Against Liberalism

Front Cover
Cornell University Press, 1997 - 244 pages

In this profound and yet accessible book, John Kekes discusses moral wisdom: a virtue essential to living a morally good and personally satisfying life. He advances a broad, nontechnical argument that considers the adversities inherent in the human condition and assists in the achievement of good lives.

The possession of moral wisdom, Kekes asserts, is a matter of degree: more of it makes lives better, less makes them worse. Exactly what is moral wisdom, however, and how should it be sought? Ancient Greek and medieval Christian philosophers were centrally concerned with it. By contrast, modern Western sensibility doubts the existence of a moral order in reality; and because we doubt it, and have developed no alternatives, we have grown dubious about the traditional idea of wisdom.

Kekes returns to the classical Greek sources of Western philosophy to argue for the contemporary significance of moral wisdom. He develops a proposal that is eudaimonistic--secular, anthropocentric, pluralistic, individualistic, and agonistic. He understands moral wisdom as focusing on the human effort to create many different forms of good lives. Although the approach is Aristotelian, the author concentrates on formulating and defending a contemporary moral ideal. The importance of this ideal, he shows, lies in increasing our ability to cope with life's adversities by improving our judgment.

In chapters on moral imagination, self-knowledge, and moral depth, Kekes calls attention to aspects of our inner life that have been neglected because of our cultural inattention to moral wisdom. He discusses these inner processes through the tragedies of Sophocles, which can inspire us with their enduring moral significance and help us to understand the importance of moral wisdom to living a good life.

From inside the book


A Eudaimonistic Conception of Good Lives
The Socratic Ideal and Its Problems
Permanent Adversities
Judgment and Control
The First Mode of Reflection 595
The Second Mode of Reflection
The Second Mode of Reflection continued
The Third Mode of Reflection
The Ideal of Justice
Growing in Moral Wisdom
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About the author (1997)

John Kekes is the author of many books, including The Roots of Evil, The Illusions of Egalitarianism, and The Art of Life, all from Cornell.

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