Real Ethics: Rethinking the Foundations of Morality

Review of Metaphysics 56 (4):897-899 (2003)


Real Ethics is a hard-hitting critique of contemporary moral theory from a realist point of view by John M. Rist, Professor Emeritus of philosophy and classics at the University of Toronto. His previous works include Plotinus: The Road to Reality, The Mind of Aristotle, and Augustine: Ancient Thought Baptized. Addressing what he calls the deception, equivocation, outright lying, and humbug that pass for contemporary moral discourse—humbug that extends from the universities into the marketplace, legislative assemblies, and juridical bodies—Rist offers a defense of traditional Christian morality grounded in classical metaphysics. In rather forceful language he writes that there is “no need to look in the public lavatory for the lowest common denominator.” The habits of what was low life morality have become the norms of moral and political discourse. “In the wake of any clear sense of what ‘low life’ might suggest, intellectuals are becoming ‘downwardly mobile’ and while losing their grip on an overall concept of virtue, often see such a direction as in itself virtuous and high minded or sentimentally as solidarity with the marginalized or dispossessed.”

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