“A great philosophical question,” reads the headline to KIE Senior Research Scholar Karen Stohr’s recent interview at Routledge Press: “Why can’t you bring Pepsi and Ding Dongs to a dinner party?”
The interview concerns Dr. Stohr’s ongoing work on the morality of manners and civility, as distilled in her On Manners (Routledge 2012). The book, which draws heavily on Aristotle and Kant, argues that good manners are essential to moral character.
Stohr fields a variety of sharp questions from editors Emilie Littlehales and Andrew Beck, from “aren’t manners a disguise for moral hypocrisy or as a means for maintaining unjust social hierarchies?” to “does connecting women and etiquette risk reinforcing the idea that ‘a woman’s place is in the home’?”
Ultimately, Stohr argues, civility matters, even in a world where so much else matters morally. “I certainly wouldn’t deny that war, injustice, and environmental degradation are more serious ethical issues than failing to write timely thank you notes and cutting in line,” she explains. “But it doesn’t follow that it’s morally unimportant whether we express gratitude … the aim is to cultivate moral sensitivity to other people and their needs. I see problems of justice and problems of manners as part of the same general moral question about how we treat other people. So I don’t think etiquette is a distraction from those more important issues.”
Anyway, she sums up, employing a point made by the Earl of Chesterfield, “good manners are an effective tool in convincing people to take up your point of view or join your cause. Rude behavior isn’t going to get anyone to reduce her carbon emissions or donate more to Oxfam.”