The Virtues of Our Vices

The Virtues of Our Vices: A Modest Defense of Gossip, Rudeness, and Other Bad Habits

Emrys Westacott
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    The Virtues of Our Vices
    Book Description:

    Are there times when it's right to be rude? Can we distinguish between good and bad gossip? Am I a snob if I think that NPR listeners are likely to be better informed than devotees of Fox News? Does sick humor do anyone any good? Can I think your beliefs are absurd but still respect you?

    InThe Virtues of Our Vices, philosopher Emrys Westacott takes a fresh look at important everyday ethical questions--and comes up with surprising answers. He makes a compelling argument that some of our most common vices--rudeness, gossip, snobbery, tasteless humor, and disrespect for others' beliefs--often have hidden virtues or serve unappreciated but valuable purposes. For instance, there are times when rudeness may be necessary to help someone with a problem or to convey an important message. Gossip can foster intimacy between friends and curb abuses of power. And dubious humor can alleviate existential anxieties.

    Engaging, funny, and philosophically sophisticated,The Virtues of Our Viceschallenges us to rethink conventional wisdom when it comes to everyday moral behavior.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3950-6
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    Should you tell a friend something you’ve heard about a mutual acquaintance? Would it be rude to address someone by his first name rather than using his title? What does it say about me if I laugh when someone tells a sick joke? Is it snobbish to assume thatNew York Timesreaders are likely to be better informed than people who prefer theNational Enquirer? Can I think your beliefs ridiculous while still respecting you as a person?

    Questions like these may seem small, but they are the very stuff of everyday ethical life. Books on applied ethics, especially...

  4. 1 The Rights and Wrongs of Rudeness
    (pp. 13-52)

    Rudeness is widely perceived to be a common moral failing; moreover, it is generally thought to be on the rise. In a 2002 opinion poll conducted in the United States, nearly 80 percent of respondents said that lack of respect and courtesy should be regarded as a serious national problem, and 61 percent believed that people treated each other with more respect in the past.¹ Of course, these perceptions are nothing new. Pollsters in ancient Athens, Elizabethan England, or nineteenth-century America would probably have reported similar findings. Regret (especially among older people) over the decline in moral standards (especially among...

  5. 2 The Ethics of Gossiping
    (pp. 53-99)

    According to legend, King Midas witnessed a musical contest between Apollo and Pan and let it be known that he considered Pan the finer musician. Angered at this, Apollo gave Midas the ears of a donkey to symbolize his foolishness. From that time on, Midas always wore a special hat to cover his ass’s ears and keep his shameful secret hidden. Only the king’s barber knew about the ass’s ears, and he was told that if he ever breathed a word to anyone, he would be put to death. For many years the barber managed to keep mum, but the...

  6. 3 On Snobbery: Is It Sinful to Feel Superior?
    (pp. 100-161)

    Snobbery is an important topic. In the American elections of 2004 and 2008, John Kerry and Barack Obama were regularly accused of elitism by Republicans who claimed to be on the side of “Joe Six-Pack.” Indeed, during the 2008 election theWeekly Standardran an “Obama Snobbery Watch” to document the candidate’s alleged elitist lapses. Nor was this merely a specious charge trumped up for tactical reasons by right-wingers. Serious political analysts such as CNN’s John Roberts claimed that the Democrats’ failure to win the White House in 2000 and 2004 was due to their being “perceived as a party...

  7. 4 ʺThatʹs not funny—thatʹs sick!ʺ
    (pp. 162-214)

    Humor, like dance, music, and morality, is a cultural universal. In every human society people find certain things funny and deliberately say or do things to make those around them laugh. Humor is also viewed positively by almost everyone. True, one might encounter the occasional puritan or zealot who distrusts laughter and seems to lack a sense of humor. But most normal people would hate to live in a mirthless environment. A sense of humor is usually high on any list of desirable traits we look for in a partner or friend. And our own capacity to be amused is,...

  8. 5 Why Should I Respect Your Stupid Opinion?
    (pp. 215-260)

    You have been called for jury service. The trial is complex and much hangs on the relative credibility of different witnesses, particularly those offering expert testimony regarding whether a certain medicine is likely to produce aggressive behavior as one of its side effects. A professional psychiatrist called by the defense testifies that in his opinion this effect is very likely. During cross-examination, however, the wily prosecuting counsel manages to unearth a surprising, seemingly irrelevant, but nonetheless startling fact about this “expert”: he believes that aliens from space landed in the Nevada desert around 1965 and now effectively control all branches...

  9. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 261-264)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 265-288)
  11. Index
    (pp. 289-293)