Read Moral Clarity: A Guide for Grown-up Idealists by Susan Neiman Free Online
Book Title: Moral Clarity: A Guide for Grown-up Idealists|
The author of the book: Susan Neiman
ISBN 13: 9781847920447
Edition: Bodley Head
Date of issue: June 4th 2009
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 929 KB
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Reader ratings: 3.8
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When I was a freshman at Yale, Susan Neiman was one of my professors in a huge, team-taught, writing-intensive course in literature, philosophy, history, and political science called Directed Studies. What I particularly remember about her was the the other philosophy professors had an admiration for her that bordered on a schoolboy crush, in part because it was widely rumored that she actually understood the works of Immanuel Kant.
Moral Clarity is really sort of three books in one. The first, and probably the best, is an examination of the philosophical underpinnings of modern progressive ideals in the Enlightenment, with particular reference to the works of, you guessed it, Immanuel Kant. If you want a lively history of Enlightenment moral thinking, you can't beat this book. Neiman even makes Kant seem comprehensible, although, as when I was a freshman, I expect that my understanding will fade quickly unless refreshed.
The second book is one in which Neiman argues that modern progressives have given up all their best rhetorical weapons by refusing to use moral language, to talk about things like good and evil and heroism. Perhaps her arguments here are more aimed at academics. I've never had a problem saying that torture or discrimination are evil, and that alone hasn't helped me convince anyone who voted for the Bush administration or Prop 8 to do otherwise.
Third, Neiman presents a number of anecdotes or case studies to illustrate concepts like evil and heroism from a progressive point of view. Not every example she gives is a winner - I love a good neep about Homer as much as anyone, but her chapter on Odysseus still strikes me as a bit of a digression. I do like her examination of the way the Holocaust has become the benchmark of evil in our discourse, and how we really need to develop a vocabulary for talking about evil that allows for things less absolutely evil than the planned genocide of 12 million people to be labeled as evil.
In all: much better as history of philosophy than as a plan for political action, but still a worthwhile and thought-provoking read.
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