THICK AND THIN by Michael Walzer


Moral Argument at Home and Abroad
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 Walzer (The Company of Critics, 1988, etc.) thoughtfully answers objections to his many influential volumes of social criticism. Walzer attempts to set out careful definitions for various terms that have arisen in public moral debate and beefs up the concepts behind his much discussed work. For him, moral reasoning is at its best when done at the ``thick'' level, in which the many components of individual and communal decision-making, history, and particularity can be dissected, analyzed, and accounted for. But it is the ``thin'' level of moral discourse (where generally recognizable slogans and terms predominate) that most often is the meeting point for intracultural and cross-cultural discussion and debate. Thus, the thin good of ending communism or providing aid to the needy is something that large numbers of people can agree on, but the thick good of making decisions about how to achieve such goals is more difficult. After five tight chapters, Walzer posits that we are all made up of several selves--based in our histories, identities, and associations--that we juggle as we confront a world of complex decisions and ambiguous choices. It is among those selves, rather than in a community of eager discussants, that the most profound moral reasoning occurs, a commentary on what Walzer perceives as the current sad state of public discussion and moral debate. Walzer emerges as a critic willing to take his punches, but who finds himself caught in a trap of sound-bite debate and thin sloganeering. Though Walzer could show himself more aware of some issues, especially gender and race, this is a well-argued, if not always energetic, set of carefully wrought ideas on the state of public moral debate.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-268-01884-7
Page count: 105pp
Publisher: Univ. of Notre Dame
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1994


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