Saturday, January 10, 2009

Moral Clarity: A Review of 36 Pages

I'm jumping the gun, I know, and this can't rightly be called a review. I was jumping the gun last week, too, when I emailed several friends and suggested that they buy this book, even though I hadn't yet reached page 20.

Some time ago, I wrote about why I can't ever answer the question "What's the Best Book You've Ever Read?" "Best" is just such a nebulous term. There are most entertaining books, and best written books, and the books that touched me the most, and books that made me think.

But in the end, I favor the books that make me think, even when they're novels. My favorite experience with a book is barely being able to get through it for the need to set it aside and write about the ideas that have sprung into my head while reading it. When I'm torn because I need to keep reading and I need to stop reading to write, that's my idea of a good book.

With that standard in mind, Moral Clarity: A Guide for Grown-Up Idealists may be a great book. And I may never finish it, but I'll have reams of new writing by the time I get to the end.

It's true that points of disagreement, holes in the presentation, are part of my motivation to write and extrapolate and expound, but Neiman herself points out that the book isn't and can't be an exhaustive analysis of the philosophers and philosophies she incorporates.

Even now, I'm resisting the temptation to slip in a little paragraph or two on the oversight in the treatment of religious philosophy on "good", and I really want to analyze Socrates' assertion that loyalty and good can be at odds, but I'll bite my tongue. Or something. If that all sounds dense and intimidating to you, don't be fooled--it's easy reading and I'd probably be done with the book right now (instead of on page 36) if it didn't keep sending me off on these tangents.

If you think, if you like to think, if you'd like to start thinking, I can't recommend this book enough. At least the first 36 pages. I don't hesitate to make the recommendation on that basis because I've already gotten my money's worth out of those 36 pages.

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