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Philosophy / Political Theory / Religion



Compromised Goods
A Realist Critique of Constructionist Politics
Ruth Lessl Shively


A call for the revival of moral truth as an essential of political debate

Wary of moral skeptics but reluctant to lay claim to moral truth, American political theorists and philosophers, like many citizens, have increasingly sought a middle ground. In this ambitious book, Ruth Lessl Shively contends that there is no such place, and that those who claim to occupy it are merely serving the subjectivist cause. A powerful critique of what she calls moral constructionism—the notion that moral truth is solely determined or constructed by society—Compromised Goods makes a compelling argument for moral realism as the only workable answer to the real dilemmas of political theory and moral life.

Shively argues that, because compromise is so admired in American culture, the notion of a moral middle ground has a natural popular appeal that makes it all the more dangerous to democratic principles and practice. And, because constructionism promises painless answers to moral skepticism—solutions that don't disrupt the dominant intellectual assumptions of the day—it serves only to keep theorists from confronting the real nature of our problems and the real necessity of moral realism. Her exposure of this position and its flaws, from its failure to account for ordinary moral practices to its political impotence, is at the same time an eloquent defense of moral realism.

Ruth Lessl Shively is assistant professor of political science at Texas A & M University.

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cover of Compromised Goods is a plain black background with red lettering.

February 1997

LC: 96-038828 JA
224 pp.   6 x 9

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Cloth $27.95 s
ISBN 978-0-299-15270-3
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