Miroslav Volf Reviews JUSTICE: RIGHTS AND WRONGS
by Nicholas Wolterstorff
Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Justice: Rights and Wrongs is a magisterial book. In it and in its smaller forthcoming companion volume Justice and Love, Wolterstorff has gotten justice right. This, in case the thrust of my terse comment wasn’t plain enough, is very high praise. I’ll register a few small gripes and suggest a shift in emphasis. But these mild criticisms, even if I am correct in making them, don’t take much away from the greatness of Wolterstorff’s extraordinary achievement or from the basic correctness of his position.
Together with two of my colleagues at Yale Divinity School, David Kelsey (emeritus) and John Hare, I have started a multiyear project entitled “God and Human Flourishing.” That project provides the angle from which I write. I will ask of Wolterstorff’s books two principal questions: What is the account of human flourishing that they contain? And what is the relation between God and human flourishing thus understood? A conception of justice and the relationship between love and justice will turn out to be central in answering both of these questions.
Part of the foundation of Wolterstorff’s proposal about justice—and about the relation between justice and love—is an account of human flourishing. He distinguishes his own account from two prevalent positions. A flourishing life is neither merely an “experientially satisfying life,” as many contemporary Westerners think, nor is it simply a life “well-lived,” as a majority of ancient Western philosophers have claimed. Instead, argues Wolterstorff, explicating the moral vision of the Christian Scriptures, human flourishing consists in “the life that is both lived well and goes well.” The “life lived well” component brings out the agent dimension of human flourishing and of the moral order that underpins it; a well-lived life is one that a person leads well. The “life goes well” component brings out the recipient dimension of human flourishing and of the moral order that underpins it; the life that goes well is one in which a person enjoys good things and right kinds of relationships. In a sense, Wolterstorff’s third account of human flourishing is a synthesis of the prevalent two.
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JUSTICE: RIGHTS AND WRONGS
Hardcover: Princeton UP, 2008.
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NY TIMES review:
“What Are the Odds a Handy, Quotable Statistic
Is Lying? Better Than Even”
It’s hard to resist a book that tells you that most people have more than the average number of feet. Or that researchers have found that Republicans enjoy sex more than Democrats do. Michael Blastland and Andrew Dilnot delight in bringing such facts to our attention — and then in explaining them away.
Because of amputations, birth defects and the like, the average number of feet per person across the human population is slightly fewer than two. As for those randy Republicans, the information that matters is that men vote Republican more than women, and also say that they enjoy sex more than women say that they do.
“The Numbers Game” grew out of a popular BBC radio show called “More or Less”; Mr. Blastland is the show’s creator, and Mr. Dilnot its former host. Their book appeared in Britain two years ago under the title “The Tiger That Isn’t,” and though it has been “extensively revised” for its American edition and, more mysteriously, given a new title, it still retains a British orientation.
That’s O.K. Its examples travel well, as do the authors’ lucid, unruffled style and their wholesome commitment to public enlightenment. “The Numbers Game” is no “Fun With Math” divertissement; its aim is to render its readers a little smarter about statistics, to make better citizens of them. It’s a sugar-coated civics lesson.
Most of us, Mr. Blastland and Mr. Dilnot observe, expect numbers to do too much. We like their precision and want to believe that statistics can tell us all we need to know about the world. But precision comes at a price: before you can count something, you have to define what it is you’re counting, and often that’s not as simple as it sounds.
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THE NUMBERS GAME: The Commonsense Guide to
Understanding Numbers in the News, in Politics, and in Life
Michael Blastland and Andrew Dilnot
Hardcover: Gotham Books, 2009.
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A Review of Aristotelian Philosophy:
Ethics and Politics from Aristotle to MacIntyre
Kelvin Knight, who previously edited The MacIntyre Reader, has several goals in this new book. He identifies three explicitly: first, “to present an interpretive narrative of the formation of MacIntyre’s philosophy”; second, “to chart the main course through the history of ideas taken by MacIntyre’s Aristotelian tradition, from Aristotle to himself”; and third (the book’s “unifying intention”), “to argue that Aristotelianism has now been revitalized once again, by MacIntyre” (222-23). Weaving these together is an emphasis on the “revolutionary” character of MacIntyre’s views. Unlike either Aristotle or the Aristotelian tradition, which Knight characterizes as frequently legitimating elitist and exclusionary politics, MacIntyre offers a theory of the virtues that is inclusive, egalitarian, and deeply opposed to the global capitalist order of (post)modernity. Knight achieves his goals with varying degrees of success, and at times the attempt to juggle so many balls at once leaves his narrative somewhat disconnected, as the effort to trace out an Aristotelian tradition over centuries is punctuated by sideways glances at various interpretive disputes. This is most pronounced in the third chapter, where in a mere 35 pages Knight follows Aristotle’s path through the remarkably diverse cast of Luther, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Heidegger, and Gadamer, not to mention several lesser figures and a handful of contemporary thinkers. Knight seems to recognize the problem, admitting, “This book is victim to the author’s overnumerous intentions” (222). He is, nevertheless, more successful than not. In particular, his account of MacIntyre’s development into a “revolutionary Aristotelian,” supplementing Thomist Christianity with a residual fidelity to Marx, is both helpful and persuasive.
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Ethics and Politics from Aristotle to MacIntyre.
Paperback: Polity Press, 2007.
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