A Comprehensive History of Western Ethics: What Do We Believe?

A Comprehensive History of Western Ethics: What Do We Believe?

A Comprehensive History of Western Ethics: What Do We Believe?

A Comprehensive History of Western Ethics: What Do We Believe?

Synopsis

Professor Warren Ashby speaks both to university students in history and ethics and, more generally, to those individuals interested in but perplexed by their own moral values as they attempt to create satisfying lives in an increasingly complex world. Ashby includes the great thinkers and periods that have shaped Western ethics: the Greeks, the Hebrew prophets, the Roman Stoics, St. Augustine, the medieval ethicists, the Renaissance and Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Romantics, and the radical revolutions of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the period from 1850 to 1920, Ashby notes, the transformations wrought by the four great modern thinkers - Darwim, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud - both extended and significantly challenged the traditional core beliefs of the West and, as a result, bestowed upon us a profound moral crisis, one that we have not yet successfully met. Consequently, as we stand at the brink of the twenty-first century, with its further technological breakthroughs and social upheavals, how will we deal with the moral uncertainties that await us? In his final chapter Ashby contends that while remaining alive to our Western ethical heritage, we will have no choice but to confront its basic presuppositions as we move into a more pluralistic society, for he asserts that the ideology of the future cannot be exclusively Western; future history cannot be purely Western history. So, while this history of ethics cannot tell us how to live, it can offer to the reader what is prerequisite to a more satisfying life: an insightful and inclusive history of where our own ethical beliefs have come from and a sense of the challenges that await us all. A Comprehensive History of Western Ethics: What Do We Belive? embraces all who are concerned with expanding human rights, finding new ways to think about moral experience, and discovering an ethical perspective appropriate to their own

Excerpt

"We are children of the Greeks," my father begins in chapter 1, "and we are also," he adds in chapter 2, "the children of Israel." Those of us who have made our homes in the Western world are the inheritors of these two illustrious traditions; but more than just being the children of these parents, we are also parents ourselves, passing on to the next generation the accumulated values and beliefs that have supported us, the beliefs we have embodied in our lives.Thus we are part of a process of over two millennia, a process we are often unconscious of, living as we do so deeply immersed in a brief generational span of its life.

This book is the work of a lifetime, and not even the lifetime of one man only, though certainly it is that. My father began writing it in the early 1950s, and had completed an early draft when he was given a Ford Foundation Fellowship in 1952-53, which allowed him to conduct research at the Princeton University Library, while my brother, sister, mother, and I lived in Havertown, Pennsylvania.But more than this I think, as you can see from the final chapter, the book really began for my father in the living relationships of his own family and their living relationships to a particular perception of American history as seen by a boy growing up on the banks of the James River in Newport News, Virginia.For it is a central thesis of the book that we are individuals who live in community, being ourselves shaped by these communities as we try to give shape to them in turn.

At his death in October 1985, my father left behind a completed manuscript.By then it had been through numerous drafts. Authors had been added, authors deleted. a whole new section on Romanticism had been included.There were still changes my father wished to make, and in fact he . . .

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