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Posted July 20, 2000
The Moral Sense, An In-Depth Reflection on Moral Character
James Q. Wilson presents a scholarly compilation of illustrative (if not evidentiary)data commendably drawn from many disciplines across ethnic and cultural boundaries to define the roots and dimensions of our moral self: an innate sense of fairness, empathy, duty and self-discipline that transcends cultures, yet seems enhanced in the arms of a solidly-nurtured family life. Perhaps a little too heavy on principles of social Darwinism, at times Wilson's morality seems epitomized in a well-behaved colony of ants. Readers well versed in moral development will find the discussion enthralling; those of us who are less versed will perhaps be befuddled about what to do with it all. All readers will value The Moral Sense as a rich resource, teeming with meaningful food for thought about what morality is and how we get it. Wilson claims to have written The Moral Sense 'to recover the confidence with which [people] once spoke about virtue and morality' and not 'to make a case for some currently disputed moral question,' when in fact, whether and how we speak of virtue and morality is a currently disputed moral question. Nonetheless, and commendably, Wilson's sophisticated reflection and analysis more or less rise above political rhetoric. Kudos for the proposition that runaway cultural sensitivities must not impede a common moral expectation. Oh, and be forewarned, its compactness makes it a somewhat slow read, albeit a worthwhile one.
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