HOME    book excerpt

The Weight of Things

Philosophy and the Good Life

Jean Kazez

Blackwell 2007 



In the media:

"Warmly written... lucid and humanely engaging." Stephen Poole, The Guardian more

"While academic philosophy continues to indulge its arguments about arguments, a burgeoning crop of popular philosophy books is engaging a wider audience. Alongside the “What do you think?" kind of introductory texts, another question is increasingly being asked: “How should we live?” Kazez’s warm and lucidly written book is in this camp."  Mark Vernon, Church Times more

On the book jacket:

"This book fills an important niche between academic analyses of the meaning of life and overly popularized 'tips for good living'. I've read quite a few books in this area and there is more insight, wit, and wisdom per page in this one book than in almost any of the others." Edward Langerak, St Olaf College

"The Weight of Things is clear, provocative, tightly-argued, and rich with memorable examples. Written in an informal yet careful style, this examination of how we ought to live is philosophically acute and a delight to read." Marcia McKelligan, DePauw University

William Irwin, editor of Blackwell's Philosophy and PopCulture series, writes:

"The Weight of Things is a wonderfully accessible work of philosophy, addressing one of the most important of all philosophical questions: What makes a good life? Philosophy, I think, is the original self-help movement, though it has almost completely lost claim to that area, which is now dominated by pop psychology, new age metaphysics, and spirituality. At their best, these other sources of self-help offer good common sense; more frequently they mix common sense with metaphysical nonsense. Wayne Dyer often does this, as does The Secret. So although Jean Kazez does not explicitly conceive of her book as self-help, I’m very glad to see a work of philosophy aimed at the general public that addresses the topic of the good, happy life. (Allow me note that I have written such a book myself, though it is only in draft form and not yet published. The tentative title is “Existential Answers: The Human Condition and What to Do About it.”)


The “weight” of Kazez’s title indicates the balancing that needs to be done, rather than (as one might think) some existential heaviness that life itself has. Kazez is concerned to spell out the elements of a good life. In line with that task, The book surveys the lives of the desert saints, Leo Tolstoy (the great novelist who renounced the world of achievement), and Paul Farmer (the modern medical missionary) among others. It also discusses the philosophy of Plato, Aristotle, and the Hellenistic philosophers, among others. Kazez argues that the elements of a good life are happiness, autonomy, self-expression, morality, and progress. Other things may be important as well, but they constitute a kind of “B list” beneath these “A list” elements. The “weighing,” as indicated by the title, suggests that one size does not fit all—what works well for Tolstoy or Paul Farmer may not work well for you or me. We all need the things on the A list, but the proportions we need them in will vary.


I have assigned The Weight of Things as the basis of the term paper in my Honors Introduction to Philosophy course this semester. It will be interesting to see what students’ reactions to the book are. I think they’ll like it, but I’ve been wrong before."



1. This Mortal World
2. Strange Lives
3. Reason and Luck
4. Is Happiness All That Matters?
5. Necessities
6. Puzzles of Diversity
7. Hard Choices
8. Trying to be Good
9. The Religious Realm
10. Taking Aim






On the radio...

I talked about the book

on KERA 90.1's talk show Think!   Listen here (best) or here.


Good Life Reading List