Saturday, June 8, 2013

Civility, by Stephen Carter

Stephen Carter, a law professor at Yale, wrote two great books that I very much enjoyed reading as an undergraduate and still refer to today: Integrity and Civility. I still own Integrity, but I only kept my notes on Civility (being a follow-up, content could more easily be summarized in bullets). Carter comes from a general Christian perspective, but as one Amazon reviewer said, "Where he doesn't seem to understand more secular thinking, he certainly acknowledges it and deals with it very . . . well . . . civilly."

Here are the main points of Civility, which are worthy of reflection. While I won't do a point by point commentary in this case, like what Xan has excellently done with Influence, I'll post some things related to some of these ideas in the future.

  1. Our duty to be civil towards others does not depend on whether we like them or not.
  2. Civility requires that we sacrifice for strangers, not just for people we happen to know.
  3. Civility has 2 parts: generosity, even when it is costly, and trust, even when there is risk. 
  4. Civility requires a commitment to live a common moral life, so we should try to follow the norms of the community if the norms are not actually immoral. 
  5. We must come into the presence of our fellow human beings with a sense of awe and gratitude.
  6. Civility assumes that we will disagree; it requires us not to mask our differences but to resolve them respectfully.
  7. Civility requires that we listen to others with the knowledge of the possibility that they are right and we are wrong. 
  8. Civility requires that we express ourselves in ways that demonstrate respect for others.
  9. Civility requires resistance to the dominance of social life by the values of the marketplace. Thus, the basic principles of civility should apply as fully in the market and politics as in every other activity.
  10. Civility allows criticism of others, and sometimes requires it, but the criticism should always be civil. 
  11. Civility discourages the use of legislation rather than conversation to settle disputes, except as a last, carefully considered resort. 
  12. Teaching civility, by word and example, is an obligation of the family. The state must not interfere with the family's effort to create a coherent moral universe for its children.
  13. Civility values diversity, disagreement, and the possibility of resistance, and therefore the state must not use education to try to standardize our children. Religions do their greatest service to civility when they preach not only love of neighbor, but resistance to wrong. 

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