The book am reading now is quite filled with little thought-provoking stuff. Just some to share:
It sometimes seemed to Isabel as if her education brought her doubt and uncertainty, while Grace had been confirmed in the values of traditional Edinburgh. There was no room for doubt there; which had made Isabel wonder, who is happier, those who are aware, and doubt, or those who are sure of what they believe in, and have never doubted or questioned it?
There was no reason why she should become involved in the affairs of others, but she seemed to be irresistably drawn into them. And every time that she did it, it was because she imagine that there was a moral claim on her. This view of the world, with a seemingly endless supply of potential claims, meant that anybody with a problem could arrive on her doorstep and be taken up, simply because the requirement of moral proximity – or her understanding of moral proximity – had been satisfied.[…] “We can’t have moral obligations to every single person in this world. We have moral obligations to those who we come up against, who enter into our moral space.”
It was so easy dealing with people who were well-mannered. They knew how to exchange those courtesies which made life go smoothly, which was what manners were all about. They were intended to avoid friction between people, and they did this by regulating the contours of an encounter. If each party knew what the other should do, then conflict would be unlikely. And this worked at every level, from the most minor transaction between two people to dealings between nations.[…] Good manners depended on paying moral attention to others; it required one to treat them with complete moral seriousness, to understand their feelings and their needs. Some people, the selfish, had no inclination to do this, and it always showed. They were impatient with those whom they thought did not count: the old, the inarticulate, the disadvantaged. The person with good manners, however, would always listen to such people and treat them with respect.
How utterly shortsighted we had been to listen to those who thought that manners were a bourgeois affection, an irrelevance, which no need no longer be valued. A moral disaster ensued, because manners were the basic building block of civil society. They were the method of transmitting the message of moral consideration. in this way an entire generation had lost a vital piece of the moral jigsaw, and now we saw the results: a society in which nobody would help, nobody would feel for other; a society in which aggressive language and insensitivity were the norm.
We need resentment as it was resentment which identified and underlined the wrong. Without these reactive attitudes, we ran the risk of diminishing out sense of right and wrong, because we could end up thinking it just didn’t matter. So we should not forgive prematurely.
Perhaps somebody would write about the ethics of litter. Not that there was much to say about that: litter was unquestionably bad and surely nobody would make a case in its favour. And yet why was it wrong to drop litter? Was it purely an aesthetic objection, based on the notion that the superficial pollution of the environment was unattractive? Or was the aesthetic impact linked to some notion of the distress which others felt in the face of litter? If that was the case, then we might even have a duty to look attractive to others, in order to minimise their distress.
The author of the paper was concerned with the extent to which the forgetting of personal information about others represented a culpable failure to commit the information to memory. “There is a duty to at least attempt to remember that which is important to others. If we are in a relationship of friendship or dependence, then you should at least bother about my name. You may fail to remember it, and that may be a matter beyond your control – a nonculpable weakness on your part – but if you made no effort to commit it to memory in the first place, then you have failed to give me something which is my due, recognition on your part of an important aspect of my identity.”