One of the interesting ways in which the abortion issue differs from most other moral issues is that the plausible positions on abortion appear to be extreme positions. For if a human fetus is a person, one is inclined to say that, in general, one would be justified in killing it only to save the life of the mother. Such is the extreme conservative position. On the other hand, if the fetus is not a person, how can it be seriously wrong to destroy it? Why would one need to point to special circumstances to justify such action. The upshot is that there is no room for a moderate position on the issue of abortion…
I’ve seen too much of hospitals to relish any idea of collective punishment. But, as you know, Christians sometimes say that sort of thing without really thinking it. They’re better than they seem. [Father] Paneloux is a man of learning, a scholar. He hasn’t come in contact with death; that’s why he can speak with such assurance of the truth — with a capital T. But every country priest who visits his parishioners and has to hear a man gasping for breath on his deathbed thinks as I do. He’d try to relieve human suffering before trying to point out its excellence. If [I] believed in an all-powerful God [I] would cease curing the sick and leave that to Him. But no one in the world believed in a God of that sort; no, not even Paneloux, who believed that he believed in such a God. And this was proved by the fact that no one ever threw himself on Providence completely. [S]ince the order of the world is shaped by death, mightn’t it be better for God if we refuse to believe in Him and struggle with all our might against death, without raising our eyes toward the heaven where He sits in silence?
One reason the question of the morality of infantacide is worth examining is that it seems very difficult to formulate a completely satisfactory liberal position on abortion without coming to grips with the infanticide issue. The problem the liberal encounters is essentially that of specifying a cutoff point which is not arbitrary: at what stage in the development of a human being does it cease to be morally permissible to destroy it? It is important to be clear about the difficulty here. The conservative’s objection is not that since there is a continuous line of development from a zygote to a newborn baby, one must also conclude that if it is seriously wrong to destory a newborn baby it is also seriously wrong to destory a zygote or any intermediate stage in the develpment of a human being. His point is rather that if one says it is wrong to destroy a newborn baby but not a zygote or some intermediate stage in the develpment of a human being, one should be prepared to point to a morally relevant diffference between a newborn baby and the earlier stage in the development of a human being.
Christianity claims to give an account of facts — to tell you what the real universe is like. Its account of the universe may be true, or it may not, and once the question is really before you, then your natural inquisitivenes must make you want to answer. If Christianity is untrue, then no honest man will want to believe it, however helpful it might be: if it is true, every honest man will want to believe it, even if it gives him no help at all. As soon as we have realized this, we realise something else. If Christianity should happen to be true, then it is quite impossible that those who know this truth and those who don’t should be equally well-equipped for leading a good life. Knowledge of the facts must make a difference to one’s actions.
There was one way in which the world, as … rationalism taught me to see it, gratified my wishes. It might be grim and deadly but at least it was free from the Christian God. Some people (not all) will find it hard to understand why this seemed to me such an overwhelming advantage… I was, as you may remember, one whose negative demands were more violent than his positive, far more eager to escape pain than to achieve happiness, and feeling it something of an outrage that I had been created without my own permission. To such a craven the materialist’s universe had the enormous attraction that it offered you limited liabilities. No strictly infinite disaster could overtake you in it. Death ended all. And if ever finite disaster proved greater than one wished to bear suicide would always be possible. The horror of the Christian universe was that it had no door marked Exit.
Ethics without God, rev. ed. (Prometheus Books: 1990), 10-11.
It is more reasonable to believe such elemental things [as wife-beating and child abuse] to be evil than to believe any skeptical theory that tells us we cannot know or reasonably believe any of these things to be evil... I firmly believe that this is bedrock and right and that anyone who does not believe it cannot have probed deeply enough into the grounds of his moral beliefs.
English ethicist Jonathan Glover begins with the now commonplace observation that the last 100 years were perhaps the most brutal in all history. But the problem wasn't that human nature suddenly took a sharp turn for the worse: "It is a myth that barbarism is unique to the twentieth century: the whole of human history includes wars, massacres, and every kind of torture and cruelty," he writes. Technology has made a huge difference, but psychology has remained the same — and this is what Glover seeks to examine, through discussions of Nietzsche, the My Lai atrocity in Vietnam, Hiroshima, tribal genocide in Rwanda, Stalinism, Nazism, and so on. There is much history here, but Humanity is fundamentally a book of philosophy. In his first chapter, for instance, Glover announces his goal "to replace the thin, mechanical psychology of the Enlightenment with something more complex, something closer to reality." But he also seeks "to defend the Enlightenment hope of a world that is more peaceful and more humane, the hope that by understanding more about ourselves we can do something to create a world with less misery." The result is an odd combination of darkness and light — darkness because the subject matter of the 20th century's moral failings is so bleak, light because of Glover's earnest optimism, which insists that "keeping the past alive may help to prevent atrocities".
Russ Shafer-Landau (Oxford University Press: July, 2005), 332 pages.
non-naturalist moral realism. Moral realism is the thesis there are
objective moral facts. In other words, it is the thesis that there are
moral facts, and they are not constituted by what any actual or
possible person (or any actual or possible group of persons) thinks,
feels, believes, etc. Shafer-Landau argues that these objective moral
facts are non-natural facts. The moral facts are sui generis, and in
particular they are not a sort of natural facts. His non-naturalism
also includes a thesis about moral language: that it cannot be analyzed
into the language of the natural or social sciences. In
explaining his position, Shafer-Landau emphasizes that it does not
commit him to the existence of strange, inexplicable moral stuff. His
position is that the moral facts are wholly constituted by non-moral
(probably wholly natural) facts, though they are not identical to any
non-moral facts. This rests on a form of property pluralism according
to which moral properties, though not identical to non-moral
properties, are realized by non-moral properties. Things have moral
properties that are not identical to natural properties, and therefore
moral facts (i.e. facts about which things have which moral properties)
are wholly constituted by natural facts but are not themselves natural
facts. ~ ctdreyer at Amazon.com
Richard Kraut (Harvard University Press: May 2009), 304 pages.
Have Rawls and Nozick met their match? The titans of late-twentieth-century social philosophy do indeed find an acute critic--and possible successor--in Kraut. For in this groundbreaking inquiry into the nature of goodness, Kraut exposes the inadequacy of all previous ethical thinking, including Rawls' and Nozick's. Kraut is particularly thorough in his demolition of the cognitive theory that requires each individual to construct his or her own definition of the good. Because good must mean good for, Kraut argues, human good finally entails whatever fosters human flourishing, a flourishing that almost everyone can recognize and agree on. Kraut's focus on human flourishing quickly exposes common fallacies, such as Rawls' belief that right (justice) outweighs goodness and Nozick's idea that a "hyper-plane" safeguards individual autonomy in defining goodness. Likewise discredited are Hobbes' vision of combative egos fighting for private goods along with Betham's utilitarian calculus for summing up different kinds of good. In contrast, Aristotle's multidimensional model of human well-being survives very well in Kraut's paradigm. Religious-minded readers may protest that Kraut metaphysically impoverishes human goodness when he explicitly rejects immortality. But many other readers will praise him for enriching contemporary dialogue about fundamental ethical questions. An essential acquisition in social philosophy. ~ Bryce Christensen for Booklist
Alan M. Dershowitz (Warner: Mar 1, 2000), 288 pages.
Dershowitz turns to 10 stories from Genesis to demonstrate how the Bible provides a basis for contemporary ideas about justice and injustice. The narratives deal with Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Abraham, Lot, Jacob, Dina, Tamar and Joseph. Dershowitz includes a translation of each story, recounts some theological commentaries and offers his own interpretations. He acknowledges the failings of the biblical characters, pointing out that they were guilty of deception, lust, crime, incest, revenge and murder. Their problematic actions highlighted the need for the laws that appear later in the Torah, starting with Exodus and the Ten Commandments. The book concludes with four chapters on "The Genesis of Justice in the Injustice of Genesis." Dershowitz argues that the "bad actions" depicted in Genesis gave rise to the "common law of justice." He addresses the question of theodicy, claiming that the belief in the hereafter solves the problem of why evil exists on earth. Finally, he asserts that the stories he has examined explain the need for judicial codes. The book makes an important contribution by clearly validating this claim, although Dershowitz disregards the stories' significance as a basis for moral and ethical development. ~ Publishers Weekly
Most recent texts in moral philosophy have either concentrated on practical moral issues or else, if theoretical, have tended toward one-sided presentations of recent, fashionable views. Discussions of applied ethics cannot go very far without revealing underlying philosophical assumptions about how deeper, more general issues are treated. Similarly, recent approaches to ethics are difficult to understand without a knowledge of the context of the historical views against which these approaches are reacting. The Nature of Moral Thinking will satisfy the intellectually curious student, providing a solid and fair discussion of the classical philosophical questions about our moral thinking, surveying the main types of meta-ethical and normative ethical theories, while not excluding the more recent discussions of moral realism, of anti-realism, and of virtue morality. Francis Snare demonstrates that glib intellectualistic thinking about morality, especially in regard to relativism andsubjectivism, is seriously flawed. He also focuses attention on the question of whether particular theories of the origins of morality (for example, those of Nietzsche and Marx) undermine morality. All students and teachers of ethics and philosophy will find this book one of the most complete and detailed introductory-level surveys of the foundations of ethics with emphasis on the problems of the subjectivity, the relativity, and the origins of morality. ~ Product Description
The impossible could not have happened, therefore the impossible must be possible in spite of appearances. ... Exactly! It is absurd — improbable — it cannot be. So I myself have said. And yet, my friend, there it is! One cannot escape from the facts.
How do we judge whether an action is morally right or wrong? If an action is wrong, what reason does that give us not to do it? Why should we give such reasons priority over our other concerns and values? In this book, T. M. Scanlon offers new answers to these questions, as they apply to the central part of morality that concerns what we owe to each other. According to his contractualist view, thinking about right and wrong is thinking about what we do in terms that could be justified to others and that they could not reasonably reject. He shows how the special authority of conclusions about right and wrong arises from the value of being related to others in this way, and he shows how familiar moral ideas such as fairness and responsibility can be understood through their role in this process of mutual justification and criticism. Scanlon bases his contractualism on a broader account of reasons, value, and individual well-being that challenges standard views about these crucial notions. He argues that desires do not provide us with reasons, that states of affairs are not the primary bearers of value, and that well-being is not as important for rational decision-making as it is commonly held to be. Scanlon is a pluralist about both moral and non-moral values. He argues that, taking this plurality of values into account, contractualism allows for most of the variability in moral requirements that relativists have claimed, while still accounting for the full force of our judgments of right and wrong. ~ Product Description
John M. Doris (Oxford University Press: July 2010), 504 pages.
The Moral Psychology Handbook offers a survey of contemporary moral psychology, integrating evidence and argument from philosophy and the human sciences. The chapters cover major issues in moral psychology, including moral reasoning, character, moral emotion, positive psychology, moral rules, the neural correlates of ethical judgment, and the attribution of moral responsibility. Each chapter is a collaborative effort, written jointly by leading researchers in the field. John M. Doris is Associate Professor in the Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology Program and Philosophy Department, Washington University in St. Louis. ~ Product Description
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (Oxford University Press: June 1998)
Represents Nietzsche's attempt to sum up his philosophy. Returning to a favorite theme, he offers a wealth of fresh insights into what he saw as the self-destructive urge of Christianity, the prevalence of "slave moralities" and the terrible dangers in the pursuit of philosophical or scientific truth.
Harry G. Frankfurt (Stanford University Press: September 2006), 136 pages.
Harry G. Frankfurt begins these lectures by asking, "What is it about human beings that makes it possible for us to take ourselves seriously?" Based on the Tanner Lectures in Moral Philosophy, Taking Ourselves Seriously and Getting It Right delves into this provocative and original question. The author maintains that taking ourselves seriously presupposes an inward-directed, reflexive oversight that enables us to focus our attention directly upon ourselves, and "it means that we are not prepared to accept ourselves just as we come. We want our thoughts, our feelings, our choices, and our behavior to make sense. We are not satisfied to think that our ideas are formed haphazardly, or that our actions are driven by transient and opaque impulses or by mindless decisions. We need to direct ourselves — or at any rate to believe that we are directing ourselves — in thoughtful conformity to stable and appropriate norms. We want to get things right." The essays delineate two features that have a critical role to play in this: our rationality, and our ability to love. Frankfurt incisively explores the roles of reason and of love in our active lives, and considers the relation between these two motivating forces of our actions. The argument is that the authority of practical reason is less fundamental than the authority of love. Love, as the author defines it, is a volitional matter, that is, it consists in what we are actually committed to caring about. Frankfurt adds that "The object of love can be almost anything — a life, a quality of experience, a person, a group, a moral ideal, a tradition, whatever." However, these objects and ideals are difficult to comprehend and often in conflict with each other. Moral principles play an important supporting role in this process as they help us develop and elucidate a vision that inspires our love. ~ Product Description
Robert Audi (Oxford University Press: September, 1997), 320 pages.
This book presents an ethical theory that uniquely integrates
naturalistic and rationalistic elements. Robert Audi develops his
theory in four areas: moral epistemology, the metaphysics of ethics,
moral psychology, and the foundations of ethics. Comprising both new
and published work, the book sets forth a moderate intuitionism,
clarifies the relation between reason and motivation, constructs a
theory of intrinsic value and its place in moral obligation, and
presents a sophisticated account of moral justification. The concluding
chapter articulates a new normative framework built from both Kantian
and intuitionist elements. Connecting ethics in novel ways to both the
theory of value and the philosophy of action, the essays explore topics
such as ethical intuition, reason and judgement, and virtue. Audi also
considers major views in the history of ethics, including those of
Aristotle, Hume, Kant, Mill, Moore, and W. D. Ross, and engages
contemporary work on autonomy, responsibility, objectivity, reasons,
and other issues. Clear and conceptually rich, this book makes vital
reading for students and scholars of ethics.
David Ross (Oxford University Press: January 2003), 256 pages.
The Right and the Good, a classic of twentieth-century philosophy by the eminent scholar Sir David Ross, is now presented in a new edition with a substantial introduction by Philip Stratton-Lake, a leading expert on Ross. Ross's book is the pinnacle of ethical intuitionism, which was the dominant moral theory in British philosophy for much of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Intuitionism is now enjoying a considerable revival, and Stratton-Lake provides the context for a proper understanding of Ross's great work today. ~ Product Description
C. S. Lewis (Harper SanFrancisco: Feb 2001), 304 pages.
This book by CS Lewis was probably his most philosophical work. As such, it is not a light read at all and would probably prove difficult for beginners who have not been exposed to heavily philosophical material. But for those who want a highly intellectual philosophical discussion of the possibility of miracles, this book is certainly worthy of one's attention. There are a number of strengths to this book which continue to make the book solidly relevant better than forty years after the revised edition came out. Lewis cuts to the heart of the matter very quickly in asserting that rejection of miracles apriori is a common attitude that at its core, is anti-intellectual. Attempts to base rejection of miracles on probabilities, as Hume tried to do, are philosophically untenable and require a betrayal of basic realities that are universally accepted. Lewis then systematically dismantles the worldview that tends to most cradle apriori miracle rejection, naturalism. He compellingly shows that naturalism is a worldview that cannot stand up to philosophical scrutiny. Key to Lewis's presentation is his argument that naturalism can be demonstrated to be false in its complete rejection of supernaturalism merely by the reality of reason. Logic and reason of the mind, by themselves, are supernatural acts that cannot be explained or accounted for in nature, as naturalism demands. Supernaturalism, according to Lewis is not only possible, but pervasive since the act of logical thinking itself is supernatural in origin. ~ J.F. Foster at Amazon.com
The Second Edition of The Human Rights Reader presents a dramatically revised organization and updated selections, including pieces on globalization and the war on terrorism. Each part of the Reader corresponds to five historical phases in the history of human rights and explores for each the arguments, debates, and issues of inclusiveness central to those eras. The volume remains the most comprehensive and up-to-date collection of essays, speeches, and documents from historical and contemporary sources, all of which are now placed in context with Micheline Ishay’s substantial introduction to the reader as a whole and valuable introductions to each part and chapter. ~ Product Description
Philippa Foot (Oxford University Press: October 2003), 136 pages.
Philippa Foot has for many years been one of the most distinctive and influential thinkers in moral philosophy. Long dissatisfied with the moral theories of her contemporaries, she has gradually evolved a theory of her own that is radically opposed not only to emotivism and prescriptivism but also to the whole subjectivist, anti-naturalist movement deriving from David Hume. Dissatisfied with both Kantian and utilitarian ethics, she claims to have isolated a special form of evaluation that predicates goodness and defect only to living things considered as such; she finds this form of evaluation in moral judgements. Her vivid discussion covers topics such as practical rationality, erring conscience, and the relation between virtue and happiness, ending with a critique of Nietzsche's immoralism. This long-awaited book exposes a highly original approach to moral philosophy and represents a fundamental break from the assumptions of recent debates. Foot challenges many prominent philosophical arguments and attitudes; but hers is a work full of life and feeling, written for anyone intrigued by the deepest questions about goodness and human. ~ Product Description
Robert Audi (Princeton University Press: Jul 25, 2005), 256 pages.
This book represents the most comprehensive account to date of an important but widely contested approach to ethics - intuitionism, the view that there is a plurality of moral principles, each of which we can know directly. Robert Audi casts intuitionism in a form that provides a major alternative to the more familiar ethical perspectives (utilitarian, Kantian, and Aristotelian). He introduces intuitionism in its historical context and clarifies — and improves and defends — W. D. Ross's influential formulation. Bringing Ross out from under the shadow of G. E. Moore, he puts a reconstructed version of Rossian intuitionism on the map as a full-scale, plausible contemporary theory. The Good in the Right is a self-contained original contribution, but readers interested in ethics or its history will find numerous connections with classical and contemporary literature. Written with clarity and concreteness, and with examples for every major point, it provides an ethical theory that is both intellectually cogent and plausible in application to moral problems.
Craig A. Boyd (Brazos Press: November 2007), 272 pages.
Boyd presents an insightful account of natural law ethics, the view that ethical principles derive from the requirements of human nature. A prime obstacle to the acceptance of this type of ethics is that it transgresses the fact-value dichotomy. Boyd responds in detail to this objection, as well as to G.E. Moore's criticism of ethical naturalism. Although he defends natural law, Boyd holds that the classical version of that view as advanced by Thomas Aquinas cannot be accepted. It is based, he writes, on outdated biology, and attention to modern evolutionary theory results in a natural law position less universalistic in its claims than the classical doctrine. Boyd further criticizes other attempts to use evolutionary biology in ethics, as expressed in Larry Arnhart's Darwinian Natural Right: The Biological Ethics of Human Nature and the writings of E.O. Wilson. Natural law, Boyd argues, needs to be supplemented with virtue ethics. He also compares natural law to divine command ethics and addresses postmodernist and relativist criticisms. Boyd discusses an unusually wide range of material, and his challenging book is recommended for philosophy collections. ~ Product Description