A Preface to Morals

by Walter Lippmann

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Lippmann’s basic premise in A Preface to Morals is that religious authority has been essentially eroded in the modern world. To what extent do you agree with this assessment? As a replacement for traditional religion, Lippmann suggests a philosophy of humanism, drawing from the timeless wisdom of sages throughout history. To what extent do you agree or disagree with this solution? What might you propose instead as a system of moral authority suitable to the modern age?

Lippmann refers repeatedly to sages throughout history, such as Aristotle, Buddha, Confucius, Jesus, Plato, and Spinoza. Learn more about one of these figures. What are his basic teachings? To what extent do you find his ideas useful as a guide to human thought and behavior in modern society?

Lippmann is often seen as a product of the Progressive Era in American history, lasting from the 1890s through 1920. Learn more about the Progressive Era. Who were some of the key figures in the Progressive movement? What changes were made in America at the economic, legal, political, and social levels? To what extent have the changes made during the Progressive Era survived today?

Two of the primary influences on Lippmann’s political philosophy were his teachers George Santayana and William James. Learn more about one of these men. What were his central tenets? What are his major works? To what extent does Lippmann’s argument in A Preface to Morals reflect this influence? To what extent does Lippmann deviate from the ideas of his teachers?

In 1914, Lippmann was one of the founding members of the New Republic, a weekly magazine focused on discussion of political concerns. Find a recent issue of the New Republic. What general political standpoint do the articles seem to support? Pick one article on a topic of interest to you. To what extent do you agree or disagree with this article?

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