The Ethics of Culture
Aims and Scope
Western philosophy since the Enlightenment has had little to say about everyday ethical problems, whereas modern anthropology has simply accepted culture as the source of people's ethical beliefs. In this engaging book, Samuel Fleischacker explores episodes of moral crisis from Hitler's Holocaust to Pol Pot's killing fields to Khomeini's death sentence on Salman Rushdie. As he integrates the perspectives of philosophy and anthropology, Fleischacker demonstrates that the concept of culture must now play a major role in ethics.
Fleischacker addresses the dangers of seeking ethical understanding across cultures—that we may either impose our own values on others or abandon all norms to relativism. Drawing in particular on the Jewish tradition, he sees the unique and powerful stories that each culture tells as crucial to ethical practice, and suggests that neither tradition nor authority is antagonistic to freedom. For Fleischacker, every culture is an authoritative moral tradition, although all traditions are not equally successful in promoting the happiness and freedom of the people who inherit them. If we view different cultural traditions as aiming at the same ultimate goal, then we can realistically promote ethical dialogue across cultures, as well as dissent within them.
Fleischacker pays particular attention to the paradox of our Western liberal heritage that claims to reject tradition and authority as inherently oppressive, while adopting at least a veneer of respect for all cultures other than its own. Like all cultures, he cautions, ours will always need a tradition that provides a foundation for moral judgment. We who espouse modern science still have reason to raise our children on the tradition of stories and ideals that accompanies modernity—not because it is the best tradition, but because it is our own.
- 272 pages
- CORNELL UNIVERSITY PRESS