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  • Moral Measures: An Introduction to Ethics West and East
  • Li-Hsiang (Lisa) Rosenlee
Moral Measures: An Introduction to Ethics West and East. By J. E. Tiles. London and New York: Routledge, 2000. Pp. xii + 334.

Jim Tiles' Moral Measures: An Introduction to Ethics West and East is a rare and welcome approach to the field of ethics because it not only provides a comprehensive review of the classical Western ethical theories but also takes into account Eastern ethical systems such as Confucianism, Yangism, Moism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism as valuable resources for understanding moral constructs. Tiles' integration [End Page 425] of Eastern ethical theories into the discourse on ethics is especially important. For in the field of ethics, conventional scholarship often takes Western ethical theories as the only viable measure for framing, conceptualizing, and resolving ethical issues while making the rest of the world merely a source of moral problems to be solved. Hence, the West is deemed to rise above the particularity of cultural, ethnic, or religious boundaries, while the East is reduced to a collection of unreflective beings whose victimization is coextensive with and is immanent in its morally problematic traditions be they social or intellectual. And by excluding or ignoring the possibility of Eastern ethical theories as viable resources for achieving moral understanding, the discourse on ethics, especially in cross-cultural studies, in fact amounts to nothing more than a neocolonial discourse in disguise. Unlike other works dealing with the study of morals, Moral Measures provides a beginning for a genuine intercultural exchange and appreciation where East and West, for the first time as far as their moral capacities are concerned, are on an equal footing.

The fundamental theme of Moral Measures, as the title of the book suggests, is the search for objective moral measures in order to resolve inter- as well as intra-cultural conflicts and moral uncertainties. As Tiles puts it in his Preface, any systematic study of ethics has to address the following problems: "what basis, if any, there is for our impulses to approve or condemn and hence what basis, if any, there is for any standard or measure that might be used to resolve conflicts and uncertainties" (p. x). The book consists of twelve chapters, each beginning with a recapitulation and a prospectus-a format that is especially suitable for undergraduate teaching. Tiles' concise introduction to each ethical theory and cross-cultural tradition makes the book accessible to anyone with no prior acquaintance with comparative ethical theory. The broad spectrum of cross-cultural ethical theories and traditions covered makes the book ideal for an introductory course on ethics that aims at providing undergraduate students with adequate conceptual tools to frame ethical issues in a global context beyond the boundary of Western ethical traditions.

The book can generally be divided according to three major themes. First, chapters 1 to 3 engage in survey of moral pluralism in the world and the common sources of validity for concrete moralities. These chapters cover controversial cultural practices such as footbinding and female circumcision, as well as the emotionally charged issue of abortion in the United States. Drawing on Max Weber, Tiles discusses four sources of validity for socially sanctioned practices-tradition and charisma, nature, God's will, and reason.

Second, chapters 4 and 5 reflect on the plurality of concrete moralities and their conflicting claims as well as four general reasons for dismissing the search for objective measures of morality-relativism, anarchism, skepticism, and non-cognitivism.

Third, after discussing the limitations of taking human subjectivity as a standard of measure, chapters 6 to 9, the central part of the book, explore three objective measures of morality-rights, virtue, and the good-taking Kant, Confucius, and Aristotle as the theoretical paradigms. Implicitly, Tiles seems to take this threefold measure as the conceptual yardstick for moral engagement in the inter- as well as [End Page 426] intra-cultural context. In chapters 10, 11, and 12, Tiles further reflects on the adequacy of these measures of morality in fulfilling the human need for happiness and in answering the religious call to salvation. However, the threefold measure seems to fall short of addressing the following three concerns...