Thick and thin : moral argument at home and abroad /

Main Author: Walzer, Michael.
Format: Book
Language: English
Published: Notre Dame : University of Notre Dame Press, c1994.
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Review by Choice Review

In Thick and Thin, Walzer, an eminent political theorist, pursues the relationship between what he calls the "thin" morality of universal precepts, generally prohibitions against obvious wrongs, and the "thick" morality of particular societies. The relationship between the two kinds of norms, which recalls St. Thomas Aquinas's natural law with varying content, is developed in regard to concerns of distributive justice, discussed by Walzer at greater length in Spheres of Justice (CH, Oct'83); social criticism, discussed at greater length in Interpretation and Social Criticism (CH, Sep'87); international relations; and the nature of the self. Walzer is, as ever, a brilliant and engaging essayist. Much of the discussion in this brief book is highly interesting, especially the first chapters in which the main distinctions are laid out. One can only wish Walzer had developed his position at greater length, with more sustained arguments for his claims. The book can be recommended for all readers, including those not familiar with Walzer's other, more substantial works. G. Klosko; University of Virginia

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Library Journal Review

Walzer's aim in this book was to expand the arguments about distributive justice, social criticism, and nationalist politics that appeared in his Spheres of Justice (LJ 1/15/83) and to include the ``new world marked by the collapse of the totalitarian project.'' Of the five essays here, three have appeared previously, in one form or another, in scholarly journals. The essays have a rambling, anecdotal quality more suitable to their presentation in 1993 as the Loyola Lectures in Political Analysis than to the more stringent requirements for publication as a monograph. In addition, the arguments are often too technical for the lay reader yet not rigorous or detailed enough for the academic. Walzer (social sciences, Inst. for Advanced Study, Princeton) has not added substantively to his earlier account, making this a marginal purchase for academic collections.-Leon H. Brody, U.S. Office of Personnel Mgt. Lib., Washington, D.C. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Walzer (The Company of Critics, 1988, etc.) thoughtfully answers objections to his many influential volumes of social criticism. Walzer attempts to set out careful definitions for various terms that have arisen in public moral debate and beefs up the concepts behind his much discussed work. For him, moral reasoning is at its best when done at the ``thick'' level, in which the many components of individual and communal decision-making, history, and particularity can be dissected, analyzed, and accounted for. But it is the ``thin'' level of moral discourse (where generally recognizable slogans and terms predominate) that most often is the meeting point for intracultural and cross-cultural discussion and debate. Thus, the thin good of ending communism or providing aid to the needy is something that large numbers of people can agree on, but the thick good of making decisions about how to achieve such goals is more difficult. After five tight chapters, Walzer posits that we are all made up of several selves--based in our histories, identities, and associations--that we juggle as we confront a world of complex decisions and ambiguous choices. It is among those selves, rather than in a community of eager discussants, that the most profound moral reasoning occurs, a commentary on what Walzer perceives as the current sad state of public discussion and moral debate. Walzer emerges as a critic willing to take his punches, but who finds himself caught in a trap of sound-bite debate and thin sloganeering. Though Walzer could show himself more aware of some issues, especially gender and race, this is a well-argued, if not always energetic, set of carefully wrought ideas on the state of public moral debate.

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