The Ordinary Virtues: Moral Order in a Divided World

Harvard Univ. Sept. 2017. 272p. notes. index. ISBN 9780674976276. $27.95. PHIL
Moral progress is the concept that moral improvement is possible. It assumes objective moral truths exist and that individuals, cultures, states, or groups have room for moral improvement. Its inverse, moral regress, is the concept that it is possible to behave less morally than we currently do. In this work, while presenting no arguments, Ignatieff (president & rector, Central European Univ.) seems to hold that moral progress is impossible, but that moral regress is fleeting. Responding to what he calls "moral näiveté," Ignatieff purports to engage in ad hoc folk experimental philosophy, traveling the world to discover whether there is moral consensus across cultures. His conclusion is that people don't care about human rights but instead a loose collection of ordinary virtues; furthermore, these virtues needn't be consistent, and people's adherence to them ebb and flow with adversity and self-interest. The author eschews the impartiality and evidence associated with experimental philosophy; instead, each chapter consists of vignettes peppered with divisive language and proclamations of moral failings by faceless strawmen tilting at moral progress.
VERDICT Not recommended.
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