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Everyday Morality by Mike W. Martin


Mike W. Martin’s first four chapters cover moral theories, including Kohlberg and Gilligan’s arbitrary schemas of moral development. Consequences carry little weight in either. Good idea number 828: Read moral theory elsewhere. 


Then comes the surprise.


Beginning in chapter five, Martin's work gets much better, summarizing topics in a concise, well-organized style. Covering hundreds of issues in an overview, does not lend itself to strong arguments, but Everyday Morality delivers important points and ideas to entertain. The butchering to briefness ratio is low for an introductory text in any field. The chapter end questions are the best, most thoughtful I have seen in any textbook in any subject.


On love, he writes the trite but often ignored: Giving love matters more than being in love. Many varieties of sex exist, he argues, more than the loving or degrading dichotomy. Sex matters. It affirms the connection between flesh and consciousness. It transforms identities. Martin writes that love is a universal moral responsibility. Love is not merely for the lucky.


Mild jealousy, Martin argues, is beneficial. It shows we care, that somethone is highly valued. Never feeling jealous is an indication of not caring.


Martin distinguishes envy from jealousy. Envy is partly a feeling of inferiority arising from what someone else has. Jealousy is based on the potential of losing someone valued. Indignation should not be confused with envy. Indignation is anger at a perceived wrong. Ressentiment, “feeling inferior, hostile and impotent,” while refusing to do right things is closely related to envy.


Types of inadequate commitment animated by Martin include lip service, sorry efforts, giving in to obstacles, not giving a damn, and evasion of knowledge about duties. Martin divides cruelty into cruelties of indifference and cruelties of terrible desires such as sadism.


Weakness of will, he writes, often arises from ambivalences. Continual weakness of will leads to self- alienation; one becomes foreman of a shell. We should do right things especially when not respected by others. We should not mistake tokenism and hand wringing for doing our best. Caring individuals are more than tolerant. They promote others’ goods, actively looking for moral information and determining their duties.


Self-deception plays a big role in this work. Some mistakes associated with self-deception include:

·        Judging one’s self good because of a few minor good deeds.

·        Excusing wrongs because others also do them and thinking “at least I’m not like so-and-so.”

·        Mistaking lip service or trivial actions for major actions.

*    Choosing bad friends and environments.

·        Believing inaccurate flattery.

·        Unwillingness to face one’s potential.

·        Cultivating a flat emotional life.


Martin explains our moral responsibilities to others and ourselves, distinguishing the respect owed to individuals because they are moral beings from the respect owed for their good characters.


His treatment of moral evasion and self-trickery is better than other introductory texts. Summarizing the mental tricks of Albert Speer,

Martin suggests busyness, narrow moralism, and ignoring consequences were important.


Martin covers everyday indignations--rudeness--and bigger issues--work, family, racism, sexism, hunger, and homosexuality.


A few parts herein should be called Everyday Status Quo Herd Morality. For example, the case against surrogate parenting is weak, even weaker than the case against paying people for contributing body parts. Martin lists trivial and questionable claims about exploitation and being treated as an object as reasons for rejecting surrogate parenting. He never mentions the colossal benefit the child gets by gaining a life. He cites the possibility of women backing out on surrogate contracts, but not holding women to contracts they sign, treating them as if they were capricious air heads who can not do beneficial things on their own and make their own decisions, is harmful and degrading. Much of this work suffers from too much emphasis on virtues and arbitrary rules and too little emphasis on consequences.


Surprisingly, Martin does not mention some helpful solutions to weak will such as scorn, indignation, binding pre-commitments, radical environmental changes, cutting Gordian knots, and radical philosophical changes.


This work, however, does succeed an inspiration for self-examination. Recommended.


I reviewed the 1989 edition. Book review article by J.T. Fournier, last updated June 29, 2009.


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