How do we responsibly talk about good and evil? What does realism really mean? How are morality and religion connected? Philosopher Susan Neiman
wants to make the tools of her trade relevant to everyday life.
These are big questions. Among the biggest we have in our moral universe of ideas. Susan Neiman
is an American scholar and philosopher. She likes taking these big questions, and thinking and writing clearly about them. One of her books was called Evil in Modern Thought
. Now, she's written another wide-ranging book, Moral Clarity: A Guide For Grown Up Idealists
Susan Neiman believes Moral Clarity requires rigorous thinking: people facing terrible choices can't simply hide behind a few lines from the Bible or from a few simple ethical nostrums. Even the timeless wisdom of the ages can be difficult to use when facing certain tricky, moral dilemmas, especially when nuance and circumstance mean choices have to be thoroughly examined: for instance, when choices are being made between the lesser of two evils.
Susan Neiman directs a think tank in Germany called The Einstein Forum a place that draws thinkers together where they can chew on the sorts of ideas she likes to consider.
Susan Neiman and Ideas host Paul Kennedy sat down recently for a talk about these issues. They started their conversation about ethics by going to one of the great sources for moral ideas: The Hebrew Bible. They began by talking about 2 crucial stories involving the Patriarch Abraham.
The first story was Abraham's plea to God to save at least some of the inhabitants of the sinful cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. God had sworn to destroy them. But the Abraham pleaded and bargained for the lives of at least some of the inhabitants.
It's a story at the heart of the moral imagination of the West. And that's where this Ideas episodes starts.
Moral Clarity: A Guide For Grown Up Idealists is published by Harcourt Inc.