We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us,” Winston Churchill said to Parliament in 1943 after Nazi bombs destroyed the House of Commons. Churchill’s intuition was that the physical places we construct and inhabit shape the nature of our discourse. Drawing on this principle, philosopher Albert Borgmann examines the institutions and tangible structures that we have built to create the United States and considers what kinds of life these structures make possible.
Our built environment—both physical and political—is not a neutral, passive backdrop, but instead is infused with moral content that shapes who we are and how we live. The urgent moral task is to recognize this relationship, take responsibility for it and ask what kind of life expresses our deepest shared values.