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Anger and Forgiveness"Are You There Alone?"10 Good Questions about Life and DeathA Casebook of Ethical Challenges in NeuropsychologyA Companion to BioethicsA Companion to BioethicsA Companion to GenethicsA Companion to GenethicsA Companion to Muslim EthicsA Cooperative SpeciesA Critique of the Moral Defense of VegetarianismA Delicate BalanceA Fragile LifeA Life for a LifeA Life-Centered Approach to BioethicsA Matter of SecurityA Mirror Is for ReflectionA Mirror Is for ReflectionA Natural History of Human MoralityA Philosophical DiseaseA Practical Guide to Clinical Ethics ConsultingA Question of TrustA Sentimentalist Theory of the MindA Short Stay in SwitzerlandA Tapestry of ValuesA Very Bad WizardA World Without ValuesAction and ResponsibilityAction Theory, Rationality and CompulsionActs of ConscienceAddiction and ResponsibilityAddiction NeuroethicsAdvance Directives in Mental HealthAfter HarmAftermathAgainst AutonomyAgainst BioethicsAgainst HealthAgainst MarriageAgainst Moral 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Values and ScienceCutting to the CoreCyborg CitizenDamaged IdentitiesDeaf Identities in the MakingDeath Is That Man Taking NamesDebating ProcreationDebating Same-Sex MarriageDecision Making, Personhood and DementiaDecoding the Ethics CodeDefining DifferenceDefining Right and Wrong in Brain ScienceDefining the Beginning and End of LifeDelusions of GenderDementiaDemocracy in What State?Demons of the Modern WorldDescriptions and PrescriptionsDesert and VirtueDesire, Practical Reason, and the GoodDestructive Trends in Mental HealthDeveloping the VirtuesDid My Neurons Make Me Do It?Difference and IdentityDigital HemlockDigital SoulDignityDignityDisability BioethicsDisability, Difference, DiscriminationDiscrimination against the Mentally IllDisordered Personalities and CrimeDisorders of VolitionDisorientation and Moral LifeDivided Minds and Successive SelvesDoes Feminism Discriminate against Men?Does Torture Work?Doing HarmDouble Standards in Medical Research in Developing CountriesDown GirlDrugs and JusticeDuty and the BeastDworkin and His CriticsDying in the Twenty-First CenturyEarly WarningEconomics and Youth ViolenceEmbodied RhetoricsEmerging Conceptual, Ethical and Policy Issues in BionanotechnologyEmotional ReasonEmotions in the Moral LifeEmotions in the Moral LifeEmpathyEmpathy and Moral DevelopmentEmpathy and MoralityEmpirical Ethics in PsychiatryEncountering NatureEncountering the Sacred in PsychotherapyEngendering International HealthEnhancing EvolutionEnhancing Human CapacitiesEnoughEros and the GoodErotic InnocenceErotic MoralityEssays on Derek Parfit's On What MattersEssays on Free Will and Moral ResponsibilityEthical Choices in Contemporary MedicineEthical Conflicts in PsychologyEthical Dilemmas in PediatricsEthical Issues in Behavioral ResearchEthical Issues in Dementia CareEthical Issues in Forensic Mental Health ResearchEthical Issues in the New GeneticsEthical LifeEthical Reasoning for Mental Health ProfessionalsEthical TheoryEthical WillsEthically Challenged ProfessionsEthicsEthicsEthicsEthics and AnimalsEthics and ScienceEthics and the A PrioriEthics and the Discovery of the UnconsciousEthics and the Metaphysics of MedicineEthics at the CinemaEthics at the End of LifeEthics Case Book of the American Psychoanalytic AssociationEthics Done RightEthics ExpertiseEthics for EveryoneEthics for PsychologistsEthics for the New MillenniumEthics in CyberspaceEthics in Everyday PlacesEthics in Health CareEthics In Health Services ManagementEthics in Mental Health ResearchEthics in PracticeEthics in PsychiatryEthics in PsychologyEthics in Psychotherapy and CounselingEthics of PsychiatryEthics without OntologyEthics, Culture, and PsychiatryEthics, Sexual Orientation, and Choices about ChildrenEvaluating the Science and Ethics of Research on HumansEvilEvil GenesEvil in Modern ThoughtEvil in Modern ThoughtEvolution, Gender, and RapeEvolutionary Ethics and Contemporary BiologyEvolutionary Psychology and ViolenceEvolved MoralityExperiments in 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ShadowsOverdosed AmericaOxford Handbook of Psychiatric EthicsOxford Studies in Normative EthicsOxford Studies in Normative Ethics, Volume 7Oxford Textbook of Philosophy of PsychiatryPassionate DeliberationPatient Autonomy and the Ethics of ResponsibilityPC, M.D.Perfecting VirtuePersonal AutonomyPersonal Autonomy in SocietyPersonal Identity and EthicsPersonalities on the PlatePersonhood and Health CarePersons, Humanity, and the Definition of DeathPerspectives On Health And Human RightsPharmaceutical FreedomPharmacracyPharmageddonPhilosophy and This Actual WorldPhilosophy of BiologyPhilosophy of Technology: The Technological ConditionPhysician-Assisted DyingPicturing DisabilityPilgrim at Tinker CreekPlaying God?Playing God?Political EmotionsPornlandPowerful MedicinesPractical Autonomy and BioethicsPractical EthicsPractical Ethics for PsychologistsPractical RulesPragmatic BioethicsPragmatic BioethicsPragmatic NeuroethicsPraise and BlamePreferences and Well-BeingPrimates and PhilosophersPro-Life, Pro-ChoiceProcreation and ParenthoodProfits Before People?Progress in BioethicsProperty in the BodyProzac As a Way of LifeProzac on the CouchPsychiatric Aspects of Justification, Excuse and Mitigation in Anglo-American Criminal Law Psychiatric EthicsPsychiatry and EmpirePsychological Concepts and Biological PsychiatryPsychology and Consumer CulturePsychology and LawPsychotropic Drug Prescriber's Survival GuidePublic Health LawPublic Health Law and EthicsPublic PhilosophyPunishing the Mentally IllPunishmentPursuits of WisdomPutting Morality Back Into PoliticsPutting on VirtueQuality of Life and Human DifferenceRaceRadical HopeRadical VirtuesRape Is RapeRe-creating MedicineRe-Engineering Philosophy for Limited BeingsReason's GriefReasonably ViciousReckoning With HomelessnessReconceiving Medical EthicsRecovery from SchizophreniaRedefining RapeRedesigning HumansReducing the Stigma of Mental IllnessReflections on Ethics and ResponsibilityReflections On How We 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Materials on International Human RightsThe Moral Psychology of AngerThe Age of CulpabilityThe Age of CulpabilityThe Aims of Higher EducationThe Almost MoonThe Altruistic BrainThe American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Forensic PsychiatryThe Animal ManifestoThe Animals' AgendaThe Art of LivingThe Autonomy of MoralityThe Beloved SelfThe Best Things in LifeThe Big FixThe Bioethics ReaderThe Biology and Psychology of Moral AgencyThe Blackwell Guide to Medical EthicsThe Body SilentThe BondThe Book of LifeThe Burden of SympathyThe Cambridge Companion to Virtue EthicsThe Cambridge Companion to Virtue EthicsThe Cambridge Textbook of BioethicsThe Case against Assisted SuicideThe Case Against PerfectionThe Case Against PunishmentThe Case for PerfectionThe Case of Terri SchiavoThe Challenge of Human RightsThe Character GapThe Code for Global EthicsThe Colonization Of Psychic SpaceThe Commercialization of Intimate LifeThe Common ThreadThe Connected SelfThe Constitution of AgencyThe Cow with 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Breast Cancer in Medicine and BioethicsThe War Against BoysThe War for Children's MindsThe Whole ChildThe Woman RacketThe Worldwide Practice of TortureTherapy with ChildrenThieves of VirtueThree Generations, No ImbecilesTimes of Triumph, Times of DoubtTolerance Among The VirtuesTolerance and the Ethical LifeTolerationToxic PsychiatryTrauma, Truth and ReconciliationTreatment Kind and FairTrusting on the EdgeTry to RememberUltimate JudgementUnborn in the USA: Inside the War on AbortionUndermining ScienceUnderstanding AbortionUnderstanding CloningUnderstanding EmotionsUnderstanding EvilUnderstanding Kant's EthicsUnderstanding Moral ObligationUnderstanding Physician-Pharmaceutical Industry InteractionsUnderstanding TerrorismUnderstanding the GenomeUnderstanding the Stigma of Mental IllnessUnderstanding Treatment Without ConsentUnhingedUnprincipled VirtueUnsanctifying Human Life: Essays on EthicsUnspeakable Acts, Ordinary PeopleUp in FlamesUpheavals of ThoughtUsers and Abusers of 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How Much?Why Some Things Should Not Be for SaleWisdom, Intuition and EthicsWithout ConscienceWomen and Borderline Personality DisorderWomen and MadnessWondergenesWould You Kill the Fat Man?Wrestling with Behavioral GeneticsWriting About PatientsYou Must Be DreamingYour Genetic DestinyYour Inner FishYouth Offending and Youth Justice Yuck!
Alice Crary is known for her work on ethics and feminism, and on the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein. In her new book she shows how these diverse interests come together. Her target is the widespread view that ethics is about making judgments and the assumptions about language that she sees as underlying this view. As she sees it, ethics is a dimension of all discourse, not a particular area of discourse in itself. This has been argued before by philosophers such as Stanley Cavell, Cora Diamond, and Iris Murdoch, but Crary sees herself as offering something new because she attacks the assumptions behind the alternative view explicitly and systematically. The real value of Crary's work, then, lies not so much in the conclusions that she reaches but in how she reaches these conclusions, and from what she manages to break free in the process. It is, in part, the very undeniability of her conclusions that shows she has gone the right way and done the right thing in rejecting views that would have made it harder for her to reach them.
The book comes in three parts. The first three chapters, grouped into a section called "Argument," focus on work done by Wittgenstein and J. L. Austin, primarily in the philosophy of language. This is not easy going, and is not really suitable for undergraduates or general readers. Crary's interest here is in what it means to be objective and rational. Against the standard, "narrower" conception, Crary argues that rationality is inseparable from affect. Any rational or objective assessment of facts requires the use of linguistic concepts, and these are learned in the context of lives in which certain kinds of attention and importance are given to some things and not to others. When one learns to speak, one adopts a certain practical orientation to the world. This orientation is inevitably both individual (speaking is not parroting or being programmed) and evaluative (involving some view on what matters or what is best in life). Thus everything that a person says, writes, or thinks (in some language) can express a moral outlook. This is not to deny that objectivity and rationality are possible. It simply denies the value of a certain picture of what objectivity and reason consist in. Sensitivity to use and context is important in understanding the meanings of words and actions. We cannot hope to achieve objectivity by abstracting from our human sensitivity, as some philosophers think we must.
This is to make a point about ethics and what it means to think ethically by starting with philosophical considerations about language. It is also possible to go the other way. Examples of ethical thinking can teach us something about language. There are such things as moral blindness and deafness. Indeed there is considerable evidence that a great many people have been blind to at least some of the sufferings of women, for instance. It is not simply that these people have not noticed certain neutrally-available facts. Rather, their perspective on life has made them incapable of understanding women's unhappiness (except, perhaps, as something irrational). A rational understanding of the position of women in society requires the adoption of a certain kind of perspective, one that women might be better situated to achieve. The indifferently unjust are less likely, after all, to see their injustice than are their victims. Understanding then--real, objective, rational understanding--requires a certain perspective, a certain affective response to a state of affairs. This is the kind of point that Crary makes in chapter 5, part of the section called "Illustrations."
The remaining part of the book consists in chapters 4 and 6. Here Crary discusses the moral lessons taught by works of fiction by Jane Austen, E. M. Forster, and Leo Tolstoy (in chapter 4), and Henry James and Theodor Fontane (in chapter 6). Her readings are subtle and insightful, and show that dominant philosophical ideas about what moral thinking means are incompatible with an adequate response to sophisticated examples of moral thought. Bad moral thinking is not simply a matter, for instance, of making bad judgments. It involves also blindness, lack of imagination, insensitivity, deafness to irony, and so on. Avoiding such failures is not simply having certain emotions tacked on to an already-functioning intellect. They are themselves intellectual failures. Chapter 6 argues that focusing too much on moral judgment, as philosophers overwhelmingly tend to do, is moralistic, and thus a moral failing as well as a philosophical one.
No philosophical work is beyond criticism, but it is not easy to think of significant flaws in Crary's book. Her numerous references to "conversations" about philosophy can be misleading (she means discussions in the scholarly literature, not personal chats she has had, as one might think at first), but that is hardly a big problem. Some will wonder how Wittgenstein, who claimed to advance no theses and who saw little point in moral philosophy, can be used to support a controversial thesis in moral philosophy. But the conclusions that Crary reaches about ethics are only barely debatable. George Eliot was no fool and feminists are not making a big fuss about nothing. What is controversial is the judgment she passes on various philosophical theories, and Wittgenstein would have had no truck with these either. If the book has a flaw it is probably that it is so ambitious, although this is not really a bad thing either. Crary takes on whole schools of thought at a time, sometimes in only a few pages. Her arguments are powerful, but there is plenty of room for debate about how adequately she has presented or dealt with any particular contrary position. Indeed there is bound to be considerable debate about the arguments in the first part of the book, especially. Such conversations are to be welcomed, and the prospect of them only adds to the excitement of this important new examination of moral thinking.
© 2007 Duncan Richter
Duncan Richter, Ph.D., Virginia Military Institute
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