On Moral Maximalism

Part of the discomfort generated by some of MacFarquhar’s case studies is to do with a sense that some people are looking almost obsessively for a scheme of ideas that will assure them beyond doubt that they are doing what is right. The more sympathetic figures in this book are those who ruefully acknowledge that their moral maximalism cannot ever quite deliver this and that the human cost along the way may be disturbingly high; or those whose generosity has about it some dimension of warmth or joy as well as effectiveness.