Review Of "Saints And Postmodernism: Revisioning Moral Philosophy" By K. Wyschogrod

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Postmodernism calls for a radical departure from traditional ethical theory. Where fools have trod, saints rush in: taking its place must be "a narrative view of hagiographic altruism." For saints (both secular and religious) act with compassion for the Other, negate both the self and what is needful but absent in the Other, and sweep us up, not by reasoned argument, but by the "imperative force" of their lives. Although Alisdair MacIntyre breaks some new ground by stressing the centrality of narrative (After Virtue, CH, Feb'82; and Whose Justice? Which Rationality? CH, Nov'88) and Bernard Williams shows the limitations of moral theory in his Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, (CH, Oct'85), neither "forge s a new ethic in response to the radical transformation of historical circumstance." For that, Wyschogrod draws on Heidegger, Derrida, and, especially Emmanuel Levinas (Collected Philosophical Papers, 1986). She distances herself from Julia Kristeva (Powers of Horror, 1982) and other "ecstatics." What is worthwhile in such analytical philosophers as John Rawls (A Theory of Justice, CH, Sep'72), Thomas Nagel (The Possibility of Altruism, 1970), and Nicholas Rescher (Unselfishness, CH, Jun'76) can be absorbed, albeit in altered form. Jargon is mercifully absent or clarified, and the book does not presuppose a thorough familiarity with postmodern or deconstructivist writers, though that is helpful. A serious attempt at making sense of what "postmodern ethics" might be, supposing its possibility. Recommended for college and university libraries.


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