I can feel really stupid when I realise how much I don’t know.
But at the same time, I am overwhelmed with gratitude when someone writes stylishly, compellingly, knowledgeably, about things I really ought to know.
That pretty well sums up what happened when I started reading Kenan Malik’s Quest for a Moral Compass. It was in my local library (Thanks Goldfields Library – you are wonderful), and because it is about ethics, it attracted my attention. I reckon there’s nothing more interesting and urgent at my time of life – at any time of life, really – than to try to understand what is right and good and just.
I’ve tried to read “great philosophers” books before, and have enjoyed bits of them. This, however, was the first one I read cover to cover, like a novel.
The brilliance of this book is how Malik selects, with such care and aptitude, the information that backgrounds philosophers from Socrates to Kierkegaard an on to Australia’s own Mackie (bet you haven’t heard of him!), and manages to find a way to thread his own understanding of their thinking alongside the way their thinking was itself influenced by the society in which they lived.
I have trouble retaining dates and definitions: I’m not that kind of reader or thinker. But I came away from Quest for a Moral Compass feeling as though I’d been given a gift, a way of thinking that doesn’t just depend on opinion, but shores up methods with clarity.
If you hanker after philosophy but find it dull; if you love elegant writing that situates you in the flow of history without drowning you; if you ever wondered why Marx has been so contentious – here is the book for you.
I wish I’d been given this kind of reading when I was at school, or even university. Ethics in the classroom… yes please.