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03/10/2010

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Steven Shiffrin

Really interesting, Patrick. I wonder if you have read Susan Neiman's Moral Clarity and, if so, what you think of it. The reason I raise it is because it raises very large questions about the role of morality in our lives and discusses it in a way that is unusual for philosophers (not many philosophers have a New York Times notable book) to their credit. She argues that religion is to be tested by morality - not the other way around. I think you might find that part of her book attractive (though I am not sure - and here you and Michael Perry would be at odds). Her book though is primarily an argument against materialism and cynicism in favor of the enlightenment, particularly reason, idealism, and hope. So Foucault is an enemy in the book among others. I think she swings too far in this way. As I say, if you have read it, I would appreciate knowing what you think.

Patrick S. O'Donnell

Steve,

I have not read Susan Neiman's Moral Clarity (although I do have her book on evil in modern thought in my 'to read' pile) and it does sound like something I should indeed read. The argument as you characterize it is one I can live with and it reminds me of how Gandhi gave practial priority, as it were, to dharma over moksha in his understanding of Hinduism (about which he was fairly ignorant until later in his life) and his critique of the tradition was largely an ethical one.

I'm not at all anti-Enlightenment in the manner of many self-described post-modernists and I think much nonsense resulted from Adorno and Horkheimer's rather crude analysis in the Dialectic of Enlightenment. (Hence the need for works like Stephen Eric Bronner's Reclaiming the Enlightenment: Toward a Politics of Radical Engagement, 2004.) Nonetheless, I think something was lost or forgotten in the progress of modernity, at least in philosophy (hence I'm sympathetic to the late Stephen Toulmin's take on things in Cosmopolis although, again, I think it's a bit too blunt and hyperbolic) and the twentieth century left us with a rather impoverished conception of what counts for "morality." And this is where, like Murdoch, I'm an unregenerate and happy Platonist (and thus I see Foucault much like Murdoch does and not so much like Hadot although there is much one might learn from Foucault, as Ian Hacking's work reveals). I hope to speak to some of the reasons for Murdoch's fondness for Plato anon on this blog. And of course one can be an idealist and at the same time a "materialist" of sorts as was the somewhat dogmatic Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch: cf. his three volume study, The Principle of Hope (English trans., 1986); for an introduction: http://www.uta.edu/huma/illuminations/kell1.htm

I'm eager to read Neiman's book, thanks so much for letting me know about it.

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