Monday, November 14, 2011

Emrys Westacott's "The Virtues of Our Vices"

Emrys Westacott is Professor of Philosophy at Alfred University, Alfred, New York.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Virtues of Our Vices: A Modest Defense of Gossip, Rudeness, and Other Bad Habits, and reported the following:
The Virtues of Our Vices contains five linked studies in everyday ethics. The topics of the essays are: gossiping, rudeness, snobbery, humor, and respecting people’s opinions.

In the book I do two things. First, I examine these issues to try to sharpen our understanding of what we mean by the key terms and of how we usually decide whether someone should be criticized for gossiping, for being rude, for being a snob, telling sick jokes, and so on. Second, as the subtitle indicates, the book offers a “modest defense” of what some people consider dubious practices. For instance, there are times when rudeness may be the best or even the only way to get a point across to someone. Sick humor can be viewed as a way of dealing with certain anxieties, and it may help loosen the fetters imposed on us by traditional notions of the sacred and the taboo.

Page 99 is the final page of the chapter on the ethics of gossiping. Since it is a summing up of the whole chapter, it offers general conclusions. In one way this makes it unrepresentative of the book as a whole, since elsewhere, much of the time, I describe, ask questions about, and analyze concrete, down to earth situations that arise in everyday life.

But in another way p. 99 is highly representative since the general conclusions I draw about gossiping link up to those I offer concerning other “bad habits.” From p. 99:
…we should be suspicious of the censorious attitude that moralists have traditionally taken toward gossip…. In relation to both the individual and society it has many positive aspects that tend to be overlooked. A proper appreciation of these should make us less ready to condemn it and feel less guilty about doing it.
Although it may seem strange for a moral philosopher to say this, I believe we are often too moralistic, both about others and about ourselves. One of the purposes of the book is suggest ways in which we might loosen our moral corsets in order to breathe more freely.
Learn more about The Virtues of Our Vices at its Facebook page and the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue