Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Creating a moral society

These days I find myself frequently mulling over the concepts of morality and goodness. What makes an individual good? What makes a society moral?And how do we as individuals and communities turn the cantankerous, mean and evil aspects of life and ourselves into something right and good?

In a review of Michael Sandel's recent book Justice: What's the Right Thing To Do?, writer Vivian Gornick hones in on why I squirm when I read moral and political philosophers. They simply don't appear to be talking about real human beings. Gornick writes:
It is this—the chaos within—that is hardly ever addressed in Justice; although it is this, precisely, that is responsible for the all-important gap between practice and theory. Within that gap lies life as we actually experience it, with peace-making reason eternally in thrall to the emotional conflict that steadily undermines our ability to accord each other the required respect of acting as though others are as real to us as we are to ourselves.
Gornick's review is well worth the read, and despite my misgivings, Sandel's book looks fascinating and is now on my to-read list. But Gornick is on to something. Until we humans learn to understand, wrangle and tame our emotions, all the philosophy in the world won't save us.

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