WORDS AND VALUES: Some Leading Words and Where They Lead Us by Peggy Rosenthal

WORDS AND VALUES: Some Leading Words and Where They Lead Us

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Semantics with a sting: a forceful, if not always fair, lucid, if not always lively, assault on such shibboleths of humanism as ""self,"" ""growth,"" ""development,"" ""relativity,"" ""(w)holism,"" ""systems,"" ""interpersonal,"" etc. Rosenthal currently bears the modest title of Adjunct Instructor of Humanities at Rochester Institute of Technology; but she displays a masterful assortment of interpretive skills--philosophical, historical, psychological--in demythologizing the faith of American secularism. With dry detachment, she exposes the contradictions of glorifying ""development"" (organic metaphors deny free will, endless growth implies meaningless insatiability, ""maturity"" has neither a future nor a clear function); of practicing ""cultural relativism"" (one has to condone outrageous behavior); of eagerly pursuing ""community"" and ""meaningful relationships"" (which, like authentic selfhood, vanish when made a conscious goal). Rosenthal takes her logical scalpel to the works of Joseph Fletcher and Harvey Cox (Christian ethical relativism is a contradiction in terms), to the muddled language of Carl Rogers (where ""feelings,"" which can mean either attitudes or perceptions, are carelessly canonized), to the maunderings of guru Dr. Leo Buscaglia (whose awestruck invocation of ""potential"" and ""fulfillment"" is patently absurd). And so on. ""Values Clarification,"" Kodak's ""decision-free photography system"" (i.e., the disk camera), the assumption that everything ""evolutionary"" is good--all wither beneath Rosenthal's trenchant analysis. The only problem with this otherwise salutary exercise is that it ignores or damns with faint praise the grand liberal insights whose degenerate contemporary expression Rosenthal so acutely nails. And while she's right to warn us that psychobabble, sociologese, and similar patois are misleading, she shows us precious little of their honest alternatives. A deft performance, nonetheless.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1983
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press