Human Goodness by Yi-Fu Tuan

By Joy Cagil 

t I do not read too many books on philosophy, but Human Goodness is more than a philosophy book. It is positive and uplifting, and it offers practical assurances of goodness in people in contrast to dry, humorless beliefs and theories.

In the preface, the author presents a happy thought. “Think how people of different cultural and social backgrounds might learn from one another and enjoy one another’s company if they gather to tell stories of human goodness in their particular culture and society.” Inside the main part of the book, she follows up on that thought.

This study of goodness comes in four sections. In the first “Vignettes” section, the subject of range and variety of goodness succeeds in causing the readers to think and very often agree with the author’s observations. One such observation is: Good manners and being good are not necessarily the same thing. The second section is a short one, pointing to “Doing Good in the Midst of Evil,” which has examples of people who risked their own welfare to help others in hard times.

Human Good

The book continues with “Good Individuals” to show several examples of good people by offering the detailed life stories of many individuals we already know and admire, like Socrates, Mozart, John Keats, Mother Theresa, Confucius, and Simone Weil. The end section of the book, titled Reflections, refers to the negative influence of dark backgrounds and behavior, which the author deems boring; then the text goes on with ‘the points of light,’ in which more individuals such as Carl Jasper and Schweitzer are shown as examples.

The tone of the author is factual and positive as she spreads her pearls of wisdom throughout the pages. She offers her words in a serious yet heartening style, without letting them turn into sermons.

Human Goodness, published by the University of Wisconsin Press, comes in hardcover and 244 pages with ISBN-10: 0299226700 and ISBN-13: 978-0299226701

Yi-Fu Tuan, according to the back flap of the book, is the J. K. Wright and Vilas Professor Emeritus of Geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has been honored with the Cullum Medal of the American Geographical Society, the Lauréat d’Honneur of the International Geographical Union, and the Charles Homer Haskins Lectureship of the American Council of Learned Societies. Her books other than Human Goodness are: Coming Home to China, Cosmos & Hearth: A Cosmopolite’s Viewpoint, Dear Colleague: Common and Uncommon Observations, Dominance & Affection: The Making Of Pets, Escapism, Geography and the Human Spirit, The Good Life, A Historical Geography of China, Landscapes of Fear, Morality and Imagination: Paradoxes of Progress, Passing Strange and Wonderful: Aesthetics, Nature, and Culture, Place, Art, And Self, Segmented Worlds and Self: A Study of Group Life and Individual Consciousness, and Who Am I?: An Autobiography of Emotion, Mind, and Spirit. She has also co-authored World Views: Maps and Art September 11, 1999-January 2, 2000 with Robert Bruce Silberman and Landscape Nature and the Body Politic: From Britain’s Renaissance to America’s New World with Kenneth Olwig.

Sometimes, it helps to focus on the decency of others to encourage ourselves to become better people. This inspirational book, offering hope, encouragement, and salvation is a step in that direction. I recommend it whole-heartedly.

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