Paper $36.00 ISBN: 9780226759920 Published February 2021
Cloth $45.00 ISBN: 9780226231952 Published March 2015
E-book $10.00 to $35.99 About E-books ISBN: 9780226232003 Published March 2015 Also Available From

To Flourish or Destruct

A Personalist Theory of Human Goods, Motivations, Failure, and Evil

Christian Smith

To Flourish or Destruct

Christian Smith

384 pages | 8 line drawings, 2 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2015
Paper $36.00 ISBN: 9780226759920 Published February 2021
Cloth $45.00 ISBN: 9780226231952 Published March 2015
E-book $10.00 to $35.99 About E-books ISBN: 9780226232003 Published March 2015

In his 2010 book What Is a Person?, Christian Smith argued that sociology had for too long neglected this fundamental question. Prevailing social theories, he wrote, do not adequately “capture our deep subjective experience as persons, crucial dimensions of the richness of our own lived lives, what thinkers in previous ages might have called our ‘souls’ or ‘hearts.’” Building on Smith’s previous work, To Flourish or Destruct examines the motivations intrinsic to this subjective experience: Why do people do what they do? How can we explain the activity that gives rise to all human social life and social structures?
Smith argues that our actions stem from a motivation to realize what he calls natural human goods: ends that are, by nature, constitutionally good for all human beings. He goes on to explore the ways we can and do fail to realize these ends—a failure that can result in varying gradations of evil. Rooted in critical realism and informed by work in philosophy, psychology, and other fields, Smith’s ambitious book situates the idea of personhood at the center of our attempts to understand how we might shape good human lives and societies.



Chapter 1: Critical Realist Personalism—Some Basics

Chapter 2: Rethinking Motivations for Action

Chapter 3: Against Social Situationism

Chapter 4: Human Nature and Motivations in Classical Theory

Chapter 5: On Basic Human Goods, Interests, and Motivations

Chapter 6: Toward a Theory of Flourishing

Chapter 7: Understanding Failure, Destruction, and Evil




Review Quotes
“Smith extends his careful work on the individual, as presented in What Is a Person?, to demonstrate the insufficiency of human motivation and agency in the work of social scientists, in particular sociologists. . . . Smith’s careful readings of Marx and sociologists Goffman and Durkheim reveal how their reductionist readings of human motivation cannot account for why humans act or fail to flourish. Smith then sets out a careful theory about the sorts of needs humans must satisfy in order to flourish and the ways that these needs structure human action. This major work in sociological theory should be read by social scientists in all disciplines. Highly recommended.”
Douglas Porpora, Drexel University
To Flourish or Destruct poses a powerful and important challenge to the entire discipline of sociology. Smith is becoming the anchor of a humanist renewal in sociology and although he is not alone in this movement, what makes To Flourish or Destruct different is a coherent, new, oppositional perspective that draws on critical realism to affirm both human personhood and the ever-present moral element in human affairs. Smith’s Personalism could become the banner around which a very different kind of sociology develops, one that respects the centered consciousness that is human personhood.”
George Steinmetz, University of Michigan
“Speaking in a voice of common sense and reasonableness, and using everyday language, Smith blasts apart most of the assumptions of modern social science and relativism and sets up an alternative scaffolding of moral realism and the theoretical position he calls Personalism. This book represents a major advance in sociology and more specifically within critical realism, which is gradually emerging as a full-fledged alternative in the social sciences. I am fundamentally convinced by this book.”
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