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New. How far, ideologically speaking, is the left from the right? 'Far from being opposed, ' writes Thomas Fleming, these stances 'derive from the same tradition. ' Despite obvious differences, the philosophical underpinnings of liberalism and conservatism--universality, rationality, individualism, objectivity, and abstract idealism--are virtually the same. According to the modern theories of philosophers such as Kant or Locke, moral conflicts can be resolved through a kind of moral algebra, clearly delineating right and wrong. The older tradition-based on Aristotle, the Talmud, and the folk wisdom of ancient Greek literature--is more complex. Referred to as casuistry since the Middle Ages, this system of ethical discussion is based on two principles: 'there are general and universally applicable moral laws governing human conduct, ' and 'these laws may not be applied simplistically and uniformly to the great variety of human circumstances and situations. ' Fleming compares casuistry to ecology in its refusal 'to divorce organisms from their interactions both with each other and with their environment, ' and he proposes the time has come to make a tentative approach 'to a kind of moral ecology. ' Using the informal essay as his rudder (and packing it full of allusions to myths, plays, novels, and films), he tacks his way toward a nontechnical casuistry that makes allowances for human frailty as well as the everyday facts of life as kinship and friendship. Fleming is concerned with the particular more than the absolute, and though his proposal might seem to border on relativism, he is primarily concerned with (to quote Hume) 'the practice of the world' and its ability to teach us 'the degrees of our duty. '
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