Most of us are content to see ourselves as ordinary people - unique in ways, talented in others, but still among the ranks of ordinary mortals. Andrew Flescher probes our contented state by asking important questions: How should ordinary people respond when others need our help, whether the situation is a crisis, or something less? Do we have a responsibility, an obligation, to go that extra mile, to act above and beyond the call of duty? Or should we leave the braver responses to those who are somehow different than we are: better somehow, heroes, or saints? Traditional approaches to ethics have suggested there is a sharp distinction between ordinary people and those called heroes and saints; between duties and acts of supererogation (going beyond the expected). Flescher seeks to undo these standard dichotomies by looking at the lives and actions of certain historical figures - Holocaust rescuers, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, among others - who appear to be extraordinary but were, in fact, ordinary people. Heroes, Saints, and Ordinary Morality shifts the way we regard ourselves in relationship to those we admire from afar - it asks us t only to admire, but to emulate as well - further, it challenges us to actively seek the acquisition of virtue as seen in the lives of heroes and saints, to learn from them, a dynamic aspect of ethical behavior that goes beyond the mere avoidance of wrongdoing. Andrew Flescher sets a stage where we need to think and act, calling us to lead lives of self-examination - even if that should sometimes provoke discomfort. He asks that we strive to emulate those we admire and therefore allow ourselves to grow morally, and spiritually. It is then that the individual develops a deeper altruistic sense of self - a state that allows us to respond as the heroes of our own lives, and therefore in the lives of others, when times and circumstance demand that of us.
Andrew Michael Flescher is assistant professor, Department of Religious Studies and director of the Center for Applied and Professional Ethics, California State University at Chico.