Review of Jeffrey Stout, Ethics after Babel: the Languages of Morals
and Their Discontents

West, Cornel

Jeffrey Stout is one of the most penetrating and provocative philosophers on the American scene. He also is the leading moral critic of a pragmatic bent concerned with the relations between secular thought and religious traditions as well as the history of modern Western ethics. In his exciting new book, Stout extends his concerns into the terrain of social criticism. Although he still grapples with the challenges of skepticism, relativism, and nihilism to his own sophisticated
historicist perspective, it is clear that the élan vital of the text is the role and function of moral discourse in contemporary American society. In my brief response to Stout's fascinating book, I shall highlight what I consider to be the fundamental contribution Stout makes to how we should do our work as cultural critics. This contribution consists of his call for a new mode of social criticism—a mode I shall dub improvisational criticism.



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Union Theological Seminary
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March 6, 2013