Catalogue


Morality's muddy waters : ethical quandaries in modern America /
George Cotkin.
imprint
Philadelphia : University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010.
description
262 p.
ISBN
0812242270 (hardcover : alk. paper), 9780812242270 (hardcover : alk. paper)
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
imprint
Philadelphia : University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010.
isbn
0812242270 (hardcover : alk. paper)
9780812242270 (hardcover : alk. paper)
catalogue key
7113688
 
Includes bibliographical references and index.
A Look Inside
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Choice on 2011-01-01:
Historian Cotkin (California Polytechnic State Univ.) makes two main arguments here. The first is that a better knowledge of history can help clarify thinking about moral and ethical questions and, concomitantly, that more familiarity with moral philosophy would be equally beneficial to historians and history. Secondly, he argues for greater moral complexity (or "muddiness") and humility, and warns of the dangers of unreflective certainty and absolutism in moral thinking. After an introductory chapter on Hannah Arendt's philosophical and historical explorations of evil, Cotkin examines five specific topics--the deliberate bombing of civilians in WW II, the My Lai "massacre" in Vietnam, John Howard Griffin's racial "passing" in Black like Me (1961), capital punishment, and the decision to invade Iraq. Philosophers and historians are likely to find the material here familiar and on the "lite" side, and the topics seem arbitrarily chosen (no mention of abortion or gay rights, for example) and short on coherence. On the other hand, Cotkin is a clear-headed thinker and writer at home in both philosophy and recent US history. General readers and nonspecialists interested in current history and moral issues should find his book provocative and worthwhile. Summing Up: Highly recommended. General, public, and undergraduate libraries. K. Blaser emeritus, Wayne State College
Reviews
Review Quotes
"Cotkin is a clear-headed thinker and writer at home in both philosophy and recent US history."- Choice
"George Cotkin is one of our premier cultural historians. This book once again confirms his profound probings of the rich nuances and crevices of the American past and present."-Cornel West, Princeton University
"In Morality's Muddy Waters, George Cotkin thinks in new ways about the moral and political presuppositions of contemporary American culture and its recent past. You will not always agree with his answers, but the questions he poses about our civic life are arresting and perceptive."-Bruce Kuklick, author of Blind Oracles: Intellectuals and War from Kennan to Kissinger
"InMorality's Muddy Waters, George Cotkin thinks in new ways about the moral and political presuppositions of contemporary American culture and its recent past. You will not always agree with his answers, but the questions he poses about our civic life are arresting and perceptive."-Bruce Kuklick, author ofBlind Oracles: Intellectuals and War from Kennan to Kissinger
" Morality's Muddy Watersis a pathbreaking book that makes some of the most troubling episodes in modern U.S. history available to readers struggling with contemporary moral dilemmas of the greatest urgency. Cotkin writes with intelligence, nuance, and a deep humanity."-Casey Nelson Blake, Columbia University
"Morality's Muddy Watersis a pathbreaking book that makes some of the most troubling episodes in modern U.S. history available to readers struggling with contemporary moral dilemmas of the greatest urgency. Cotkin writes with intelligence, nuance, and a deep humanity."-Casey Nelson Blake, Columbia University
" Morality's Muddy Waterstackles big, first order questions and ranges over a half century. Cotkin. . . demonstrates the power of historical investigation and reflection to illuminate ethical problems. He prefers fact-based particularity to abstract universalizing and offers us compelling evidence of the former's strengths. He works hard to visit all sides of the ethical questions he covers. His approach is judicious, and his prose, despite the well described muddiness of his subject, is lucid."- The Common Review
This item was reviewed in:
Choice, January 2011
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Summaries
Main Description
In the face of an uncertain and dangerous world, Americans yearn for a firm moral compass, a clear set of ethical guidelines. But as history shows, by reducing complex situations to simple cases of right or wrong we often go astray. InMorality's Muddy Waters, historian George Cotkin offers a clarion call on behalf of moral complexity. Revisiting several defining moments in the twentieth century-the American bombing of civilians during World War II, the My Lai massacre, racism in the South, capital punishment, the invasion of Iraq-Cotkin chronicles how historical figures have grappled with the problem of evil and moral responsibility-sometimes successfully, oftentimes not. In the process, he offers a wide-ranging tour of modern American history. Taken together, Cotkin maintains, these episodes reveal that the central concepts of morality-evil, empathy, and virtue-are both necessary and troubling. Without empathy, for example, we fail to inhabit the world of others; with it, we sometimes elevate individual suffering over political complexities. For Cotkin, close historical analysis may help reenergize these concepts for ethical thinking and acting.Morality's Muddy Watersargues for a moral turn in the way we study and think about history, maintaining that even when answers to ethical dilemmas prove elusive, the act of grappling with them is invaluable.
Main Description
In the face of an uncertain and dangerous world, Americans yearn for a firm moral compass, a clear set of ethical guidelines. But as history shows, by reducing complex situations to simple cases of right or wrong we often go astray. In Morality's Muddy Waters, historian George Cotkin offers a clarion call on behalf of moral complexity. Revisiting several defining moments in the twentieth century-the American bombing of civilians during World War II, the My Lai massacre, racism in the South, capital punishment, the invasion of Iraq-Cotkin chronicles how historical figures have grappled with the problem of evil and moral responsibility-sometimes successfully, oftentimes not. In the process, he offers a wide-ranging tour of modern American history. Taken together, Cotkin maintains, these episodes reveal that the central concepts of morality-evil, empathy, and virtue-are both necessary and troubling. Without empathy, for example, we fail to inhabit the world of others; with it, we sometimes elevate individual suffering over political complexities. For Cotkin, close historical analysis may help reenergize these concepts for ethical thinking and acting. Morality's Muddy Watersargues for a moral turn in the way we study and think about history, maintaining that even when answers to ethical dilemmas prove elusive, the act of grappling with them is invaluable.
Table of Contents
Prefacep. ix
Introductionp. 1
The Problems of Evilp. 7
In Times of War
A Sky That Never Cared Lessp. 35
The Moral Mystery of My Laip. 77
In Times of Peace
The Hate Stare: Empathy and Moral Luckp. 113
Just Rewards? Capital Punishmentp. 135
Present Problems
Muddiness and Moral Clarity: The Iraqi Situationp. 169
Conclusion: Torture and the Torturedp. 200
Notesp. 207
Indexp. 251
Acknowledgmentsp. 261
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.

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