Thursday, November 17, 2005
Moral Courage: Taking Action When Your Values Are Put to the Test
by Rushworth M. Kidder
While this book contains many interesting and illuminating anecedotes of personal courage (or the lack thereof), it fails on one key point.
Kidder argues against moral relativism, suggesting (based on interviews) that honesty, respect, responsibility, fairness, and compassion are universal values. These are just words, however, and they can mean very different things to different people. To people in a very communal culture, responsibility might be used to mean the individual's responsibility to the community. In more individualistic cultures (and in the philosophy of Ayn Rand) it would more likely mean responsibility to self. To some fairness means equality, while to others it can mean extreme discrimination. A refutation of moral relativism demands that different people agree upon the same meanings, not merely the same words.
With this failure, Kidder's entire case falls down. He presents moral courage as "the string" holding together the pearls (of moral values). When those very values are in question, moral courage becomes undefinable.
Tags: book, review, nonfiction, ethics
Saturday, November 05, 2005
Between Politics and Reason: The Drug Legalization Debate
by Erich Goode
In this brief analysis, Goode takes the reader beyond the value statements and ideology that characterize most conversation about drugs in the US, analysing the real cost in dollars and lives, and how the equation might change under various legalization proposals. He thoroughly presents the physical and social effects of most of America's commonly abused drugs, including cocaine, heroin, marijuana, tobacco, and alcohol. In the end, Goode suggests a number of ways to mitigate the damage of tobacco and alcohol, many of which have been implemented since the book's publication.
The book's shortcoming, if any, is that it completely ignores America's most commonly used drug, caffeine. He gives just half a sentance on the drug, saying that it is a mild stimulant with no euphoric effect.
If you have any interest at all in the subject, you will find this a valuable book. It is concise, but offers thorough references, and aside from the above-mentioned suggestions, reads like a recent publication.
Tags: book, review, nonfiction, drugs