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A Refutation of Moral Relativism: Interviews with an Absolutist [Paperback]

Peter Kreeft
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
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From Publishers Weekly

The only boring aspect of this book is its title, which doesn't do justice to apologist Kreeft's intelligent, engaging dialogue between two fictional friends during a week of relaxation at Martha's Vineyard. Kreeft, philosophy professor at Boston College and author of more than 25 books, describes the absolutist character 'Isa as a Muslim fundamentalist from Palestine who teaches philosophy at the American University in Beirut. His interviewer and sparring partner is Libby Rawls, an African-American, liberal feminist journalist. Using a classic debate format, with impressive fairness to the opposite side, Kreeft defines relativism and its importance. Tracing relativism's evolution and history in Western philosophy, Kreeft notes that relativism is a fairly modern perspective, originating within the last few hundred years. He outlines the philosophical distinctions between it and absolutism with clarity and an integrity that will delight both the layperson and the professional philosopher. For Kreeft, relativism has eroded a collective and individual sense of accountability and contributed to social decay, yet he can see the other side, especially with regard to cross-cultural differences. Although the purpose of the book is to uphold absolutism, Kreeft outlines the relativist perspective in an approachable, respectful manner. By giving counterarguments a fighting chance, this becomes a book that may actually persuade peopleAnot just preach to the absolutist choir. (Nov.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Philosophy professor Kreeft's conceit is that he recently invited two former students (both fictional) to discuss moral philosophy and that this is the record of their conversations. One of the two, a black feminist journalist and moral relativist, interviewed the other, a Palestinian Arab professor and moral absolutist. The sparks start flying in the first session, when the professor characterizes Auschwitz as "the fruit of moral relativism" and quotes Mussolini's explanation of fascism as quintessentially relativistic. The succeeding discussion treats the definition and the history of moral relativism (it began with the serpent's temptation of Eve, it seems), whether data support relativism or absolutism, the arguments for relativism, the roots of relativism in reductionism, arguments for moral absolutism, absolutism's philosophical assumptions (e.g., that truth can be known), and, finally, "The Cause and Cure of Relativism" (sexual mores are key to both). As the title suggests, relativism doesn't stand a chance here. Boredom is a goner, too, as, employing the oldest literary method of enlivening philosophy--casting it, ... ala Plato, as a dialogue, a bare-bones play--Kreeft deftly creates recognizable characters as he advances a debate as important to the future of religion as to that of society. Ray Olson

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lots of meat on the bones Jan. 21 2004
This little book, the plot and premise of which you can read elsewhere, is a terrific introduction to the concept of moral relativism versus absolutism for anyone who wondered if you could be a firm believer in right and wrong, good and evil, and still be a nice person. (Answer: you really can't do it any other way.) But what's more, it is a great intro for a young person to the joys and stimulations of the greatest game there is in the world, the fierce but loving logical argument among friends. "Why do you believe that to be true?" is something many young people never ask their friends these days, and deep thinking and friendly argument supporting or attacking various positions has been supplanted with more popular entertainments. But if you know a young person, or an old one, who needs a good lesson in how to argue and debate, how to open their mind up and wrap it around a subject and take it apart and put it back together again, I can't think of a better intro off hand. Bravo, Dr. Kreeft.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars One-sided and poorly written Jan. 2 2003
By A Customer
Having never read any of Kreeft's books before, I started with this one, since it was an interesting subject. I had to give up about 3/4s through because it was just so awful. It was obvious what side the author was on, because the absolutist was always calm, composed and full of examples and theory, while the relativist was childish, petty and awed by the inability of her philosophy to provide counters to the arguments. It is simply not worth the time spent reading it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An exercise in absolutist apologetics April 29 2011
By Dr. Bojan Tunguz TOP 50 REVIEWER
Peter John Kreeft is a professor of philosophy at Boston College, a prolific writer and an engaging educator and public speaker. My first exposure to his writings came through his book A Shorter Summa: The Essential Philosophical Passages of Saint Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica, which was first systematic introduction to the writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Kreeft is definitely strongly influenced by Thomistic thought, and this "Refutation" reflects some of that, as the dedication too strongly implies.

The book is structured as a series of dialogues between Libby Rawls, a prototypical modern liberal relativist, and `Isa Ben Adam, a stand-in for a philosophically well versed moral absolutist. Both of them are figments of Kreeft's imagination, and maybe even parts of his own divided personality. The dialogues are deliberately fashioned after Socratic dialogues, and they serve as a vehicle through which Kreeft crafts his arguments in favor of moral absolutism.

I have had a chance to listen Kreeft give a lecture on this very topic, and based on that it would make sense to write the arguments in a form of dialogues. Kreeft is a very good public speaker and great at interacting with audience and thinking on his feet about even the most arcane topic. This is clearly reflected in the book as well, as some of potential intellectual minefields are avoided with masterful grace. Furthermore, it is quite unusual nowadays to come across a book written in a form of dialogue. The academic writing tends to be very technical and impersonal, and that sometimes detracts from otherwise a very interesting topic. However, reading a page after page of interpersonal argumentation can get overbearing after a while, especially if the give-and-take can be rather confrontational on an occasion.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Brilliant Book! Nov. 7 2003
Wow. I just finished reading Peter Kreeft's "A Refutation of Moral Relativism." I couldn't imagine a more thought-provoking, eye-opening, and genuinely meaningful book.
Kreeft, a professor of philosophy at Boston College, examines the definition, history, and importance of moral relativism. He makes an impeccable case that the current controversy over the nature of morality -- that is, whether it be relative or absolute -- is THE most crucial debate of our time.
The book opened my eyes to a whole new way of thinking about Western culture. We are so conditioned to believe that morality is relative that such conditioning affects our thinking, our language and diction, our schooling, our media, and (obviously) our morality -- our very way of life (and thus, maybe, our afterlife?). Kreeft makes the case that, with so much at stake, we cannot afford to be wrong.
A master logician and philosopher, Kreeft takes on the arguments for moral relativism one by one. His refutation is devastating; he demonstrates that most arguments for relativism are logically self-contradictory and, indeed, that morality cannot be anything other than absolute either in theory or in practice. (He even shows that tolerance--often an explicit reason for belief in relativism--is a virtue only achieved through moral absolutism.)
Afterwards, Kreeft turns his exacting lens on absolutism, its assumptions and its role in reality. He is, if nothing else, supremely objective and fair-minded.
But don't let the thought of reading about logic and philosophy turn you off! Professor Kreeft as much for the average reader as he does for anyone else. His writing is accesible, reasonable (in the most literal sense of that word), and, above all, ENJOYABLE.
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By A Customer
The answer to my question is: reputable publishers don't. Again Peter Kreeft bores us with his adolescent sense of humor, irritates us with his sophomoric oversimplifications, and congratulates himself on being so terribly clever--which he is not. The best thing to do with this book is to ignore it. Watch tv, go to the movies, watch birds, mow the lawn, paint your garage. Anything. Your time will be better spent. I gave this book 1 star only because no stars was not an option.
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Most recent customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Is this the state of apologetics?
In terms of craft, this is a pretty thin piece of work. Kreeft probably thinks he's walking some kind of tightrope of "political correctness" by pitting an ethical "relativist"... Read more
Published on July 18 2004 by DancesWithAnxiety
1.0 out of 5 stars Nothing new here.
Prof. Kreeft has 'demolished' moral relativism by showing it leads to contradictions. What's new here? It is easy to show that moral relativism is contradictory. Read more
Published on March 14 2004 by William B. Starr
5.0 out of 5 stars You Will Be Challenged. Great For Introspection!
Fantastic book, a tough read for those unwilling to give truth a chance; like a good philosopher, Dr. Kreeft makes you think. Read more
Published on July 1 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars Vital for the Examined Life
My first sample of this writer's exposition, and I am an avowed "fan". Actually got this book from my local library, read it a bunch of times, referred to it frequently in debates... Read more
Published on May 8 2003 by Bruce Ware
5.0 out of 5 stars Kreeft does it once again!
One of the best modern Catholic authors writes another great book. Kreeft's style is unique to most reader's not introduced to the Socratic method of dialogue. Read more
Published on Dec 17 2002 by Marcel LeJeune
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding
This book, as with all of Kreeft's endeavors, is great. He is the best there is out there--fully orthodox and capable of beating modernists and post-modernists at their own game. Read more
Published on Dec 6 2002 by C. J. Gawley
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
Reading Kreeft's book, I now understand how civilizations become undone. For those of us who don't want to become losers, this is an important book on a pressing subject.
Published on May 11 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars in depth critique
Dr Kreeft offers an enlightening in-depth critique of moral relativism. The format is Scoratic dialogue,which makes for an entertaining learning experience. Read more
Published on April 1 2002 by Kindle Customer
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