How far, ideologically speaking, is the left from the right? 'Far from being opposed,' writes Thomas Fleming, these stances 'derive from the same tradition.' Despite obvious differences, the philosophical underpinnings of liberalism and conservatism -- universality, rationality, individualism, objectivity, and abstract idealism -- are virtually the same. According to the modern theories of philosophers such as Kant or Locke, moral conflicts can be resolved through a kind of moral algebra, clearly delineating right and wrong. The older tradition-based on Aristotle, the Talmud, and the folk wisdom of ancient Greek literature -- is more complex. Referred to as casuistry since the Middle Ages, this system of ethical discussion is based on two principles: 'there are general and universally applicable moral laws governing human conduct,' and 'these laws may not be applied simplistically and uniformly to the great variety of human circumstances and situations.' Fleming compares casuistry to ecology in its refusal 'to divorce organisms from their interactions both with each other and with their environment,' and he proposes the time has come to make a tentative approach 'to a kind of moral ecology.' Using the informal essay as his rudder (and packing it full of allusions to myths, plays, novels, and films), he tacks his way toward a nontechnical casuistry that makes allowances for human frailty as well as the everyday facts of life as kinship and friendship. Fleming is concerned with the particular more than the absolute, and though his proposal might seem to border on relativism, he is primarily concerned with (to quote Hume) 'the practice of the world' and its ability to teach us 'the degrees of our duty.'
An Eighth Day View:
In "The""Morality of Everyday Life," Thomas Fleming offers an alternative to the enlightened liberalism espoused by thinkers as different as Kant, Mill, Rand, and Rawls. Philosophers in the liberal tradition, although they disagree on many important questions, agree that moral and political problems should be looked at from an objective point of view and a decision made from a rational perspective that is universally applied to all comparable cases.
Fleming instead places importance on the particular, the local, and moral complexity. He advocates a return to premodern traditions, such as those exemplified in the texts of Aristotle, the Talmud, and the folk wisdom in ancient Greek literature, for a solution to ethical predicaments. In his view, liberalism and postmodernism ignore the fact that human beings by their very nature refuse to live in a world of universal abstractions.
While such modern philosophers as Kant and Kohlberg have regarded a mother's self-sacrificing love for her children as beneath their level of morality, folk wisdom tells us it is nearly the highest morality, taking precedence over the duties of citizenship or the claims of humanity. Fleming believes that a modern type of "casuistry" should be applied to these moral conflicts in which the line between right and wrong is rarely clear.
This volume will appeal to students of ethics and classics, as well as the general educated reader, who will appreciate Fleming's jargon-free prose. Teachers will find this text useful because each chapter is a self-contained essay that could be used as the basis for classroom discussion.