Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Reclaiming Virtue

Reclaiming Virtue: How We can Develop the Moral Intelligence to do the Right Thing at the Right Time for the Right Reason
© 2009 Ray Bradshaw
528 pages

When I checked this out, I expected a rational defense of morality. I found this, but I found more -- I found a big, rich book incorporating philosophy, biology, psychiatry, parenting strategies, sociology, social criticism, and more in the name of living virtuously. Bradshaw believes that human beings are equipped with a natural moral intelligence. While he references the idea of God several times, his foundation is not necessarily theistic: his content doesn't rely on gods like M. Scott Peck's does. For Bradshaw, what we call "virtuous" is that which leads to our own fulfillment: virtue is its own reward, allowing us to grow and triumph over adversity.

The book is divided into three sections: the first addresses the idea of virtue by itself, drawing on both biology and culture. He references Steven Pinker's article on morality to point out what he believes are five essential parts of morality: not harming others, being fair, being loyal to your tribe, respecting legitimate authority, and exalting what is "pure, clean, and holy". In part two, "Developing Your Moral Intelligence", Bradshaw focuses on how individuals can learn to rely on their innate sense of what is good while avoiding being ensnared by obedience cultures. Here we see psychology and a bit of self-help at work, with Bradshaw encouraging his readers to embrace their "shadow" selves -- their darkness -- as well as their positive attributes. (He quotes Jung here quite a bit.) In the last section, he concentrates on parenting, and here we experience quite a bit of developmental writing, with separate sections focusing on toddlers through to adolescents. It is in this last section that social criticism shows its face, and where I expected Neil Postman to show his -- especially when Bradshaw addressed the problems caused by television and the Internet. Bradshaw writes on a wide range of topic: while he began with Aristotle, he ended with sex among adolescents.

What ties the book together is Bradshaw's repeated emphasis on prudence -- doing the right thing for the right reason, which means thinking matters through while relying on our emotional intelligence. Although Bradshaw claimed this morality is rooted in emotions, it seems to me to rely too on rational intelligence. Because there are so many topics in this book, I'm almost hard-pressed to offer a summation: it was certainly a mental hike for me. I didn't expect to encounter so much, but even though my legs are tired and my lungs are winded, I think I got something out of it. I believe the book bears returning to, as well as reccommending it.

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