Right and Wrong

Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right From Wrong

By William Kilpatrick

Read September, 2010

I ordered this book upon having a discussion with a young voter on a topic much in the news. He lacked a moral vocabulary. He had no religious or philosophical grounds for his position. He was undertaking actions with very little thought or background.

According to the book, moral ambivalence and naïveté is common. Kilpatrick recommends a return to virtue, and habituation in virtue, based on the myths and stories that exemplify the great human strivings.

His references are to Rousseau, Nietzsche, Kant, Aristotle, Aquinas, Plato. He finds lacking Parent Effectiveness Training, Values Clarification, Me-ology.

He calls for notifying kids what is right and wrong. How daring. He thinks teachers can help. He thinks parents should read to their children from books of substance.

He gives lists of books that fit this description. I’m going to buy a few of them for the homes of our grandchildren. Aesop’s, 365 Bible Stories, Greek Myths, Children’s Homer, etc. (Isn’t amazon.com new and used great? I found most of these titles used for under $4.00.) Later, I’ll send books for middle readers.

A Few Clarifications

Some people cast aspersions.

One aspersion is that, “Tom would have us believe that anyone who accepts government assistance of any type for any reason has no dignity.”

It is well accepted that it is more dignified to be self-reliant and that America is founded on a Declaration of Independence not a declaration of dependence. I do admire people who refuse subsidies. I have family members and friends who mail back U.S. Treasury stimulus checks. This is admirable.

Another aspersion is that, roughly paraphrased, Tom would consider those who need remedial education as less than worthy. Who spends time mentoring young men who are poor and need guidance, teaching math and reading skills and character habits? Who teaches as a volunteer in the public schools? Who “adopts” elderly folks in the nursing homes with his children and visits them? Who visits underprivileged homes and helps out? Who works in homeless programs? Who worked for decades on charitable welfare boards? Who plays accordion for Girl Scout events and in nursing homes?

Another aspersion is that because Tom’s business doubled after he sold it, he must not be that smart at business. If his business doubled several times before the sale, would it not be natural to expect it to keep doubling? That should cast a positive light. People who know how to expand business are needed in the legislature. Who knows if it doubled? Double the square feet does not mean a doubling of profit, when employment stayed at roughly the same level.


What we were promised was Change We Can Believe In.

What we got instead, is “Change We Can Bereave In”.

Faust, Part 1

I finished Faust, Part 1 last week. It was very worthwhile, even though I read it in a translation that had a paucity of notes. For Part 2, I’ll get a translation with lots, as advised by my friend Rex, who taught this at MSU.

I saw much to do with creation, meaning, purpose, degradation and redemption. I wouldn’t not have enjoyed this book or its many tentacles into philosophy and religion if I had taken it up 20 years ago. Background, experience and reading help.