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March 12, 2009

a new book on the way

Palgrave Macmillan has offered me a contract to publish my "Dante book" (which needs an actual title--and I'm not sure what that should be). I have been working on the manuscript for 14 years, and it has gone through many profound structural changes as my thoughts have evolved and as I've assimilated useful criticism. It is great to think that the project will be done and between covers within months.

Here is the beginning of the introduction:

This is a book of humanistic scholarship: specifically, literary criticism and moral philosophy. Those are my roots, even though I spend almost all my time on quantitative social science or policy analysis. My day job is to study and promote "civic engagement" or "active citizenship"; and it has proved useful to study those topics empirically. (Hence CIRCLE.) I don't think either phrase appears in this book manuscript. But there is a deep connection in my mind, which I hope to make explicit in a later project.

The thesis of my "Dante book" is that an indispensable technique for moral judgment is the description of concrete, particular situations in narratives. I argue that no set of principles, no procedure, no algorithm for weighing values, and no empirical data could ever replace this process of description. It is an art and a skill; some people practice it better than others, and it can be taught. But it is not the special province of any credentialed experts, such as lawyers, economists, or moral philosophers. It cannot be replaced--even in a distant utopia--by rules or systems.

In my "Dante book," I draw some conclusions about the purposes and methods of the humanities. (In fact, it has been suggested that I entitle the volume, Dante's Moral Reasoning: Reforming the Humanities.) In my other work, I follow the implications beyond the academy into the domain of politics. We cannot tell what is right and good unless active, engaged citizens discuss concrete cases. They will only be motivated to discuss and to inform their conversations with experience if they have practical roles in self-government. That is the fundamental connection between my two main interests: moral judgment and civic engagement.

March 12, 2009 9:10 PM | category: philosophy | Comments


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