Posted by: gcarkner | October 29, 2018

Dennis Danielson: The Tao of Right and Wrong

The Tao of Right and Wrong: Rediscovering Humanity’s Moral Foundations

By Dennis Danielson

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Written in the tradition of The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis’s classic work on moral philosophy celebrating its seventy-fifth anniversary in 2018, The Tao of Right and Wrong addresses questions such as what is just? What is right? What is wrong? What purposes, and what virtues, are worth pursuing? And most importantly, how can we weigh answers to these questions without lapsing into, “That’s only your opinion”?

In The Tao of Right and Wrong, Dennis Danielson offers a vigorous primer on moral realism, asserting that humans can and should exercise ethical judgments—and that these judgments are not reducible to subjective opinion, animal instinct, or cultural “construction.” The book is a twenty-first century call for the virtuous cultivation of “humans with hearts,” for a rejection of moral nihilism, and for a life-affirming embrace of moral realism founded in the Tao—the transcultural fund of ultimate postulates that form the very ground of moral judgment, codes of ethics, and standards of right and wrong.

Dennis Danielson is Professor Emeritus of English at the University of British Columbia and an intellectual historian who has written about literature, religion, and the history of science. He is a past recipient of his university’s Killam Prize for research in the humanities, and of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation’s Konrad Adenauer Research Award.

From the text of The Tao of Right and Wrong:

“Even if we can’t decisively answer the question, it’s worth pausing and asking why educators, and to a large extent the rest of us, have grown so squeamish in the presence of words like ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ Why do we resort to euphemisms like ‘positive,’ ‘negative,’ ‘appropriate,’ ‘inappropriate,’ ‘challenging,’ and the like?” (11-12)

“Any education founded on the proposition that all judgments of value—all ‘oughts,’ all standards of morality—are ultimately just subjective opinions must collapse into incoherence.” (25).

“The point is not that animal behaviors have no relevance to our understanding of human behavior, but rather that we require a standard of judgment above and beyond that offered by bare biology as a guide to what is morally permissible, advantageous, or obligatory.” (39)

“By adhering to a richer notion of reason and of human dignity and integrity, one rooted in the Tao, we may offer our children and ourselves a clearer, more authentic, and more dynamic foundation for moral life, virtuous life.” (53)

“The very fabric of our lives is teleological—purpose-driven—in ways that far transcend the dissemination of our genes (though perhaps that’s part of it). Therefore, a failure to account for that strong sense and experience of purpose, of goal-directedness, of moral worthwhileness, is a serious failure indeed.” (p. 58)

“Surely it’s reasonable to hope that social change might be driven by interpretation of principles rather than that the interpretation of principles should be driven by social change.” (70)

“Let us rekindle our confidence in the reality of ultimate sacred postulates and unashamedly teach them to ourselves and our children.” (78)



“Dennis Danielson’s message in The Tao of Right and Wrong needs to be urgently heeded. … This book should be on every teacher’s reading list.”

—Margaret Somerville, Professor of Bioethics, University of Notre Dame Australia

The Tao of Right and Wrong is a remarkably compressed and equally lucid exposition of the truths that really count. … The debate in which this book engages is, in the full sense of the term, a fundamental one.”

—Rex Murphy, Commentator for The National Post and formerly for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

“Dennis Danielson marks the 75th anniversary of C.S. Lewis’s classic work The Abolition of Man by updating it for our present situation and applying it to current concerns in a skilful and thought-provoking way. Timely, deft, impressive.”

Michael Ward, University of Oxford, author of Planet Narnia,co-editor of The Cambridge Companion to C.S. Lewis

“Brilliant essay. … In the Tao of Right and Wrong [Danielson maintains] that the crucial piece many are missing is a sense of the ultimate reality that supports meaning and ethical behaviour.”

Douglas Todd in The Vancouver Sun and The Montreal Gazette

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