Cover image for The morality of everyday life : rediscovering an ancient alternative to the liberal tradition
The morality of everyday life : rediscovering an ancient alternative to the liberal tradition
Fleming, Thomas, 1945-
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Columbia : University of Missouri Press, [2004]

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270 pages ; 24 cm
Hell and other people -- Citizens of the world -- Too much reality -- Growing up un-absurd -- Problems of perspective -- The myth of individualism -- Goodbye, old rights of man.
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BJ1031 .F576 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In The Morality of Everyday Life , Thomas Fleming offers an alternative to the enlightened liberalism espoused by thinkers as different as Kant, Mill, Rand, and Rawls. Philosophers in the liberal tradition, although they disagree on many important questions, agree that moral and political problems should be looked at from an objective point of view and a decision made from a rational perspective that is universally applied to all comparable cases.

Fleming instead places importance on the particular, the local, and moral complexity. He advocates a return to premodern traditions, such as those exemplified in the texts of Aristotle, the Talmud, and the folk wisdom in ancient Greek literature, for a solution to ethical predicaments. In his view, liberalism and postmodernism ignore the fact that human beings by their very nature refuse to live in a world of universal abstractions.

While such modern philosophers as Kant and Kohlberg have regarded a mother's self-sacrificing love for her children as beneath their level of morality, folk wisdom tells us it is nearly the highest morality, taking precedence over the duties of citizenship or the claims of humanity. Fleming believes that a modern type of "casuistry" should be applied to these moral conflicts in which the line between right and wrong is rarely clear.

This volume will appeal to students of ethics and classics, as well as the general educated reader, who will appreciate Fleming's jargon-free prose. Teachers will find this text useful because each chapter is a self-contained essay that could be used as the basis for classroom discussion.

Author Notes

Thomas Fleming holds a doctorate in classics and is the editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, published by the Rockford Institute in Rockford, Illinois. He is the author or coauthor of several books, including The Politics of Human Nature and The Conservative Movement.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

For at least 50 years, one rallying cry of reform has been for politics, economics, and so forth on a human scale, by which is meant a politics, economics, and so forth responsive to ordinary peoples' concerns in their families, neighborhoods, churches, clubs, and workplaces. Fleming perhaps sympathizes with the sentiment, but he points to the stumbling block to realizing it--the set of hallmarks of the modern (that is, since the seventeenth century) ethical tradition that constitutes what he calls liberalism. Modern liberalism and modern conservatism alike use those hallmarks--universality, rationality, individualism, objectivity, and abstract idealism--to determine what is ethical. He subjects those hallmarks to scrutiny, arguing that each has contributed to the common person's loss of effectiveness and the trivialization of common concerns and associations. Exalting objectivity, for instance, derogates the importance of such subjective interests as love, friendship, and personal and familial survival. The ancient Greeks, Romans, and Jews mostly understood that survival, the family, the community, and the material world--natural things rooted in concrete existence--must be the bases of ethics, and that human beings were limited creatures incapable of the perfections dreamed of by philosophical system builders. Writing much more accessibly and knowledgeably than most modern, professional philosophers, Fleming revivifies the body of thought with which civilization was created and without which it is disintegrating. --Ray Olson Copyright 2004 Booklist

Choice Review

This well-crafted book by Fleming (an independent scholar) restates the communitarian argument that Platonic universal idealism and post-Enlightenment liberalism fail to enlighten in matters of everyday morality, and that one needs to revive moral "casuistry" (as described by ancient Greek and early Christian philosophy and established by Alasdair MacIntryre's After Virtue, CH, Feb'82). Liberal critics will argue that much of Fleming's critique is insensitive to the subtleties of the various forms of liberalism. Libertarians will agree with much of the critique as long as coercive government is excluded from the moral decision-making process! Ethicists will point out that the precise details of the "casuistry" and actual case studies are lacking. Most philosophers dismiss the Aristotelian account of virtue as residing midway between the vices of excess and deficiency. But in the absence of some other regulatory principle to identify "the good," the whole system reduces to relativism. Although this book contributes little to the debate, it is certainly a spirited, readable introduction for those studying social and political philosophy (and perhaps ethics). A more academic treatment of the subject is Rainier Forst's Contexts of Justice (CH, Jul'03). For a neo-Aristotelian virtue-based moral theory rooted in evolutionary biology see William Casebeer's Natural Ethical Facts (CH, Apr'04). ^BSumming Up: Recommended. General readers and lower-division undergraduates. R. F. White College of Mount St. Joseph

Table of Contents

Introduction: Prisoners of Dilemmasp. 1
1. Hell and Other Peoplep. 18
2. Citizens of the Worldp. 42
3. Too Much Realityp. 69
4. Growing Up Unabsurdp. 94
5. Problems of Perspectivep. 135
6. The Myth of Individualismp. 167
7. Goodbye, Old Rights of Manp. 194
Bibliographyp. 235
Indexp. 251