Criticism and Impact
Several years before Reason and Morality was published, articles attacking the ideas that Gewirth was advancing in essays and in lectures were already appearing in scholarly journals. Once the completed work was in print, not only was it widely reviewed but it also was the subject of an amazing number of articles, in which all the elements of Gewirth’s argument were examined and what the authors saw as logical flaws were pointed out. Often Gewirth was provided with an opportunity to respond to his critics, as he did to E. J. Bond in a four-essay series published in 1980 by Metaphilosophy and called a “Symposium on Reason and Morality.” Gewirth’s system, as it was described in Reason and Morality, was also discussed in Gewirth’s Ethical Rationalism: Critical Essays with a Reply by Alan Gewirth, a collection edited by Edward Regis, Jr. (1984). This book and similar publications indicate how much time other scholars were spending on the study of Gewirth’s ideas during the years immediately after publication of Reason and Morality.
Thirteen years after Reason and Morality appeared, it was still the subject of heated debate. In a massive work entitled The Dialectical Necessity of Morality: An Analysis and Defense of Alan Gewirth’s Argument to the Principle of Generic Consistency (1991), Deryck Beyleveld cited dozens of comments by Gewirth’s opponents, classified their attacks on Gewirth’s system into sixty-six “objections,” and devoted almost three hundred pages to stating and refuting their arguments. In the reviews of Gewirth’s subsequent books, Reason and Morality is almost invariably mentioned. Thus in Theological Studies (September, 1997), Stephen J. Pope begins his review of The Community of Rights (1996) by describing it as “a sequel to Gewirth’s magisterial volume Reason and Morality,” which is then summarized.
Even though scholars cannot agree as to whether Gewirth succeeded in arriving at a supreme principle of morality and though it will be some years before the full impact of the work can be assessed, Reason and Morality has certainly attained the status of a classic and its author, that of a philosopher of major importance.