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Moral Freedom: The Search for Virtue in a World of Choice Hardcover – April 1, 2001


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition, First Printing edition (April 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393048438
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393048438
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,141,408 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"Is loyalty still appreciated in America? Can one still be honest in America today? Is sexual promiscuity a sign of bad character?... What kinds of acts and behaviors are unforgivable?" Using interviews with a diverse group of Americans ranging from gays and lesbians in the San Francisco area and mill workers in small-town America to born-again Christians and Silicon Valley suburbanites sociologist Wolfe (One Nation, After All) poses these and other questions as he surveys the moral landscape of contemporary America. His team's questions focus on the traditional virtues of loyalty, honesty, self-restraint and forgiveness. Throughout their conversations, Wolfe and his interviewers found that even though contemporary Americans reject what they believe are outmoded versions of these virtues, these same Americans struggle to fashion their own versions of them. Moral freedom, Wolfe notes, "means that individuals should determine for themselves what it means to lead a good and virtuous life." He traces the rise of moral freedom to the 1960s and 1970s, and contends that, although it may have some regrettable consequences, this individualistic and pragmatic method of forging morality will shape our moral discourse well into the 21st century. Although there is little new here for keen observers of contemporary American culture and morality, Wolfe's study has the potential to change the ways we think about society and morality in the same way that Robert Bellah's classic Habits of the Heart changed the ways we think about society and religion. (Apr.)Forecast: Wolfe's poll was done in conjunction with the New York Times Magazine, which published the results in a special issue. Wolfe's last book was widely reviewed, and this should be as well.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Wolfe here discusses the results of a national public opinion poll he helped design on American beliefs about values, which he supplemented with detailed interviews of people from eight different U.S. communities. These ranged widely, from the Castro district of San Francisco to San Antonio. Though many writers argue that Americans live in a moral crisis, Wolfe does not concur. He claims, instead, that Americans are still firmly committed to morality, although current values often differ from those of the past. The notion that people are of necessity sinful has lost force. Many of Wolfe's respondents view people as capable of articulating their own values in freedom. The changed emphasis affects a number of particular issues. For example, the virtue of honesty is now taken as more flexible than it was in past eras, and forgiveness has become more central as a trait to be cultivated. Wolfe's sensitive study is highly recommended. David Gordon, Bowling Green State Univ., OH
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Panopticonman on May 22, 2001
Format: Hardcover
You've got to hand it to Alan Wolfe. Building on "Whose Keeper" and "One Nation After All," Wolfe's latest book "Moral Freedom" is a tour de force which examines Americans' views of morality in the age of expressive individualism and rampant consumerism. Using a methodology similar to the one he employed in "One Nation After All," Wolfe interviews a random selection of 200 Americans in 6 geogrphical locations ranging from the Castro district in San Francisco to a small midwestern town in Iowa.
Coupling these interviews with a nationally representative telephone survey conducted with CBS, Wolfe gets down to cases fast. Asking eternal moral questions, e.g. what is virtue, what is vice?, Wolfe comes to a startling conclusion: Americans have for the most part jettisoned traditional teachings of religion in favor of a looser, more pragmatic situational ethics. Although some of Wolfe's respondents hew to very specific religious beliefs, even these individuals are loathe to cast the first stone against those who might not agree with their beliefs.
In terms of narrative strategy, Wolfe uses the gay and lesbian population of the Castro district as one end of the moral spectrum, the small town folks in Iowa as the other pole, and finds they have a lot in common with all the other folks in between. He does stop and point out differences along the way, of course, but in the main, finds considerable agreement. The extended quotes from Americans to whom Wolfe and his colleagues talk demonstrates how smart and thoughtful the average American really is -- as Wolfe showed us in "One National After All." But there is something troubling about their articulateness, too.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 8, 2004
Format: Paperback
Wolfe provides a litmus test of where we are in America today as we move towards greater moral freedom. He does not provide personal pronouncements of what should be considered right or wrong. Rather, he interviews people from varying social backgrounds to get their views on matters ranging from indulgence of the self to forgiveness of others. Wolfe captures Americans' search for a moral compass in world that has drastically changed from their parents' time. He shows how individuals are trying to cultivate their own sense of morality while trying to balance allegiance to one's self and to society as a whole. In the face of monumental change, American conversation regarding our values has been polarized between two competing, and extreme, dogmas. Wolfe provides a balanced framework to assess where we're headed. "Moral Freedom" is a must read for anyone wishing to find solutions that work for mainstream America.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Bryan D. Kline on June 21, 2007
Format: Paperback
This would be a great book to read with a book club or a couple friends. The content makes for great conversation. It is also written in a way that makes reading easy.
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15 of 39 people found the following review helpful By James H. Toner on March 13, 2003
Format: Paperback
The subtitle of Alan Wolfe's latest social study is "The Impossible Idea That Defines The Way We Live Now." Professor Wolfe purports to study the idea of moral freedom and its applicability to the brave new world in which we live. This is a highly literate, reasonably well-designed popular study, the general conclusions of which are,insofar as Prof. Wolfe's interviews and surveys extend, no doubt generally accurate. For Prof. Wolfe tells us, in essence, that ours is a secular society in which relativism, materialism, subjectivism, and hedonism are displacing Christian humanism. That will come as no surprise to anyone. These isms, corrupt as they are, have led to a long train of sorrow and suffering: abortion, drug abuse, rampant crime, mass murder, and ethical confusion and chaos. When the idea of the sacred disappears, it will be replaced by a new god, and his reflection can be seen daily in our bathroom mirrors. One's complaint about Prof. Wolfe's study does not concern the question of its accuracy but rather the issue of whether he has even the foggiest notion of what "moral freedom" really is. He defines it as the idea "that individuals should determine for themselves what it means to lead a good and virtuous life" (p. 195),which, of course, means that we should, much as Charles Reich once told us, "build [our] own philosophy and values" (p. 216)and re-define or re-design our own god (because the "old" one just isn't accommodating enough [cf. p. 226]).
But of course this is not moral freedom at all; it is, rather, licentious and libidinous anarchy. Prof. Wolfe's (selected?
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