Moral Philosophy After 9/11
There is a joke in the book, a deep joke, it’s in the preface that I say as I — it’s as if I wrote the thing in one sitting, and that was a direct reference to Muhammad’s reporting that he was simply setting down what was revealed to him — at one continuous dictation you might say. The Quran is supposed to have been produced in one continuous effort.
Now, I did write that book as one continuous effort. It took me, as I remember, approximately a month to write. And my thought was I don’t want to break off, because I see that the style that I hit on was perfectly adapted to what I wanted to say, and I wasn’t sure I could recover the voice of the book if I let it lie for a week or two or three.
So, one thing I saw was, that it was a kind of revelation. I still think it was a revelation in a secular sense of the meaning of 9/11, which was contested. At the time I wrote, nobody really knew what the explanation of the attack on the Twin Towers was.1 And so, I surmised — this was the best speculation, that it was an Islamic attack, and I read it as a demonstration that there were viable moral political visions, which were utterly incompatible with America’s liberalism I should say.
And that, therefore, this posed the fundamental question about what were the grounds on which, never mind one’s convictions, the grounds on which one could demonstrate the validity of one moral political vision over another, okay? My conclusion is that the answer can only be given as a second best reason, meaning by that, that the best reasons are inaccessible to us, namely we can’t ever discover what the true answer is, but we can invent an answer, which, given the nature of all answers that have been given, could be presented in such a way that it was at least as defensible as any view that is offered, and that’s what the book is about.
Mainly, a kind of recognition of the insoluble confrontation between Islam and America, iconically or inimically, representing any such confrontation in the world. And nevertheless, we have to find a modus vivendi that is acceptable to people committed to profoundly opposed conceptions of how we should live our lives.