American Ethics and Public Policy

American Ethics and Public Policy

American Ethics and Public Policy

American Ethics and Public Policy

Excerpt

Nowadays a writer must begin by showing his credentials, especially if he is writing on such things as morality and politics. The reader's psyche, its integrity threatened by an unceasing flow of news, news behind the news, analysis, interpretation, admonition, and appeal, has come to a system of security regulations for its own defense: no ideas admitted without appropriate clearance. It does not matter that the credentials will receive only a cursory glance or that, if scrutinized, they can be distinguished from the counterfeit only with the greatest difficulty. The important thing is to have the talisman. A writer who begins by announcing his viewpoint not only disarms suspicion, but may even find that he is taken at his own word. And if the announcement includes his presuppositions, frames of reference, and (holy name!) methodology, scarcely anything more need be said; success with the reader is assured. Americans love frankness, and a freely admitted fault is almost better than unvarying virtue. Academically, remission of sin needs only confession, not penance.

But there is an academic sin which cannot be forgiven, the sin against specialization. Every writer must be an expert, and every expert must write only on his own specialty -- unless, to be sure, there has been ritual expiation by communion in an interdisciplinary project. Each expert thereby partakes mystically of the expertness of all the rest, and the failings of each become the virtues of all. But setting out alone, as I am, I approach the reader burdened with a presumption of guilt. Is this . . .

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