Sunday, October 22, 2006

Review of Weston's A Practical Companion to Ethics

You know a book is just going to suck when there is a deliberate preachy lie on page 1. Anthony Weston 's A Practical Companion to Ethics does just that.
To be prejudiced is to have strong negative feelings about someone who is of a different ethnicity or gender or age or social class (or. . . ) from yourself.
This is not what it is to be prejudiced. And it is not like anyone who has ever thought about anything does not know this. You would think that this sentence would be qualified somewhere in the text. But it isn't. To give a better definition we would want to say that to be prejudiced is to have strong negative feelings about someone of a different type than yourself merely because they are of a different type After all, I know many young blacks who harbor strong negative feelings against George Bush, Weston's definition makes them prejudiced. I don't like Hitler much. I guess that I am prejudiced. We are after all of differeing races.

The book goes downhill from there. First sentence of page two insists that our instincts tell us to be prejudiced. It must be his instincts, as they are certainly not mine. I must have been raised by non-judgemental hippies. Second sentence on page two says that ethics says not to be prejudiced. This again is wrong. Ethics says nothing. Ethics is something you do, it is not a set of dogmas. Ethics is an activity that tells you how to think about right and wrong, not what is right and wrong.

The rest of the book is just full of those type of stupid things.

Much of the book is taken up with trite suggestions like listen to other people. See what they are saying. Maybe you'll learn something. Religion does not say that homosexuality is wrong, because people can reinterpret the Bible. Mandela, Tutu, Ghandi, and Socrates are wise. Listen to them. Say "hello" to people on the street. Volunteer in a homeless shelter to get "perspective" on homelessness. If people disagree about whether euthenasia is morally legitimate, try to think outside the box. (Here's an out-of-the-box suggestion, flip a coin.) Moral exploration does not need ethics. This is obviously true because Alice Walker told a story about a horse.

The junk is piled high and deep. How Oxford let this get published is way beyond me. Any ethicist that uses this is her classroom as a guide to ethics is obviously misleading their students, and most likely incompetent.

(Oh, and since I'm on the lookout for these things, p 68 has a reference to "restorative" justice". I'm adding that to the list of justices.)

1 comment:

Lucy said...

Since it is instinctive in me to be prejudiced against murderers, rapists and terrorists; and since many of those individuals belong to a variety of religions, races and social classes etc that are not my own, this makes me prejudiced. After all I have negative feelings toward them. According to Weston would the opposite be true; those who have no negative feelings toward these indivduals, would they be considered ethicists? With his blurred vision on what is ethics and what is prejudice, I think he would have made a fine lawyer!

PS. BTW, hippies are not "non-judgmental." :)