American pragmatism and delight in clashing values characterize this well-informed survey of contemporary moral issues....


THE MORAL IMAGINATION: Confronting the Ethical Issues of Our Day

American pragmatism and delight in clashing values characterize this well-informed survey of contemporary moral issues. Tivnan (The Lobby: Jewish Political Power and American Foreign Policy, 1987) sees Americans as increasingly unsure about what they believe, as the moral authority of ethnic and religious traditions plays less of a role in our society. He attempts to assemble the best arguments on all sides of the current heated debates on abortion, suicide, euthanasia, the death penalty, and affirmative action. Devoting a separate chapter to each, he begins with a brief history of the issue concerned, follows with a sampler of the arguments for and against, and concludes with his own opinion. This format makes for stimulating reading. On assisted suicide we learn of ancient philosophers' very nuanced views for and against, see how these were synthesized by Christian thinkers such as Aquinas, then observe the question blown open again by the opposing views of Kant and Hume before we reach the contemporary controversy involving the Hemlock Society and Dr. Jack Kevorkian. Here, as in most cases, Tivnan takes a liberal stance. On the fiercely contested topic of abortion, he gives an excellent summary of pro-life and pro-choice views, including feminists on both sides, and holds that abortion is the sometimes justifiable taking of a human (but pre-personal) life. Tivnan occasionally fudges on thorny philosophical issues (e.g., he equates martyrdom with suicide) and seems content with a merely legal or social stance. He celebrates American diversity and suggests that beyond tolerance there are no objective moral values; his heroes are Isaiah Berlin, John Dewey, and Richard Rorty. For Tivnan, truth is simply the way a society describes how it determines what is right. He does not ask how this would apply in Germany of the 1930s or in contemporary China, where human rights are dismissed as a purely Western cultural phenomenon. Provocative reading, whatever your point of view.

Pub Date: April 1, 1995


Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1995