effective altruism movement in trouble?” The Guardian. November 16, 2022.
van Zuylen-Wood, Simon. “Is Effective Altruism Now Defective? Commisterating with the do-gooders SBF made look bad.” New York Magazine. November 19, 2022.
Waters, Richard. “An exclusive interview with Bill Gates.” Financial Times. November 1, 2013.
Dizikes, Peter. “The anthropology of humanitarianism: Anthropologist Erica James examines the effectiveness of aid to those on the margins of society.” MIT News. May 1, 2014.
Fassin, Didier. Humanitarian Reason: A Moral History of the Present. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.
James, Erica Caple. “The Political Economy of ‘Trauma’ in Haiti in the Democratic Era of Insecurity.” Cult Med Psychiatry 28, 127–149 (2004).
James, Erica Caple. “Witchcraft, Bureaucraft, and the Social Life of (US) AID in Haiti.” Cultural Anthropology 27, Issue 1, 50-75 (February 2012).
James, Erica Caple. “Introduction: The Varieties of Religious Governance,” edited by Erica Caple James. Governing Gifts: Faith, Charity, and The Security State. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2019.
Malkki, Liisa. The Need to Help: The Domestic Arts of International Humanitarianism. Durham: Duke University Press, 2015.
ON AN INTERSPECIES APPROACH
Fuentes, Agustín. “Considering all humans and other organisms in the Anthropocene: Learning to Listen.” Iconema. November 30, 2021.
Fuentes, Agustín. “We need a new measure of evolutionary success. Here’s why.” Big Think video, 4:19. April 21, 2023.
Helmreich, Stefan. Alien Ocean: Anthropological Voyages in Microbial Seas. University of California Press, 2009.
Jackson, Zakiyyah Iman. 2021. “Zakiyyah Iman Jackson: On Race, Species and Becoming Human.” Crosstalks, April 22, 2021.
Nyamnjoh, Francis, Zakiyyah Iman Jackson, Mel Y. Chen, Erika Cudworth, and Milja Kurki. “Becoming Human with Others: Animality and Decolonial Entanglements.” Millennium: Journal of International Studies video. November 13, 2020.
Tsing, Anna, Jennifer Deger, Alder Keleman Saxena and Feifei Zhou. Feral Atlas: The More-Than-Human Anthropocene. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2021.
TallBear, Kim. “Why Interspecies Thinking Needs Indigenous Standpoints.” Fieldsights, November 18, 2011.
ON THE NEUROSCIENCE OF MORALITY
Crockett, Molly. “Drugs and Morals.” TEDxZurich video, 17:02. October 20, 2011.
Crockett, Molly, Jim A. C. Everett, Maureen Gill, and Jenifer Siegel. “The Relational Logic of Moral Inference.” PsyArXiv. July 9, 2021.
Decety, Jean. The Social Brain – A Developmental Perspective. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2020.
Decety, Jean and Jessica Sommerville. Social Cognition: Development Across the Life Span. New York: Routledge, 2017.
Decety, Jean and Thalia Wheatley. The Moral Brain: A Multidisciplinary Perspective. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2015.
Decety, Jean and William Ickes. The Social Neuroscience of Empathy. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2009.
Liao, S. Matthew. Moral Brians: The Neuroscience of Morality. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.
Witynski, Max. “UChicago study explores neural mechanisms behind support for political violence.” UChicago News. November 16, 2020.
ON THE CLIMATE CRISIS AND ANTHROPOCENE
Demos, T. J. Decolonizing Nature: Contemporary Art and the Politics of Ecology. Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2016. (Introduction as free PDF)
Demos, T. J. The Migrant Image: The Art and Politics of Documentary During Global Crisis. Durham: Duke University Press, 2013. (Free PDF)
Fuentes, Agustín. “Humans & planet Earth: Do we really know our place?” Big Think video, 6:26. April 31, 2023.
“Greta Thunberg’s full speech to world leaders at UN Climate Action Summit.” PBS NewsHour. September 23, 2019.
Liboiron, Max. Pollution is Colonialism. Durham: Duke University Press, 2021.
Malm, Andreas. “History May Absolve the Soup Throwers.” The New York Times. October 20, 2022.
Meis, Morgan. “Timothy Morton’s Hyper-Pandemic.” The New Yorker. June 8, 2021.
Morton, Timothy. Dark Ecology. New York: Columbia University Press, 2018.
Stoneman, Colin. “‘Let the capitalists know that their properties will be trashed’ – an interview with Andreas Malm.” Review of African Political Economy. May 19, 2022.
ON RETHINKING THE ECONOMY
Enke, Benjamin. “Kinship, Cooperation, and the Evolution of Moral Systems.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 143, Issue 2, 952-1019 (May 2019).
Mazzucato, Mariana. Mission Economy: A Moonshot Guide to Changing Capitalism. New York: Harper Business, 2021.
Mazzucato, Mariana. The Value of Everything: Making and Taking in the Global Economy. New York: PublicAffairs, 2019.
Mazzucato, Mariana. “For the Common Good.” Project Syndicate. January 27, 2023.
Raworth, Kate. “A Healthy Economy Should Be Designed to Thrive, Not Grow.” Ted, 2018.
Raworth, Kate. Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist. Chelsea, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2017.
Tirole, Jean. Economics for the Common Good. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018.
ON MORALITY IN MEDICINE
Childress, Marcia Day. “Clinician’s Eye.” Changing Views: Art, Contemplation & Wellness, edited by Lindsey Hepler.
Cleghorn, Elinor. Unwell Women: Misdiagnosis and Myth in a Man-Made World. New York: Penguin Random House, 2021.
“Clinician’s Eye.” Center for Health Humanities & Ethics, University of Virginia. January 12, 2017.
Decety, Jean. “Empathy in medicine: What it is, and how much we really need it.” American Journal of Medicine 133, (2020) 561-566.
Mukherjee, Siddhartha. “What Does it Mean to be a Living Thing?” The New York Times. March 24, 2021.
Mukherjee, Siddhartha. The Laws of Medicine: Field Notes from an Uncertain Science. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015.
Nimura, Janice P. “Why ‘Unwell Women’ Have Gone Misdiagnosed for Centuries.” The New York Times. June 8, 2021.
ON AI ETHICS AND TECHNOLOGY
Barzilay, Regina, George Church, Jennifer Egan, Catherine Mohr, and Siddhartha Mukherjee. “From Gene Editing to A.I., How Will Technology Transform Humanity?” The New York Times Magazine. November 16, 2018.
Benjamin, Ruha. Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code. New York: Wiley, 2019.
Crocket, Molly. “Human Morality in the Digital Age: A conversation with Molly Crockett.” Princeton Media Central video, 1:14:35. December 1, 2022.
Edelman, Gilad. “What Really Happened When Google Ousted Timnit Gebru.” Wired, January 22, 2021.
Metz, Cade. “Who is Making Sure the A.I. Machines Aren’t Racist?” The New York Times. March 15, 2021.
Metz, Cade. “Can a Machine Learn Morality?” The New York Times. November 19, 2021.
Noble, Safiya. “The Loss of Public Goods to Big Tech.” Noēma Magazine. July 1, 2020.