Stephen had kindly placed his reference to a recent and extremely negative review of the Moral Fool only at the end of the no longer much frequented discussion of this book in this forum. I had requested the publishers of the review, the editors of the Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, to be granted the right to a reply. This request was denied. I might thus as well say a few words here.
It is not really worth the effort to respond in detail to the many often incorrect and contradictory claims of the reviewer. In general, he accuses me of not having written a book in the only genre that he seems to deem academically appropriate, namely an exegetical study on the secondary literature in one’s field. Of course, as will be most obvious to any reader, I intentionally did not make such an attempt in the Moral Fool, but rather tried to develop a perspective of “negative ethics” derived from various philosophical sources, including Chinese ones and to relate them to some current social issues and viewpoints.
Some colleagues and friends have asked me if I knew why the reviewer had been so extraordinarily hostile. I did not know this, since I had never heard his name before. However, I subsequently became aware of some “dots” which perhaps are entirely disconnected: Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews often commissions its contributions directly through requests of their editors. P.J. Ivanhoe is an editor of this journal. In the review, I am accused of not citing major authorities on Chinese Philosophy, among which the reviewer lists P.J. Ivanhoe. The reviewer, in the acknowledgments in his book on W. James, thanks P.J. Ivanhoe. I co-published a critical review of Prof. Ivanhoe’s religious interpretation of the Zhuangzi some years ago in Philosophy East and West.
This is my first attempt to contribute something to this blog–or any blog for that matter. Sorry, it’s nothing original, just a recycled interview from “religion dispatches”.
Ten Questions for Hans-Georg Moeller on The Moral Fool: A Case for Amorality
(Columbia University Press, 2009)
What inspired you to write The Moral Fool? What sparked your interest?
The book was written as result of a certain personal uneasiness about the increasing prevalence of moral communication in contemporary society. I found that not only the obvious moral hypocrisy often contained in public statements by, for instance, politicians, preachers, or academics, bothered me, but more generally, the undeserved prestige of ethical language. It seems to me that ethical communication has almost reached a pathological level in our society, bringing about, in Hegel’s words, a certain “frenzy of self-conceit.”
The book is aimed at making such pathologies visible—for instance in the mass media, in politics, in warfare, and in legal procedures, but also on a personal level, when people are urged to practice and experience a “morality of anger.”
What’s the most important take-home message for readers?
Morality (moral communication and moral thought) is not in itself “good.” And: Dare to take ethics not so seriously.
Is there anything you had to leave out?
The book is very much focused on moral pathologies in North America. I think that moral pathologies in other regions (Germany, China, for instance) show quite different symptoms. Maybe one time there will be a catalogue of the various forms of moral pathologies in different places and at different times. Continue reading