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Friday, 20 February 2009

On "How to Make Good Decisions and Be Right All the Time" by Iain King

I re-surfaced this week, and I went along to a book launch at the wonderful London Review of Books bookshop, just by the British Museum.

The book was How to Make Good Decisions and Be Right All the Time: Solving the Riddle of Right and Wrong.



The author is Iain King, with whom I was at university but had not seen for some fifteen years. Iain gave an engaging and thoughtful talk, a tone which is reflected fully in the book.

Iain is especially good at demolishing conventional ethical arguments, and he is also a persuasive advocate for "value" being central to any worthwhile system of ethics.

But...

...I am afraid I see both the book and the underlying project as probably misconceived.

The book offers the possibility of moral certainty. Indeed, the title makes this offer as express and direct as it could be.

In my view, however, the ongoing possibility of one being wrong in one's moral views is a powerful civilizing force; the wider the possibilities of being wrong are shared, the better the world will be.

One problem in this world is that there is too much moral certainty, and it really shouldn't be encouraged any further.

A better task for contemporary ethics would be to restrict the bases on which there can be moral certainty, to make it more difficult for cruel and dishonest people to have the comfort of feeling they are absolutely right.

In this way, it may be that Iain's book and his project are part of the problem, and not part of the solution.

1 comment:

Gordie said...

This does sound like a good book (by which I mean, significantly better than the Daily Mail and LBC) but I agree with you that certainty is not a good thing. It's very good to get to get one's own values clear, but then we have to share them and discuss them with others.