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First impression: Too lite, too superficial, assumes too much
on July 2, 2011
This seems to be intended to be uplifting and inspirational -- "positive" -- rather than particularly thoughtful or searching. It draws on many sources, but doesn't seek out the disagreements and tensions between those sources. It assumes that morality has five common supports or pillars, and therefore, that ethics/morality is more or less universal and stable over time. This seems highly dubious, so I would have appreciated a deeper look at the differences between moralities and mores in different cultures. But it seems that this subject is raised and then abandoned.
The mix here is Buddhism + Judaism + feminism + liberalism + contemporary American cultural influences + environmentalism + evolutionary biology + brain research. (But none of the inevitable disagreements between these perspectives are really explored.) There's nothing wrong with that -- it's rather congenial to me, but not challenging.
It seems that Matousek doesn't bother to get a lot of little things right, and simply makes stuff up when he wants to. For instance, is it meaningful or correct to say we only use twenty percent of our brains? Another example: A reference to a funny scene in "Being John Malkovich" which misunderstands the reason why everything becomes "Malkovich": The reason is that it's a feedback loop caused by the bizarre situation, *not* that the *director* ventures inside the movie star's head.
In sum: In large and in small, this raises a lot of interesting points and theories but doesn't synthesize them well, or discuss them perceptively, so I don't think it's worth a highly careful read or a thorough critique. It's really more of a feel-good, try-a-little-harder sort of book. Not as deep as your average New Yorker article, and more scattered.
If I'm wrong about this, on second glance, I'll say so, but my gut tells me this isn't a book that's worth the effort.
From *is* to *ought*: There *are* a lot of good, searching books out there, so we *ought* to pay attention to those, and challenge ourselves instead of reading Ethics Lite.