The Brighter Side of Human Nature, Altruism & Empathy in Everyday Life.
His work rigorously explores the question of the basic nature of the human animal. Beginning with an assessment of the rational behind our Western world's tacit, when not explicit, acceptance of the notion that man is a selfish, wholly self-serving, being, Kohn explores numerous disciplines including: biology, sociology, socio-biology, economics, psychology, social psychology, anthropology, history and philosophy, considering the many diverse contributors to our "widespread belief that our darker side is more pervasive, more persistent, and somehow more real than our other facets." (p 4) Interestingly, he notes: "From the traditionally opposed quarters of religion and science, then, we receive instruction on our innate wickedness." (p 42) While acknowledging the historically obvious and inescapable fact of man's (and woman's) brutality, violence, and destructiveness, Kohn goes on to present substantial, significant and wide ranging evidence and arguments from the above mentioned academic disciplines which taken together strongly support the contention that man is equally, if indeed, not more, disposed to other-centered/positive behavior - what he describes as "prosocial" behavior. In the end, Kohn leaves the question of what is human nature unanswered, appropriately so I think as its answer, ultimately, seems to rely on faith. This notwithstanding, he does present a compelling well reasoned comprehensive argument for the consideration, also, of humanity's innate goodness. Although I am still wrestling with this issue it seems to me that, aside from deeply engrained religious considerations, it is perfectly reasonable and possibly more accurate and/or truthful, to view man as basically a good being that occasionally does bad rather than a bad being that occasionally does good. The implications of this ostensibly minor distinction are in fact major and I will address them shortly.
In addition to the nature of human nature question which was my primary focus, Kohn presents much of value regarding the relative benefits of cooperation verses competition, particularly within the context of education; and he devotes considerable time in the closing chapter of his book effectively and forcefully arguing for the acknowledgement and acceptance of "us" as opposed to "I", that is, that we are all intrinsically related and inter-dependent and that life and even the self doesn't't make sense, is unfulfilling and meaningless outside of the context of human relationships.