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Everyday Ethics and Social Change: The Education of Desire [Hardcover]

Anna Peterson
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

August 24, 2009 0231148720 978-0231148726

Americans increasingly cite moral values as a factor in how they vote, but when we define morality simply in terms of a voter's position on gay marriage and abortion, we lose sight of the ethical decisions that guide our everyday lives. In our encounters with friends, family members, nature, and nonhuman creatures, we practice a nonutilitarian morality that makes sacrifice a rational and reasonable choice. Recognizing these everyday ethics, Anna L. Peterson argues, helps us move past the seemingly irreconcilable conflicts of culture and refocus on issues that affect real social change.

Peterson begins by divining a "second language" for personal and political values, a vocabulary derived from the loving and mutually beneficial relationships of daily life. Even if our interactions with others are fleeting and fragmentary, they provide a viable alternative to the contractual and atomistic attitudes of mainstream culture. Everyday ethics point toward a more just, humane, and sustainable society, and to acknowledge moments of grace in our daily encounters is to realize a different way of relating to people and nonhuman nature—an alternative ethic to cynicism and rank consumerism. In redefining the parameters of morality, Peterson enables us to make fundamental problems such as the distribution of wealth, the use of public land and natural resources, labor and employment policy, and the character of political institutions the preferred focus of debate and action.

Editorial Reviews


Highly recommended.



Anna L. Peterson has hit upon an important topic: that there is a profound disconnection between the private virtues we evince in caring personal relationships and the ethical decisions we make in the public arena. Exploring the reasons for this disconnection, Peterson contends that we need to generalize and project the best of our private virtues into the public sphere. Her book challenges readers to acknowledge this disconnection and seek ways to overcome it.

(David Harmon, the George Wright Society)

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (August 24, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231148720
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231148726
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,607,902 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Anna Peterson received her PhD from the University of Chicago Divinity School. She is professor in the Department of Religion at the University of Florida and an affiliate of the Center for Latin American Studies and the School of Natural Resources and the Environment. Her research and teaching focus on environmental and social ethics and religion in Latin America. She has published widely, including the books Martyrdom and the Politics of Religion: Progressive Catholicism in El Salvador's Civil War; Being Human: Ethics, Environment, and Our Place in the World; Residence on Earth: Utopian Communities in the Americas; and Everyday Ethics and Social Change: The Education of Desire, as well as two collaborative books and numerous journal articles. She is currently co-writing a book on teaching the ethics of sustainability for scientists and technology professionals.

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Dr. Peterson's short book is an intriguing exploration of human life and behavior focusing on our ecological context. She seems to be asking the question that many thinkers are asking: what is it that really motivates and changes human ecological behavior? While recognizing the complexity of human life, she seeks a kind of pragmatic, non-idealist answer in the everyday social practices of family and friends, parenthood and kinship. In so doing, she acknowledges (and embraces) the social nature of human life and the enormous power that our sociality holds over our attitudes and behavior. In these ways, Dr. Peterson's book is a must-read for students of human ecology like myself.

But, while I recognize that this book is a preliminary study, I wonder why Dr. Peterson does not discuss 3 areas that, I think, are vital in our quest to understand why we humans behave as we do, why we persist in our stupendous ecological foolishness, and how we can seek to change it. These are as follows: (1) Evolutionary biology would suggest that there are evolved propensities and inclinations that contribute to our ecological behavior. Things like time/distance discounting, kinship (which Dr. Peterson is actually drawing upon), the drive to survive (transmogrified into our modern economic system), and our profound sociality (inward social focus that backgrounds the ecological environment) ought to be considered. (2) Neuropsychology is making remarkable progress in understanding how the brain/body complex develops, operates, and interacts with its social (and ecological) environment. (3) The impact of story/narrative on human cognition and behavior. Humans seem to live, think, and feel in terms of narrative. How does this relate to our ecological behavior? Dr. Peterson does not discuss these things in the book.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary Book December 28, 2009
When the disconnect between foreign and social policy in the United States and the claimed virtues of family and country is so stark, this book is an important effort to claim a space for true ethical behavior. It is easy to read and connects a number of seemingly random areas of thought and behavior into a humanistic and historically placed whole. Bravo!
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