Review Of "Norms And Practices" By J. D. Wallace

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Everyone, Wallace (emer., Univ. of Illinois--Urbana-Champaign) argues, participates in practices--complex bodies of practical knowledge gained through instruction and experience, e.g., family life, medicine, soldiering. Practices are a set of structured norms; they include the ethical norms one learns alongside all the other norms a practice comprises. Ethical norms do not stand outside practices, nor are they discovered by lone thinkers. Because practices change as circumstances and knowledge change, so do some of the norms constituting the practices. Sometimes a practice acquires new goals or is radically transformed. Wallace's examples include a discussion of how and why religious tolerance came to be seen as a virtue. Wallace opposes "rule formalism" because it ignores the latent meaning of norms, but also "intuitionism" because it doesn't grasp the manifest meaning of norms. At the end of this elegant, short, highly readable book is a discussion of the tension between norms of justice and benevolence. As a Deweyan, Wallace argues that conflicts of this sort aren't unique--one always tries to harmonize practices both internally and in relation to other practices. Wallace discusses the views of T. M. Scanlon, Frederick Will, John Rawls, Martha Nussbaum, Michael Walzer, and Joshua Cohen. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-level undergraduates and above; general readers.


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