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Picture of Paper Cranes and Mushroom Clouds

Paper Cranes and Mushroom Clouds

The US - Japan Conflict and the Function of Ethics in Historical Writing

Author(s): Alexandra Perry

Book Description

Bernard Williams begins his skeptical look at the history of ethical theory with a reminder of where it began, with Socrates’ question, “how should one live?” If ethics aims to address the question of “how one should live”, then the work of historians may just be our greatest source of what Mill called “experiments in living” or narratives about the different ways in which humans have lived.

Williams claimed that distance establishes a relativism that prevents us from looking to the distant past and asking whether that is “how one should live”, or whether a particular historical practice constituted “living well.” In contrast, R.G. Collingwood claimed that it is not only possible, but necessary, to hold the beliefs of distant agents in order to avoid “scissors and paste” history, or history that makes use of inductive generalization.

Surveying seven decades worth of historical writing on the conflict between the US and Japan during World War II, this book explores the ways in which historians use moral statements in their writing, and particularly in their accounts of political leadership. Specifically, it identifies six distinct modes of moral reasoning used in history, and contrasts these modes of reasoning with the Kantian, Utilitarian, and Aristotelian modes of reasoning found in traditional moral philosophy. Finally, drawing on the philosophy of history of both Williams and Collingwood, the book reconciles skepticism with the possibility of using the past to understand how one should live with the historian’s need to avoid scissors and paste history.


ISBN-13: 978-1-4438-9532-3
ISBN-10: 1-4438-9532-6
Date of Publication: 01/09/2016
Pages / Size: 115 / A5
Price: £41.99


Alexandra Perry is an Instructor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Oklahoma, and is completing her residency in clinical ethics with INTEGRIS Health in Oklahoma City. Previously, she was an Assistant Professor of Ethics and Leadership Studies at the McDonough Center for Leadership at Marietta College, USA. Her research centers on moral philosophy, philosophy of history, and medical ethics (particularly pediatric mental health ethics and pediatric end-of-life decision making). From 2009 to 2015, she was the managing editor of Theoretical and Applied Ethics, a peer-reviewed journal published by the University of Nebraska Press. She recently published two articles, one on leadership and mental health reform efforts, and a second on the ethics of pediatric DNAR orders. Currently, she is completing a book titled Neuropluralism which focuses on ethics and social movements surrounding psychiatric diagnosis and treatment.