EVERYDAY ETHICS by Joshua Halberstam


Inspired Solutions to Real-Life Dilemmas
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 How to become a mensch--a decent person--is the question posed by Halberstam (Philosophy/NYU) in this slim volume marbled with insight and clichÇ. ``Relax,'' recommends Halberstam. ``You won't find any preaching here.'' But the man does preach, or at least offer pounds of avuncular advice, perhaps the necessary price of writing on morality. His interest isn't in social issues--abortion, capital punishment--but in personal moral behavior. Whatever the pickle, his solution is old-fashioned: common-sense, integrity, and responsibility win the day. Sometimes Halberstam's advice is obvious: ``maintain friendships with people with different interests''; ``get yourself friends who know how to laugh.'' He distinguishes between love and lust (``falling in love is a decision'') and counsels each person to develop his or her own theory of sexual morality. He excoriates ``creeps''--verbose name-droppers flushed with self-interest--and, more interestingly, also raises doubts about ``saints,'' who can grow so devoted to duty that self-righteousness drowns out compassion. Rules of proper discourse emerge: Don't argue with arguers; avoid pet peeves; don't debase the language by, say, calling Republicans ``fascists.'' Nothing new or controversial here. But things pick up when Halberstam steps into messier ground. He suggests that we bear responsibility for our emotions, which carry moral weight; that we must judge others objectively, without making excuses; that morality isn't a matter of taste, and that we must therefore beware of confusing cultural relativity (eating different foods in different lands) and ethical relativity (accepting foreign customs that violate basic human rights). He ends on a high note, by shooting down nine moral clichÇs: ``What goes around comes around''; ``moral values can't be taught,'' etc. Like Dad's good advice, but, despite real effort on the author's part, still delivered with too much dull oatmeal and yucky vitamins.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-670-84247-8
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1993


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