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The House We Live In

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The values of liberalism, pluralism, and democratic governance are under sustained attack from right-wing Christian fundamentalists, white ethnonationalists, and economic populists. At the same time, liberal democracies are failing at cultivating and transmitting the values, wisdom, and virtues that are the perquisites for individual and collective flourishing. Liberal democracies seem increasingly unable to negotiate diverse visions of the good life rooted in regional, ethnic, racial, religious, generational, and socioeconomic differences. Aspiring autocrats and social media organizations exploit these divisions to enhance their power or profit, resulting in increased tribalization and affective polarization.

Solving these problems requires a renewed understanding of human flourishing and the wisdom and virtues that make it possible. The House We Live In explores the commonalities underlying three classical approaches to virtue ethics—Aristotelean, Buddhist, and Confucian—to develop a flourishing-based ethics capable of addressing the problems of liberal democracies. The book examines the moral and intellectual virtues that promote flourishing, the diversity of ways in which we may flourish, and the factors all flourishing lives share. It shows how a flourishing-based ethics can serve as a corrective to the historical Western over-emphasis on individualism at the expense of community. Finally, it addresses problems in domestic and foreign policy and the difficulties in talking to each other across the political divide from a flourishing-based perspective. The book is a reaffirmation of pluralism, the liberal democratic tradition, and the necessity of a pragmatic approach to living together despite seemingly incommensurable differences.

Published: Aug 29, 2023

Book Contributors

Section Chapter Authors
Acknowledgements Seth Zuihō Segall
About the Author Seth Zuihō Segall
Preface Seth Zuihō Segall
Chapter 1
The House We Live In Seth Zuihō Segall
Chapter 2
On Virtue Seth Zuihō Segall
Chapter 3
On Wisdom Seth Zuihō Segall
Chapter 4
On Flourishing Seth Zuihō Segall
Chapter 5
Only Connect Seth Zuihō Segall
End Matter
References Seth Zuihō Segall
Index Seth Zuihō Segall


It would hardly be an exaggeration to call this brilliant and beautiful book one of the most important works of our time. In my view, it should certainly rank as one of the wisest. Looking deeply into today’s social, cultural, and political crises, the author points to the compelling need to re-envision the perennial moral and intellectual virtues as the indispensable key to human flourishing in both the personal and communal dimensions of our lives. His close and careful analysis of these virtues, and their connection with well-being, shows us what we must do to emerge intact from the confusion and conflicts of our age.
Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, Buddhist scholar and translator of Pali Buddhist texts

Segall is a gifted writer with encyclopedic knowledge, keen insights, and flowing prose. The reading public who are concerned about the general state of affairs in America should be very interested in this book. It is full of sensible examples and free from academic jargon while thoughtfully engaging great ancient thinkers from different cultural and intellectual milieus, i.e., Aristotelian, Confucian, and Buddhist, for alternative sources of virtues and values at this moment of our history.
Tao Jiang, Ph.D., author of Origins of Political-Moral Thought in Early China

Through a rich and rigorous synthesis of flourishing-based ethical perspectives, Seth Zuihō Segall offers insights and inspiration from religious and secular traditions both past and present. To address our increasingly global crisis, we urgently need the kind of globally informed ethics that this book provides.
Stephen Batchelor, author of After Buddhism: Reimagining the Dharma in a Secular Age

Talk of “multiculturalism” and of “the virtues” are often seen as incompatible. “Multiculturalism” is a slogan of contemporary liberals, while conservatives bemoan the loss of our traditional “virtues.” Segall’s The House We Live In is an exciting attempt to bring multicultural liberalism into dialogue with classic accounts of virtues like wisdom, courage, and justice. Segall makes an ambitious attempt to show that the freedom offered by multicultural liberalism has to be grounded in a robust account of what it is to live well and to be a good person. This provocative and timely book deserves a wide audience.
Bryan W. Van Norden, James Monroe Taylor Chair in Philosophy, Vassar College

This book is meant for the intelligent layperson and does not demand any special prior knowledge. It discusses many figures that are key to the history of philosophical ethics, from David Hume to Immanuel Kant, yet does not expect readers to have a background in philosophy. He does this to bring readers up to the current age with a solid basis for making sense of his project and the sort of historical challenges that these figures represent. You will certainly feel more informed about the wider world of ethics after reading it.

After a meaty introduction, Segall develops his ethical proposal across three sections: virtue, wisdom, and flourishing. The book stands out from similar offerings over the years for its well-informed overview of ethical challenges and its lucid connection between these three areas within the reality of the current American landscape. It does not shy away from discussing social justice, the culture wars, religious fundamentalism, and material greed.

If you wish to be part of this project of cultivating a return to being together, then Segall’s book can certainly help you on your way while giving you a grounding in the bigger picture of ethical challenges our species has long faced. Your Buddhist practice can only be enhanced by doing so, and who knows, if we all take the first steps, perhaps more folks will wake up out of the hallucinations of our age and join us.

I think the book is well worth the read, at least its middle ethical chapters, and that’s a big reason I am engaging with it at length. For a long time, virtue ethics of any kind was so underrepresented in philosophy that we virtue ethicists all had to stick together against our Kantian and utilitarian foes. I think it’s a sign of major progress that books like Seth’s are now out there.
Love of All Wisdom ~ Philosophy through multiple traditions

The House We Live In is an important book that addresses critical societal issues of our time. This is a house that we all need to buy. The states are high and our future is grim if we do not alter our current path as a nation and world. Segall offers a path forward in a compelling, engaging, readable, and thoughtful way. People need to read this book and practice the wisdom within it. Perhaps it should be required reading... for everyone.
The Humanistic Psychologist