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Birkett, D. (2015). The Good Life: Wellbeing and the New Science of Altruism, Selfishness and Immorality by Graham Music. Published by Routledge, 2014; 256 pp, £14.95 paperback. Brit. J. Psychother., 31(2):269-272.

(2015). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 31(2):269-272

The Good Life: Wellbeing and the New Science of Altruism, Selfishness and Immorality by Graham Music. Published by Routledge, 2014; 256 pp, £14.95 paperback

Review by:
Diana Birkett

The title of this book, with its echo of Stephen Grosz's widely acclaimed The Examined Life (2013), suggests the ethical dimension which the author brings to a theme which is nevertheless strongly underpinned by scientific evidence. Indeed the subtitle, Wellbeing and the New Science of Altruism, Selfishness and Immorality, is a curious blend of scientific and moral vocabulary - for this is a book about ethics, but whose central tenets are exhaustively supported by the findings of neurological and sociological research, and those of evolutionary biology.

Some of the book covers areas already described by Sue Gerhardt, and will be familiar to those who have read Why Love Matters (Gerhardt 2004), but Graham Music goes on to address the age-old question which goes back to Original Sin: are we born good or bad? ‘Have we evolved to be selfish or co-operative?’ (p. 1). In a clear challenge to Dawkins (The Selfish Gene, 1976) et al., he posits that the existence of ‘the pro-social tendency’ is located in our DNA as firmly as the tendency to aggression. Where he speaks for modern psychotherapists is in his emphasis on attachment patterns in childhood in determining pro-social or competitive outcomes. But he goes further than most psychoanalytic theorists in exploring the wider social matrix, sounding a somewhat pessimistic warning about the deleterious effects of Western consumerism and individualism.

Music aims to demonstrate that generosity and kindness are ‘a natural part of what humans spontaneously do’ (p.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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