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The Decline of Moral Vocabulary and Intellectualism

May 25, 2012

Two fantastic quotes. The first, from New York Times columnist David Brooks,

Understanding heroism and schmuckdom requires fewer Excel spreadsheets, more Dostoyevsky and the Book of Job.

And the other from U.S. historian Eric Foner,

In the last generation, the values of the market have come to permeate every aspect of our society. The notion that the public good may be measured in other than economic terms has pretty much been abandoned.

The decline of moral reasoning appears to coincide with the fall of U.S. public intellectualism, as Harper’s magazine president and publisher John R. MacArthur so eloquently argues. MacArthur suggests that our “sovereignty as citizens has been largely stolen by the political and financial oligarchy.” I agree. So much of what we do seems to have been “commoditized,” including moral action and “goodness.”

Sadly, as Brooks notes, we now “convert moral questions into resource allocation questions; questions about how to be into questions about what to do.” Defining the purpose of life, however, requires “literary distinctions and moral evaluation,” which, MacArthur laments, has been lacking for at least a generation.


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