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The Virtues of Our Vices:
A Modest Defense of Gossip, Rudeness, and Other Bad Habits
Emrys Westacott

Third Place for the 2012 Cover/Jacket Award in the Professional, Scholarly category, New York Book Show

Paperback | 2013 | $21.95 | £17.95 | ISBN: 9780691162218
304 pp. | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | 6 line illus.
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Are there times when it's right to be rude? Can we distinguish between good and bad gossip? Am I a snob if I think that NPR listeners are likely to be better informed than devotees of Fox News? Does sick humor do anyone any good? Can I think your beliefs are absurd but still respect you?

In The Virtues of Our Vices, philosopher Emrys Westacott takes a fresh look at important everyday ethical questions--and comes up with surprising answers. He makes a compelling argument that some of our most common vices--rudeness, gossip, snobbery, tasteless humor, and disrespect for others' beliefs--often have hidden virtues or serve unappreciated but valuable purposes. For instance, there are times when rudeness may be necessary to help someone with a problem or to convey an important message. Gossip can foster intimacy between friends and curb abuses of power. And dubious humor can alleviate existential anxieties.

Engaging, funny, and philosophically sophisticated, The Virtues of Our Vices challenges us to rethink conventional wisdom when it comes to everyday moral behavior.


"General readers interested in how philosophy can be applied to daily life will gain much from this well-written book."--Library Journal

"Westacott asks tough questions about the nature and meaning of these 'bad habits.' Arguing that conventional wisdom masks the benefits of practices often viewed as moral failings, he challenges us to engage 'with a world in which categories, terminologies, expectations, and norms are in constant flux.' His book is accessible, rigorous, and droll."--Glenn Altschuler, Boston Globe

"In Westacott's microethical analyses, as with Socratic badinage, it's the process of inquiry, as much as the result, that engages the reader's interest. His tree-chart algorithms probably won't be that useful to anyone having to make a decision. But they reveal some of implicit choices that we often make very quickly when dealing with other people. The unexamined life may not be worth living, but it is, after all, where we spend most of our time. The Virtues of Our Vices shines a little light in that direction."--Scott McLemee, Inside Higher Ed

"'The problem is not that people today are trampling underfoot the time-honoured rules of polite behaviour; the problem is that these rules are in flux,' Westacott writes. Rudeness is the price we pay for 'living in a dynamic culture'. That may not make it good, exactly, but it makes it an inevitable by-product of something many of us think of as good. Maybe that explains why critics of PC also bemoan the rise of rudeness: both complaints are reactions against change. A world with no rudeness, and no material for stories about 'PC gone mad', would be one that had come to a standstill."--Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian

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Table of Contents:

Introduction 1
Chapter 1: The Rights and Wrongs of Rudeness 13
Chapter 2: The Ethics of Gossiping 53
Chapter 3: O n Snobbery: Is It Sinful to Feel Superior? 100
Chapter 4: "That’s not funny--that’s sick!" 162
Chapter 5: Why Should I Respect Your Stupid Opinion? 215
Acknowledgments 261
Notes 265
Index 289

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