The Ordinary Virtues

The Ordinary Virtues

Moral Order in A Divided World

Book - 2017
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This is a study of what ethical principles and practices people around the world hold in common and what institutions best allow virtue to flourish. It is based on a Carnegie Council project on comparative ethics that Michael Ignatieff has run for the past three years. Most works of comparative ethics look at formal systems of belief. What, for example, do Christian and Confucian texts say about the role of the family? What do the Koran or John Rawls say about treatment of the poor? This is, by contrast, a work of "lived ethics." Ignatieff took a team of researchers around the world to examine what values and ethical beliefs guide diverse people in practice. They went to places where people are living under unusual stresses or where contemporary social challenges are particularly clear. They went to Brazil, for example, to discuss life where corruption is a serious problem, to Sarajevo to talk about reconciliation, to Queens in New York to talk about diversity, and to Fukushima, Japan, to talk about disaster and recovery. Overall, they found more commonality than they were expecting, that whatever formal systems of belief prevail, people tend to orient themselves in similar ways around the values of trust, tolerance, forgiveness, reconciliation, and resilience. But where people are suffering they often doubt that others share their ethical beliefs and begin to circle the wagons to defend their own group. We shouldn't expect citizens to be heroes. So what institutions and political arrangements encourage or inhibit virtue? Overall, Ignatieff says, liberal constitutionalism seems most effective, but only as long as poverty and inequality are not allowed to get out of hand.
Publisher: Cambridge, Massachusetts : Harvard University Press, 2017
Copyright Date: ©2017
ISBN: 9780674976276
Branch Call Number: 170 IGN 2017
Characteristics: 263 pages ; 23 cm


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Jan 15, 2019

This is a very worthwhile and engaging examination by an author with wide experience and credentials. The critical review above (from the Library Journal) seems very whiny and inaccurate - a very ungenerous view of a deeply considered, timely and significant study. I recommend the book and dismiss the mean review. Its breadth of information about varied settings and their challenges is intensely interesting and its thoughtful approach to global and local ethics is very welcome in this confusing and often depressing era.

Jun 30, 2018

This is a timely book, given the current focus of some populist governments on refugees and the politics of division, and the emerging political discussion around the moral dilemmas that wealthy societies face, and in particular the role of governments and the growing threats to liberal democratic principles. Ignatieff visited major cities in 8 countries over 3 years to investigate and report on how globalization is affecting the "ordinary" citizen, from the perspective of human rights, ethics and values: is a global value set being established? In this book Ignatieff vividly describes what he found: some highly multicultural cities were working well, some had such extreme economic inequality that violence was barely being controlled, and in some cases the historic ethnic conflict was so extreme that communities barely tolerated each other. He spoke at length with leaders and with ordinary people, to better understand both the sources of division and of tolerance and acceptance in each of these far-flung cities. He provides a thoughtful analysis and discussion of his findings, puts them in context and offers some sage and hopeful advice, concluding with a discussion of the difference between the concrete, personal "ordinary virtues" and the abstract, institutional "universal human rights": the former being ultimately more effective, especially when guided and empowered by the latter.

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