Kekes, John 1936-
KEKES, John 1936-
PERSONAL: Born November 22, 1936, in Hungary; immigrated to United States, 1965, naturalized citizen, 1977; son of Eugene and Anna (Borsodi) Kekes; married Jean Justilliano, May 20, 1968. Education: Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, B.A., 1961, M.A., 1962; Australian National University, Ph.D., 1967.
ADDRESSES: Home—2041 Cook Rd., Charlton, NY 12019-2909. Offıce—Department of Philosophy, State University of New York at Albany, Albany, NY 12222-0001.
CAREER: Philosophy scholar, educator, author. California State University, Northridge, instructor, 1965-67, assistant professor, 1967-69, associate professor of philosophy, 1969-71; University of Saskatchewan, Regina, professor of philosophy, 1971-74; State University of New York at Albany, professor, 1974—, chair of department, 1974-77, professor of philosophy and public policy, 1981—. Center for the Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh, senior research fellow, 1984-85; visiting professor at the United States Military Academy, 1985-86, Estonian Academy of Science, 1989, National University of Singapore, 1989, Hungarian Academy of Science, 1998.
MEMBER: American Philosophical Association, Mind Association, Royal Institute of Philosophy, Creighton Club (of New York State Philosophical Association).
AWARDS, HONORS: Woodrow Wilson fellowship, 1961; Canada Council grant, 1973; Rockefeller Foundation fellow, 1980-81, scholar, 1982, 1989; Earhart Foundation fellow, 1983, 1988, 1989, 1998; public service award, U.S. Army, 1986.
A Justification of Rationality, State University of New York Press (Albany, NY), 1976.
The Nature of Philosophy, Rowman and Littlefield (Totowa, NJ), 1980.
(Editor, with Anthony E. Hartle) Dimensions of Ethical Thought, P. Lang (New York, NY), 1987.
The Examined Life, Bucknell University Press (Lewisburg, PA), 1988.
Moral Tradition and Individuality, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1989.
Facing Evil, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1990.
The Morality of Pluralism, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1993.
Moral Wisdom and Good Lives, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1995.
Against Liberalism, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1997.
A Case for Conservatism, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1998.
Pluralism in Philosophy: Changing the Subject, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 2000.
The Art of Life, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 2002.
The Illusions of Egalitarianism, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 2003.
Studies in Moral Philosophy, general editor, 1986-91; Public Affairs Quarterly, editor, 1999; contributor of articles to philosophy journals.
SIDELIGHTS: Professor of philosophy John Kekes has written a number of volumes, including The Morality of Pluralism, in which he studies the relation of values and the resolution of conflicts between and among them. He begins by saying that "the basic belief that unites pluralists is that good lives require the realization of radically different types of values, both moral and non-moral, and that many of these values are conflicting and cannot be realized together." Steven Lukes wrote in American Political Science Review that "Kekes's value pluralism is a descendant of the idea first launched by Sir Isaiah Berlin in his various writings, and then taken up by a variety of philosophers. But unlike Berlin, Kekes seeks to underplay the tragic dimension of pluralism and to deny the claim that there is any affinity (or even compatibility) between pluralism and liberalism. On the other hand, like Berlin, he tries to distinguish pluralism from both monism and relativism."
Theological Studies contributor Gerald Gleeson felt that Moral Wisdom and Good Lives "will rank as one of the most important and incisive contributions to the current retrieval of virtue ethics, or 'eudaimonism,' Kekes's preferred name for a theory in which the conception of 'a good life' is paramount." Ethics reviewer Christine Swanton wrote that "it is good to see the issue of leading a good life treated in a manner which the topic deserves: rich, broad of scope, and yet commonsensical and accessible."
Against Liberalism follows up on the themes Kekes studies in his other books and essays and focuses on his opposition to liberal theory, which, he contends, fails to acknowledge the presence of evil and presumes that since people are good, they behave badly only when forced by circumstances. Brian C. Anderson noted in First Things that Kekes "does not sufficiently stress how the contemporary variant of liberalism is at far removed from the earlier, richer, and more modest liberalism of Montesquieu, Tocqueville, or, in our century, Raymond Aron, Bertrand de Jouvenel, and Isaiah Berlin. But he does correctly show that the positive goals of contemporary liberals—in particular autonomy, distributive justice, and equality—are guaranteed to exacerbate the evils it is the negative task of liberalism to avoid. Were the agenda of contemporary liberalism to be fully realized, Kekes argues, the result surely would be the destruction of human flourishing."
Reason's Loren E. Lomasky noted that Kekes presents philosophers John Locke, Immanuel Kant, and John Stuart Mill "as emblematic of the entire liberal tradition. . . . What is common to them (and their various liberal successors) is allegiance above all else to an ideal of personal autonomy." Ethics reviewer Samuel R. Freeman wrote that "this is a challenging book. It relentlessly questions and rejects many of the common assumptions of contemporary political philosophy. While I think that liberals have answers to Kekes's arguments, still the book obliges liberals to think through the reasons why autonomy, freedom, and equality are such important moral or political values. Unlike many of liberalism's opponents, Kekes makes a serious effort to understand liberalism's basic claims."
Anderson called Against Liberalism "a ruthless demolition job, and Kekes only sketched his suggested alternative to liberalism: a pluralist and historically minded conservatism. A Case for Conservatism offers a systematic presentation of that alternative, and it's everything we've come to expect from Kekes: morally serious, argumentative, and filled with good sense." Anderson said that Kekes's central concern with conservatism "is with political arrangements that create the conditions for people to live good lives. Those conditions include, but are not limited to, civility, equality, freedom, a healthy environment, justice, order, peace, prosperity, rights, security, toleration, and welfare. Conservatives, unlike liberals or socialists, are sensitive to the fragility of political arrangements conducive to good lives, and look to history for lessons on how to nourish and protect them. As Kekes tells it, conservative political morality, growing out of this historical reflection, is based on four components: skepticism, pluralism, traditionalism, and pessimism. Each component is an Aristotelian mean between two rejected alternatives."
Thaddeus Kozinski wrote in the Review of Metaphysics that Kekes "unsuccessfully argues for the conservative position by banishing from it any trace of metaphysics, natural law, and theology, while constraining it to a Modernist framework and an empiricist, subjectivist methodology. . . . On a positive note, Kekes's arguments are rigorous, as he restricts his words and phrases to a tight lexicon of precise definitions which he repeats frequently. He is at his best when he treats only those subjects that allow for his historical approach."
Christopher Albrecht reviewed Pluralism in Philosophy: Changing the Subject in the Review of Metaphysics, calling it "a significant and original book." In the first part of this volume, Kekes puts forth his theory that studies "the disruptions of everyday life that call for modes of reflection, with the natures of these modes, with the perennial philosophical problems that are caused by conflicts among them, and with the pluralistic approach to resolving these problems." He applies his theory in the second part, to resolve "five familiar problems that perennially recur in serious thought about good lives: the meaning of life, the possibility of free action, the place of morality in good lives, the art of life, and the nature of human self-understanding." Albrecht wrote that "this is one of the more lucid and articulate books to discuss this important issue. Because the writing quality is of a very high order, the reader will readily absorb Kekes's initial exposition of the problem and follow him to his final conclusions. One may end up disagreeing with these conclusions, but one will have learnt to look at an old problem from a novel, illuminating, and human angle."
In his The Art of Life, Kekes poses the question of whether there is an art of life. In doing so, he draws on the ideas of philosophers, both contemporary and classical, in making his case that it is possible to understand why some lives are good and some are not. He argues that although there is no single art of life, there are several important ones that can be taught and learned. Gary Alan Scott reviewed the book in Review of Metaphysics, giving it "extremely high praise" and describing it as "well written, accessible, and yet rigorous."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Political Science Review, September, 1994, Steven Lukes, review of The Morality of Pluralism, p. 739; June, 1998, Aryeh Botwinick, review of Against Liberalism, p. 440.
Ethics, July, 1997, Christine Swanton, review of Moral Wisdom and Good Lives, p. 754; April, 1998, Samuel R. Freeman, review of Against Liberalism, p. 602; January, 2001, Andrew Jason Cohen, review of A Case for Conservatism, p. 411.
First Things, January, 1998, Brian C. Anderson, review of Against Liberalism, p. 43; June, 1999, Brian C. Anderson, review of A Case for Conservatism, p. 41; October, 2001, Christopher Wolfe, review of Pluralism in Philosophy: Changing the Subject, p. 46.
Mind, July, 1994, Geoffrey Scarre, review of The Morality of Pluralism, p. 384; October, 1998, Julia Driver, review of Moral Wisdom and Good Lives, p. 898.
Reason, March, 1998, Loren E. Lomasky, review of Against Liberalism, p. 62.
Review of Metaphysics, March, 1998, Robert Royal, review of Against Liberalism, p. 697; September, 2000, Thaddeus Kozinski, review of A Case for Conservatism, p. 154; September, 2001, Christopher Albrecht, review of Pluralism in Philosophy, p. 144; December, 2003, Gary Alan Scott, review of The Art of Life, p. 423.
Theological Studies, March, 1997, Gerald Gleeson, review of Moral Wisdom and Good Lives, p. 179; December, 1997, John J. Barrett, review of Against Liberalism, p. 755.*