What keeps us from being ourselves

Richard David Precht: The art of not being an egoist

Richard David Precht: The art of not being an egoist. Why we want to be good and what keeps us from doing it. Goldmann Verlag / Verlagsgruppe Random House (Munich) 2010. 543 pages. ISBN 978-3-442-31218-4. D: 19.99 EUR, A: 20.60 EUR, CH: 34.90 sFr.
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Precht mentions the following key question in connection with this book: "And how is it that almost all people more or less consider themselves the" good guys "and still there is so much misery in the world?


Richard David Precht is a philosopher, publicist and author, he wrote both novels and non-fiction books.


The book is in three parts

  1. "Good and evil",
  2. “Want and do” and
  3. "Morality and Society".

The first part of the book is devoted to the nature and fundamentals of moral behavior.

The second part deals with the difference between the psychology of our self-claims and that of our everyday behavior, the contradiction between the program and the execution of morality.

The third part asks what can be learned from this for living together, and how engagement for others can be fostered.

1. "Good and bad"

How is a person actually? Do people let themselves be guided by egoism, greed etc. or are they more "good" by nature? Conclusion: people have a very high need to be at peace with themselves and to consider themselves "good". Starting from Plato's idea of ​​the good, outlines Precht the attitudes of different philosophers as well as the results of brain research. He characterizes morality as a result of group communication and argues that people have the ability to be moral and compassionate, mostly a desire to be fair, and a deep understanding of justice. So actually we all want to be good. By nature, humans have an innate capacity for morality and are interested in doing good and feeling good about it. Furthermore, the results of brain research clearly show that people have a high interest in social recognition and positive affection and that altruism also makes people happy. The standardization of morals, however, is carried out socially - the content of morals is therefore subject to strong cultural influences.

2. Wanting and doing

This is about the question of what keeps us from being good, with which mechanisms we lie in our pockets, strategies are named with which people morally outsmart themselves by suppressing, shifting, comparing or by not being themselves -feeling-responsible.

In more complex contexts, people are sensually overwhelmed, which leads to irrational behaviors, such as swarm behavior - the unreflective copying of others. Social instincts, such as the different treatment of loved ones and strangers, compliance with peer pressure, a lack of self-reflection or shifting baselines can lead to behavior that contradicts inner convictions.

3. Morality and Society

The question in this chapter is: How can we reorganize our society in such a way that we promote the good in people and reduce the scope for the bad.

Precht argues that people live out their basic tendency to behave fairly when framework conditions reinforce these mostly given altruistic tendencies.

He criticizes the political decision to forego regulatory policy in the economy, advocates a new entrepreneurial ethos, more civic engagement and a transformation of democracy through new forms of citizen participation, direct democracy and co-determination. He argues that our society can no longer allow itself material growth for a variety of reasons and therefore has to reorganize itself in essential points, whereby forms of engagement such as self-help and voluntary cooperation gain a new status. The argument that this is necessary, among other things, because the state can no longer afford social security due to demographic developments is, however, not tenable for two reasons: First and above all, it is economically wrong; social security is a question of distribution Conditions on the labor market and productivity development (Tichy, 2007) [1], and secondly, studies on volunteer work show that this corresponds positively to social security, i.e. cannot be a substitute for welfare state policy. [2]


Precht is now almost a pop star of philosophy, and in a certain way rightly so, because he takes up current and important topics and presents them in an easily understandable and clever way. However, the book is very associative and lengthy, and argued again and again very polemically and with little differentiation. For readers who just want to drift through the book, this is certainly pleasant, for those who want to understand its main statements relatively stringently and quickly, it is a bit tedious: popular science in the really good as well as in the negative sense.

The basic question of the book has been chosen extremely well, as is the structure of the content with the three main chapters, many examples are interesting and the statements in terms of content are fundamentally to be agreed with.

[1] Tichy, G .: Demographic development in Austria: the hyped-up generation conflict. In: Biehl, K. and Templ, N. (eds.): Europe is aging - so what? AK Vienna, “007

[2] BMASK: Voluntary engagement in Austria.1. Volunteer Report. Vienna 2009

Review by
Prof. Dr. Ruth Simsa
University of Economy Vienna
Institute for Sociology, NOP Institute
Homepage www.ruthsimsa.at
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Suggested citation
Ruth Simsa. Review from 25.05.2011 to: Richard David Precht: The art of not being an egoist. Why we want to be good and what keeps us from doing it. Goldmann Verlag / Verlagsgruppe Random House (Munich) 2010. ISBN 978-3-442-31218-4. In: socialnet reviews, ISSN 2190-9245, https://www.socialnet.de/rezensions/11424.php, date of access May 24, 2021.

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