INTEGRITY by Stephen L. Carter


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In the footsteps of fellow virtuecrats such as William Bennett and Michael Lewis, another ringing defense of the obvious. Few will dispute Carter's (The Culture of Disbelief, 1993, etc.) passionate assertion that integrity is a good thing. He is also in favor of honesty, civility, and democracy (and by extension, Mom and apple pie). Integrity, in his conception of it, is a kind of (infinity)bervirtue, for it involves, ""discerning what is right and what is wrong [and] acting on what you have discerned, even at personal cost."" To make sure everyone knows that you have integrity, you should also announce ""that you are acting on your understanding of right from wrong."" Carter is aware of all the traditional problems with integrity (doesn't a fanatical Nazi have integrity?), and in his legalistic way, the Yale law professor enunciates a series of carefully couched codicils designed to close off such immoral loopholes. But as is the case with many legal arguments, these are not so much convincing as they are clever. Carter's understanding of integrity is also both too wide and too shallow. Trying to fluff his simple thesis to book length, he covers in excessive detail such trivialities as sportsmanship and college recommendations. He is also, for a moralist, startlingly parochial. His eight-principle program for improving democracy (apart from ranging far beyond integrity) has limited application. Most of his examples are narrowly American-focused, and some are so current as to be meaningless. His thoughts on American involvement in Bosnia, for example, are already out of date. While he gives obeisance to Aristotle and Locke, he also avoids much of the major philosophical work on integrity. Carter has a supple mind and readable style, but these virtues are overwhelmed by the overinflated and underrealized material.

Pub Date: March 13th, 1996
ISBN: 0060928077
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Basic