Mind Over What’s the Matter

From The New York Times:

Blackburn190 It is very hard to write well about ethics, and especially so in a way that engages and interests that elusive phantom of writers’ imaginations, the general reader. But Susan Neiman’s previous book on ethics, “Evil in Modern Thought,” was widely and favorably reviewed, and the present work is a worthy successor. Neiman’s particular skill lies in expressing sensitivity, intelligence and moral seriousness without any hint of oversimplification, dogmatism or misplaced piety. She clearly and unflinchingly sees life as it is, but also sees how it might be, and could be, if we recaptured some of the hopes and ideals that currently escape us.

In other words, like its predecessor, “Moral Clarity” is a sustained defense of a particular set of values, and of a moral vocabulary that enables us to express them. Neiman sees these values as neglected or threatened all along the political spectrum. They received their strongest defenses in the moral thought of the Enlightenment, in David Hume and Adam Smith, but more particularly in Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Immanuel Kant. So the book is not only a moral polemic, but a powerful argument in support of the resources that these Enlightenment figures left us. Neiman, an American who is currently the director of the Einstein Forum in Berlin, boldly asserts that when Marxism, postmodernism, theory and fundamentalism challenge the Enlightenment they invariably come off second best. I agree, and I wish more people did so.

More here.