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Everyday Ethics: Inspired Solutions to Real Life Dilemmas

by Joshua Halberstam

 

Nothing in this work is a revelation, but as the epigram goes, sometimes we need to be reminded more than taught.

 

The best part of Everyday Ethics is a chapter on erroneous clichés. Halberstam explains why "What goes around, comes around," "Let your conscience be your guide ", "All's fair in love and war," "All religions teach the same basic truths," "natural is better," "There are two sides to every issue," "You are responsible your [unlucky] disease," and "Moral values can't be taught," are all bad clichés. He tries the same with "Love humanity," but does not define love or clarify the matter. The word love has lots of acceptable meanings in numerous situations. Those who say love humanity probably do not mean love in any intimate sense. They probably mean feel affection, compassion or something similar. The author claims that since there is no single, physical object called humanity that love humanity is a mistake, but humans can choose affection for anything we can think. Humans are habitual anthropomorphizers and belief generators. We feel affection even for imaginary lands, life philosophies, and stuffed animals.

 

Halberstam also wonderfully explains why deep-downing (as in I believe person X is really like blank deep-down), happiness first, and intelligence first are moral mistakes. Splendidly explaining our choices of emotions, he reminds us to be careful in targeting, supporting, and evaluating emotions. The author deserves credit for writing in easy-to-read prose.

 

This work emphasizes moral psychology, yet the psychology here is not always incisive: "To forgive yourself too easily is to destroy your self-esteem." Huh? Ditching guilt boosts self-esteem rather than destroys it. This book spends some time in the vacuous self-help land of "be the right thing [emphasis in original]." And morality "is primarily about moral sensitivity." Sorry, Hoss. Morality is primarily about doing right things and well-reasoned thinking about consequences and merit. Recommended.

 

204p 1994 (H)

Book review by J.T. Fournier, last updated July 25, 2009.

 

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