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« War Doesn't Work | Main | The next time you're in Xian »

July 31, 2006

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It will not surprise anyone that I found Jim Holt's review in the Sunday Times of my book, The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce (University of Chicago Press: inexpensive!), not "great." Amusing, yes; a quick read, sure. But if you have read the book (I have, actually) you realize that the review was pretty silly---though the attention, by the way, seems to have sold mucho books. To see a review by someone who understood the book see the rave by Matt Ridley in the Wall Street Journal a couple of Saturdays ago.

Holt blames me chiefly for having more than one theme related to the big theme. One of the sub-themes (pp. 8, 67, 122, 387-89, 444) was that Confucian ethics discovered virtue ethics a century before Aristotle, and in Mencius related it to "sprouts" of character, that is, to human development.
I guess the point is that before we rush off on the basis of a cute little book review to make Deep Points it's a good idea to, uh, read the book. Otherwise we're just adding to the ideological noise of Fox News and its left-wing analogues. And we couldn't want to do that, would we? (Thus the main point of the book: to get people thinking about capitalism in ways more sensible than ideologies they picked up as sophomores.)

Deirdre McCloskey

Dear Professor McCloskey,

Thank you for taking the time to comment on my post about Jim Holt's review of your book. I have not yet read the book, as you point out, but look forward to it. I will especially look for the references to Confucius and Mencius that you mention. My comment about the lack of consideration of ancient Chinese sources was aimed at Holt's discussion, not your text. He missed a perfect opportunity, it seems to me, to bring Chinese thinkers into the conversation. I am, as you might surmise, sympathetic to your project regarding virtue ethics, though I am one of those who will need some convincing that bourgeois culture, in and of itself, is an especially good generator and protector of ethical behavior.

Best,

Sam Crane

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