Understanding Others. "Ethical Encounter: The Depth of Moral Meaning", by Christopher Cordner. [review]
Christopher Cordner’s project of restoring to moral philosophy a notion of moral depth is so modestly presented that one could miss the enormity of what he is attempting and of what this book could help achieve. At the most general level, Cordner’s book profoundly shifts the focus of our moral thinking, both in moral philosophy and in everyday life. We are too immersed, he believes, in the Enlightenment notion that morality is about ‘improving things’, where the improvement is assumed to be in our external situation. The notion that we should ‘help people’ is also often based on the assumption that it is the results of our actions that matter. Insofar as these notions neglect the spirit in which such help or improvement may be undertaken (whether, say, it is done condescendingly or with compassion), they are relatively superficial. In their place — or rather, to provide them with their proper foundation — Cordner articulates what he claims are our deeper, but more covert, moral intuitions. According to these, it is appropriateness of response that is most fundamentally required of us. Since this obliges us to attend to the meaning of what we and others do, moral problems become primarily ones of adequate understanding and only secondarily of ‘doing the right thing’.