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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences




Reasons to Be Moral Revisited by Sam Black and Evan Tiffany (Canadian Journal of Philosophy Supplementary, Vol 33: University of Calgary Press)

H.A. Prichard argued that the 'why should I be moral?' question is the central subject matter of moral theory. Prichard famously claimed to have proved that all efforts to answer that question are doomed. Many contributors to this volume of contemporary papers attempt to reconstruct Prichard's argument. They claim either explicitly or implicitly that Prichard was mistaken, and philosophy can contribute to meaningful engagement with the 'why be moral?' question.

A theme to emerge from these papers is that arguments like Prichard's rely on numerous philosophical presuppositions. Reasons to Be Moral Revisited therefore touches on a wide range of topics and treatments. Is there one kind of practical reason or multiple kinds of reasons? Are there separate facts that determine the rationality and reasonableness of persons? Does the conception of a practical reason found in classical philosophy have the resources to undercut Prichard's argument? Does it make sense to hold people morally accountable for their actions if it cannot be demonstrated that there are reasons to be moral? Does applied ethics have anything to contribute to the debate on morality's rational authority?

Edited by San Black and Evan Tiffany, both associate professors of philosophy at Simon Fraser University, the volumes contributors include Robert Audi, Sam Black, David Copp, Joshua Gert, Robert N. Johnson, Mark LeBar, Elijah Millgram, David Schmidtz, David Sobel and Evan Tiffany. Most of these contributors agree with Prichard that some reasons are reasons of the wrong kind for being moral. This is arguably the grain of truth in Prichard's classic paper, the element that accounts for its continuing influence. The contributions to Reasons to Be Moral Revisited also agree that Prichard was misguided in his rousing conclusion that moral philosophy rests on a mistake. Prichard's argument proceeds by imposing a restrictive meaning on the question why be moral?, insisting that it is synonymous with the question, why ought I, or why is it rational, to do what I believe is right? We can discern two broad reactions to Prichard's thesis. One class of response agrees with Prichard that the preceding question provides a central meaning of the why be moral? question, before proceeding to explain why it is possible to infer reasons for doing what you judge to be right. A second class of response emphasizes that the why be moral? question has multiple senses. These replies pick out a sense(s) of the question that Prichard downgrades before explaining how questions of that kind can be resolved by argument and inference. These approaches are not mutually exclusive. In either case, many of the responses to Prichard in this collection proceed by appealing to comprehensive assumptions about the nature of practical reason, reasonableness, and agency that may be controversial in their own right. This may suggest that if Prichard's famous claim is an error, the source for that error is neither obvious, nor transparent.

Reasons to Be Moral Revisited will be useful for advanced undergraduates and specialists working on the foundations of morality, and morality's intersection with reason and rationality. The detailed introduction enhances the collection's accessibility by providing an exposition of Prichard's renowned thesis that draws on his lesser-known, mature papers.

Finite, Contingent, and Free: A New Ethics of Acceptance by Joyce Kloc McClure (Rowman & Littlefield) This book seeks to develop a new approach to ethics that is grounded in our experience as finite, contingent, and free and is consonant with a Christian understanding of what it is to be human and to be obligated to ourselves and others. A few words on the book's methodology are in order. The turn to finitude and contingency as fundamental conditions of existence, as well as the focus on the issue of human freedom, are features that reflect the author's commitment to approach ethics from what is best de-scribed as a Roman Catholic point of view. That is to say, it is deeply in-formed by Roman Catholicism's embrace of turning to nature and reason to make its case, from a perspective that is profoundly and foundationally shaped by the Christian story as told in the New Testament and by the Christian hope for humankind and redemption more generally. As such, it is a project that is meant to be open and persuasive to Christians and non-Christians alike, although the articulation of religious acceptance in the final chapter will of course resonate more with Christians.

But more is at stake than a specific point of view, however important that may be. The methodology itself was also chosen to help make progress beyond three perplexing difficulties for theologians and philosophers today, including the religious ethicist. The first is the problem of justifying any type of claim about what it is to be a human being that does not violate the particularity of each human being. Compounding this has been a problem especially relevant to the ethicist: the difficulty of making a case for the existence of human freedom, where the entire discipline in some way engages or depends on the need for human beings to make choices, and evaluate their choices, in the context of their lives. The long-standing and all-dominating view of the world as it is leaves little room for a theoretical grounding of freedom, and so philosophers and theologians alike have taken a variety of tacks to try to assume, evade, make compatible, or soften the significance of human freedom vis--vis determinism.

The description of finitude and contingency in the first chapter seeks to ad-dress the first problem, that of saying something about what it is to be human that is universally true to a practical extent without violating particularity.

The description in chapter 1 identifies finitude and contingency as conditions that are fundamental for human existence and therefore common to all, but since it is our finitude and contingency that give rise to our particularity, these conditions of existence seem good candidates for articulating what is universal while respecting what is particular.

The second problem is taken up in light of the answer to the first. That is, the very fact that our finitude and contingency create particular lives, lives that encounter particular choices, requires that the question of freedom be addressed. Because chapter 2 offers a new, more scientifically sound account than mechanistic determinism as an overarching view with room for freedoma view, moreover, that also gains support from the very considerations of finitude and contingency explored in chapter 1we may begin to think again about human persons as substantively free in a real sense. This means that we no longer need to restrict ourselves, theoretically at least, to thinking of human persons only `as if' they were free, or to constructing models for considering freedom in nonsubstantive ways. Yet if this makes it possible to speak of human persons as possessing some degree of freedom, it does so with the implication that freedom is had in a context where finitude and contingency profoundly shape our lives. This approach also recognizes that it is not possible to speak of human persons as free in an absolute sense. Freedom, to the extent that it exists, can be only a matter of degree.

Making some progress on these two fronts, however, could leave us with a third problem, one common to an endeavor of this kind: abstraction. Having worked on the topics of finitude, contingency, and freedom for some time, the author is keenly aware of how easily abstract wanderings can bedevil such considerations. However, the methodology that risks creating this problem is also its antidote. Finitude and contingency are taken up precisely because these are features of concrete existence, and the issue of freedom must then be considered because it arises directly in relation to them. These features literally confront us as we live. Moreover, the decision to turn to literary analysis from an ethical point of view reflects not just a turn to a source of deep reflection and a presentation of experience, but also a commitment to keep the ethical analysis grounded, that is, consonant with the conditions of particular lives, the conditions under which all ethical action occurs.

This book seeks to move beyond the three problems noted above and clear the way for the development of a fruitful new approach that is philosophically sound, consistent with key Christian understandings, and productive of a concrete ethics that arises from a conception of the human person as finite, contingent, and free. The final chapter offers a specific approach to ethics that can assist us in understanding morality anew and in discerning how we are to act if we are indeed finite, contingent, and free. Admittedly, seeking to develop a way of understanding that avoids the three problems noted above and generates a new approach to ethics is an ambitious agenda. But the book is in-tended as a beginning, as a new way of asking questions about ethics, not as the answer to the ongoing ethical questions that life poses for us.

Heroes, Saints, and Ordinary Morality by Andrew Michael Flescher (Moral Traditions Series: Georgetown University Press) 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, assistant professor in the Department of Religious Studies at California State University , Chico , probes our contented state by asking important questions: How should ordinary people respond when others need 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, heros, 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, also known as going beyond the expected. Flescher seeks to undo this distinction by looking at the lives and actions of certain historical figures Holocaust rescuers, Dr. 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 respect from afar it asks us not only to admire but to emulate as well further, it challenges us to actively seek after 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, and lead lives of self-examination even if that should sometimes provoke discomfort. If we strive to emulate those we admire, we allow ourselves to grow morally and spiritually, and to develop a deeper altruistic sense of self a state wherein we will respond as the heroes of our own lives, and therefore in the lives of others, when times and circumstance demand that of us.

In Part I, chapters 1 and 2, Flesher assesses the dominant view of supererogation, introduced by Urmson and developed by his philosophical successors, primarily David Heyd. Flesher focuses especially on the portrayal of heroes and saints presented in this view. His primary goal is not to criticize Urmson and Heyd, but rather to elucidate their historical importance for modern moral`philosophy.

While acknowledging with Urmson and Heyd that there exists a publicly recognizable moral minimum that constitutes what we are all required to do, as well as agreeing with them that there is such a thing as supererogation, in chapter 2, Flescher questions whether the moral minimum ought to be equated with "duty," as if duty were some fixed referent.

Part of the problem with Urmson and Heyd's characterization of supererogation is that it does not provide a concrete understanding of the practices and self-understanding of heroes and saints themselves.

In chapters 3 and 4, which comprise Part II, Flescher utilizes the testimony of actual heroes and saints as possible points of contrast to the picture of the supererogatory agent posited by Urmson and Heyd. In chapter 3, he looks at four "heroes" from literature in order to glean from them certain heroic traits that do not seem to be present in the Urmsonian characterization. Drawing on the empirical work and in some cases the normative insights of social scientists and historians, he considers examples of real-life altruists, putting special emphasis on Holocaust rescuers, otherwise known as "righteous gentiles," and he asks whether it is appropriate to characterize them as supererogatory agents in light of their own accounts of their behavior.

In chapter 4, the data for testing Urmson and Heyd's account of the supererogatory agent changes. It is no longer comprised of the sociological analyses of actual historical figures, but depends on his treatment of two important political figures in twentieth-century American society: Martin Luther King, Jr., and Dorothy Day. The analysis of these two figures leads to his construction of the contemporary moral category of "saints," which is akin to that introduced by Edith Wyschogrod in her influential work Saints and Postmodernism. Wyschogrod refers to a number of postmodern thinkers who converge in their estimation of what the authentic moral life centrally entails, namely, a saintly "ethics of excess." In chapter 4, he asks whether, contrary to what Urmson and Heyd would say, the "ethics of excess" can legitimately be considered required from saints' own perspectives and then ask about the extent to which it can be regarded as a useful (even if not fully realizable) ideal for "ordinary" morality. Informed by Wyschogrod, Flescher characterizes saints as persons who are maximally disposed to go beyond even the hero's expanded sense of duty, sacrificing themselves for the sake of others to the very limit of what they can possibly manage.

In Part III, chapters 5 and 6, he makes his constructive argument he proposes a revised understanding of the category of supererogation that plausibly accommodates his findings in Part II. In chapter 5, he challenges the exclusively duty-based, or deontic, view of agency that characterizes Urmson and Heyd's approach to ethics, he modifies that view in light of some considerations that emerge from the ethics of virtue.

Finally, Flescher distinguishes his view from more demanding normative approaches in ethics such as strong perfectionism and consequentialism before defending it against criticisms likely to be raised by traditional supererogationists, who endorse the dominant understanding of the concept of supererogation, and antisupererogationists, who object to its use altogether. It is in chapter 5, then, that his argument, which he calls "the thesis of moral development," is formally stated and defended.

In chapter 6, he briefly examines the significance of the idea that there is moral value in ordinary persons feeling compelled to do that which is defined as being more than required, locating this value within Jewish and Christian sources. Flescher engages in a close textual analysis of some of the ethical writings of Abraham Heschel and Paul Tillich in order to show that the meta-duty of character improvement is not a novel or radical idea in ethics, but one already suggested in Jewish and Christian thought, which becomes apparent upon examining what these two thinkers have to say about the nature and purpose of human existence.

In these closing pages he moves from the possible to the actual. He suggests that the "revised" understanding of the relationship between duty and supererogation first hypothesized in chapter 2, developed through his analyses of heroes and saints in chapters 3 and 4, and finally defended in chapter 5, is one that is already present in at least two contemporary religious traditions, albeit often described rather differently. Fleschers concluding hope in Heroes, Saints, and Ordinary Morality is that this discovery will add to the important and ongoing exchange underway between thinkers working in secular ethics and ethicists working in Western religious traditions, and that it will promote further dialogue between these two groups.  

A sustained and learned argument in support of the centrality of altruistic behavior in the moral lives of ordinary people. Equally at home in moral philosophy and theological ethics, Flescher offers a power critique of the division in ethics between moral duty and supererogation. This work should open a significant debate over the validity of this distinction. Stephen G. Post, professor of bioethics, Case Western University

Introduction to Contemporary Metaethics by Alexander Miller (Polity Press) provides a highly readable critical overview of the main arguments and themes in twentieth-century and contemporary metaethics. It traces the development of contemporary debates in metaethics from their beginnings in the work of G. E. Moore up to the most recent arguments between naturalism and non-naturalism, cognitivism and non-cognitivism. Individual chapters deal with:

  • The open-question arguments and Moore s attack on ethical naturalism
  • A. J. Ayers emotivism and the rejection of non-naturalism
  • Simon Blackburns quasi-realism
  • Allan Gibbards norm-expressivism
  • J. L. Mackies error-theory of moral judgement
  • Anti-realist and best opinion accounts of moral truth
  • The non-reductionist naturalism of the Cornell realists
  • Peter Railtons naturalistic reductionism
  • The analytic functionalism of Frank Jackson and Philip Pettit
  • The contemporary non-naturalism of John McDowell and David Wiggins
  • The debate between internalists and externalists in moral psychology.

Written by Alex Miller, senior lecturer at Macquarie University , Sydney , Introduction to Contemporary Metaethics will be an invaluable resource for students, teachers and professional philosophers with interests in contemporary metaethics.

Ethics for Everyone: How to Increase Your Moral Intelligence by Arthur Dobrin (Wiley) Is it always wrong to lie? Is it always right to try to help another person? Are you bound to keep every promise you make? In Ethics for Everyone: How to Increase Your Moral Intelligence, youll find out how well you make moral choices and learn how to increase your ability to understand and analyze ethical dilemmas. This sensible, practical guide provides thoughtfuland sometimes surprisinganswers to tough real-world questions. Youll sort through dozens of tricky ethical issues with the help of: Twenty-one dramatic true stories showing real-life ethics in action and you are asked to make ethical choicesA personal ethics quiz to determine your own ethical potential harm and benefits assessments of various courses of actionExpert opinions from spiritual leaders, counselors, attorneys, psychologists, and other experts.

The Doctrine of Double Effect: Philosophers Debate a Controversial Moral Principle edited by P. A. Woodward (University of Notre Dame Press) "When bombing dug-outs or cellars, it was always wise to throw the bombs into them first and have a look around them after. But we had to be very careful in this village, as there were civilians in some of the cellars. We shouted down to them to make sure. Another man and I shouted down one cellar twice and receiving no reply were just about to pull the pins out of our bombs when we heard a woman's voice and a young lady came up the cellar steps. ... She and the members of her family had not left [the cellar/ for some days. They guessed an attack was being made and when we first shouted down had been too frightened to answer. If the young lady had not cried out when she did, we would have innocently murdered them all. "-from chapter 16

In an essay in The Doctrine of Double Effect, Michael Walzer uses an account from the diary of a World War I veteran as the starting point for exploring the "moral doctrine most often invoked in such cases," the doctrine of double effect. What if the cellar had contained German soldiers instead of civilians? Was the soldier morally obligated to shout down into the cellars?

A principle of reasoning common to moral philosophy, the doctrine of double effect states that it is "licit to posit a cause which is either morally indifferent from which there follows a twofold effect, one good the other evil, if a proportionally grave reason is present, and if the end of the agent does not directly intend the evil effect."

In The Doctrine of Double Effect, a group of the finest philosophers and ethicists debate this controversial moral principle, not only discussing its theoretical merits and flaws, but also illustrating its application to current moral dilemmas such as just war, suicide, nuclear power, affirmative action, and morphine use for terminal cancer patients.

P A. WOODWARD is visiting associate professor in the philosophy department at East Carolina University. Contributors: Michael Walzer, Joseph M. Boyle, Jr., Warren S. Quinn, G. E. M. Anscombe, Thomas Nagel, Philippa Foot, Jonathan Bennett, Nancy Davis, Donald B. Marquis, John Martin Fischer, Mark Ravizza, David Copp, P A. Woodward, William Cooney, Jeff Jordan, Robert M. Martin, Stanislaus J. Dundon, Greg Beabout

Justice As Fairness: A Restatement by John Rawls, Erin Kelly (Harvard) Revised in a later editions, A Theory of Justice  is one of most read books on ethics in the last 30 years. The influential work has made Rawlss contractualist theory typical for considerations of normative ethics. From 1974 to 1989, his published articles showed that has been refining ethical theses that move beyond the formulations in A Theory of Justice. Now in Justice As Fairness, a self-contained attempt to reconcile the differences, he reorganizes his "original position" argument; revises his liberty principle to emphasize that there is not a single "liberty" that governments should aim at, but a set of liberties that ground citizens' powers to form and act from conceptions of justice and of a fully worthwhile life; and reanalyzes justice as fairness, so as to emphasize its political aspects. Justice As Fairness will become the summary view of Rawlss ethical theory and will mostly replace A Theory of Justice as an introduction to his work.

Thinking in Moral Terms by Sigrun Svavarsdottir (Garland) Issues such as moral motivation, the nature of desire and the difference between moral and scientific inquiry are discussed in this work

Excerpt from the Introduction:
In philosophical circles, it is contentious to talk about something's being represented as morally required or morally valuable, and hence it is contentious to claim that Alison's and Barbara's inclinations to volunteer at the center depend on different ways of representing the action. A respectable metaethical view maintains that moral terms do not express concepts employed to represent the objects of evaluation in distinct ways. Instead, moral terms are claimed to be linguistic vehicles for expressing the agent's conative attitudes toward the objects of evaluation.' On such a view, we lose the conception of the morally conscientious as being motivationally responsive to his moral judgments. Rather, he has a certain motivationally charged attitude that is expressed by his moral "judgment".

This does not do justice to my prephilosophical conception of what it is to act on moral grounds. I have always thought that it is one thing to judge that something is morally required or valuable, and quite another to be motivated to undertake the action. And I have assumed that the morally conscientious are set apart from others in that they are motivated to undertake the action precisely because they believe it to be morally required or valuable. Moreover, I have taken the morally consciountious to be honoring constraints or values that have their source in something else than the agent's own mental attitudes. In this dissertation, I propose to submit my naive conception of moral conscientiousness to philosophical scrutiny. The reader should be forewarned that I have every intention of defending it. Of course, that will require considerable development of the naive conception, which will be the beginning of working out an account of the nature of moral judgments and the practice within which they are set.

For those who are familiar with the current metaethical jargon and would like a characterization of my view, I give the following description. It is a cognitivist view coupled with an acceptance of externalism about the connection between making a moral judgment and having a motive to act accordingly. In this respect, it resembles the view of naturalized realists like Brink and Railton. However, I do not adopt the strategy of naturalized realists in defending my view. Nor do I resort to a deflationary or epistemologized notion of truth in order to defend cognitivism as, for example, McDowell does. I want to leave open the possibility that the conceptual resources employed in moral inquiry do not carve up the world at its causal joints, yet carve up the world in a perfectly respectable way that allows for a robust conception of truth in moral matters.

Being an externalist, I do not believe that responding to skepticism about moral facts will suffice to convince a moral cynic to commit to morality. But then in my metaethical reflection, I am not addressing the morally noncommitted. The intended audience are the morally committed who are bent on reexamining their commitments to morality, and in that context seek an understanding of moral judgments and the practice within which they are made. Justifying one's commitments, I will argue, is not the same as rationally convincing someone to take them on for the first time. My argument will be based on a Humean conception of rationality, which makes me reject any attempt to ground morality in rationality.

I start by clarifying what I take the issue between moral cognitivists and noncognitivists to be. I argue that a prima facie case for moral cognitivism is provided by considerations of uniformity and systematicity in semantic theorizing and by observations about the relation that moral judgments, qua mental acts, bear to beliefs and to actions. The former point expands on the familiar Frege‑Geach point about the surface structure of moral language. And in my discussion about the relation of moral judgments to beliefs, I elaborate on familiar themes about the apparent inferential connections among the mental states expressed by moral judgments, and between them and nonmoral beliefs. More controversial is my claim that moral judgments appear to behave like beliefs in motivating actions. I question the philosophical orthodoxy that moral judgments are intrinsically motivating, and argue that a desire to be moral needs to be postulated in order to explain why moral judgments affect the behavior of the morally conscientious.

In chapter III, I consider qualms about my claim that moral motivation has its source in a desire. Much of my work in that chapter consists in clarifying my view of the nature of mental states in general and of desires in particular. I accept the thesis that mental states are grounds of behavioral and mental dispositions. Unlike states grounding, say, the disposition of a glass to break, mental states are peculiar in that they constitute a point of view on the world, thanks to their representational contents. Differences in attitudinal force (as well as content) shows up in the dispositions that these states ground. I adopt Brandt and Kim's dispositional analysis of wanting as an approximately true account of desires. According to it, desires ground specific cognitive, behavioral, and emotional dispositions. I argue that the dispositions in question are typically displayed by the morally conscientious. Their motive should therefore be regarded as being of the nature of a desire.

In chapter IV, I sketch my position on the relation between morality and practical rationality. I approach this issue by considering what place the question "Should I be moral?" has in our lives. I argue that it is best interpreted as a request for a reexamination of one's moral commitment: a commitment that embodies the desire to be moral. The reexamination is a matter of the agent confronting‑as an interested party with various practical concerns‑the nature of moral judgments and the ramifications of taking them as his guide to action. In this way, he puts his moral commitment to a test: the test of whether it survives a full understanding of moral practice. I argue that this is a test of practical rationality, understood as consisting in the good management of one's practical endeavors.

I take our rational nature simply to consist in our capacities to use symbolic structures to represent actual and possible states of affairs and in our capacities to manipulate these structures through deductive and inductive reasoning, both to monitor and explain our environment and to monitor our actions so as to forward our purposes. Excellence in the performance of these functions is what rationality is all about. Thus, when evaluating a person's rationality, we are evaluating her on her own terms: the assessment takes account of her epistemic position and her motivational and emotional stance. Given this essentially Humean understanding of rationality, I am committed to rejecting rationalist attempts to reduce moral failings to failures of rationality. When we fail morally, we need not fail on our own terms, insofar as our terms are set by our motivational and emotional constitution. Hence, it is at least logically possible to be fully rational but still fail morally. And conversely, it is logically possible to be moral but completely irrational. In other words, I maintain that morality cannot be grounded in practical rationality.

In chapter V, I turn to challenges to moral cognitivism based on skepticism about moral properties. I examine the ontologically driven worry that there are no properties suited for the role of semantic values for moral terms. This worry obviously depends on a nondeflationary conception of properties as extralinguistic and extraconceptual features of reality. I suggest that historically it has been based on a conception of properties as the grounds for causal relations among particulars. Moore's open question argument has been interpreted as establishing that moral terms do not designate causal properties; and it was in its wake that noncognitivism appeared on the philosophical scene, in part motivated by ontological worries.

Rather than responding to this ontologically driven worry by adopting a deflationary conception of properties, as McDowell arguably does, or by following the naturalized moral realists in arguing that moral terms are likely to designate causal properties, I argue that this worry is misplaced. My argument rests on the view that the semantic values for predicates are cross‑world classes. However, the worry may be resurrected as a worry about whether the reference of moral terms is fixed to any one of these classes. Indeed, it may be argued that given the mechanism for fixing the reference of general terms as used by us, we can only refer to classes whose membership is relevant for giving causal explanations of our observations. This would shift the issue about the reference of moral terms back to the question of whether they can be seen as referring to causal features of reality. l leave this issue open at the end of the chapter, although at one point I sketch a possible non‑naturalistic moral realist position.

Chapter VI brings this dissertation to a close. In it, I formulate a challenge to the naturalized moral realist's claim that it is a necessary condition on the confirmation of a moral theory that its substantive claims can be employed in successful predictions and explanations of empirical observations. I argue that this is irrelevant for the confirmation of a moral theory. I initially rely on intuitions that I take to reflect internalized methodological norms governing moral inquiry, I then proceed to examine the rationale that can be found for these norms in the nature and aims of moral inquiry. I take the upshot of these reflections to be that moral concepts are not natural kind concepts. However, it is not precluded that their reference is fixed to causal features of reality via a nonconceptual relation between their use and tokenings of these features. I also sketch how these reflections cast light on the distinctively practical or action‑guiding aspect of moral judgments. And finally, I consider the so‑called normativity of moral requirements and values. I distinguish it from the action‑guiding aspect of moral judgments and make some suggestions about how it is to be understood.

Ethics, Humans and Other Animals: An Introduction With Readings by Rosalind Hursthouse (Routledge) Rosalind Hursthouse carefully introduces one of three standard approaches in current ethical theory: utilitarianism, rights, and virtue ethics. She then proceeds to clearly explain how each approach encourages us to think about our treatment of each other and animals in general. Every chapter is linked to a reading from a key exponent of each approach. Ethics, Humans and Other Animals is a solid introductory text.

Paul Ramsey's Ethics: The Power of 'Agape' in a Postmodern World by Michael C. McKenzie (Praeger) examines the moral philosophy of Paul Ramsey--one of the 20th century's most influential ethicists--from a theological perspective illustrating that religion can still play a substantial role in our ongoing moral inquiries. Ramsey wrote prodigiously on ethical issues including politics, medical research, the Vietnam war, and nuclear proliferation. His ethical theory, which concentrates on divine love, or `agape,' as well as justice and order, provides a middle ground between fundamentalism and secularism. Therefore, Ramsey's ethics will appeal to the 21st-century social conscience.


Methodologically, I will first address the theological and historical influences that shape Ramsey's thought. Since Ramsey's ethics are deeply theological in nature, it seems clear that only a theological analysis of his ethics will do. Other works, most notably D. Stephen Long's treatment of Ramsey, have done a good job of tracing Ramsey's philosophical debts, especially to philosophical idealism. 14 However, neither Long nor David Attwood (Paul Ramsey's Political Ethics) delve as deeply into Ramsey's theological roots as I believe is necessary for a thorough analysis of his entire ethics. For example, neither book mentions Ramsey's theological debts to John Calvin, and both fail to discuss the essential influence of Jonathan Edwards on Ramsey's thoughts on natural virtue-even though Attwood admits Ramsey' s "debt" to Edwards. 1b Also, as opposed to both of the above authors, I have not chosen to examine Ramsey's works chronologically, but rather to analyze Ramsey's mature thought as a whole. Many commentators have criticized Ramsey for his supposed shifts in thinking, and his lack of any systematic ethics. While such criticisms are not without merit, one gets a more exact picture of Ramsey's ethics when one attempts a theological analysis of his thought, as opposed to either a chronological or purely topical approach. Like examining a plant's vascular system from roots to stems, if one first looks at Ramsey's deeply sunk theological foundations, one has better success in tracing such rootage to his treatment of various issues-far better than making solely horizontal comparisons among Ramsey's often "flexible" analyses of different issues. Not only do such roots stay put, but one gets a better picture of just how Ramsey came to his conclusions.

Ramsey's lack of a systematic ethics notwithstanding, I see this approach as also a more fruitful one when touting his ethics as a viable methodology for today. Toward the latter goal, people need to see the mature thinker's ethics spread out, with theological dependencies and biases out in the open. For example, it may be interesting that Ramsey changed his mind about pacifism, but this change represents more the difference between student and mature scholar than it does a striking change in intellectual thought.

After examining Ramsey's theological debts, I will next analyze his use of biblical materials. Clearly, it's not his use of biblical texts that drives his ethics, but rather a theological presupposition that the divine love called 'agape' is the primary message of Scripture, and that such divine love should have its place transforming the best of natural justice. Thus, Ramsey was far from advocating a literalist understanding of Scripture, which plays a clearly supporting role in his ethics.

The third pillar of Ramsey's ethics is his unique use of natural law. In Ramsey's words, there is a "splendor" to common morality, which needs only the transforming power of 'agape' to complete. He sees himself following in the footsteps of Jonathan Edwards at this point: although common morality is not identical to true virtue, it "resembles" it, is "agreeable" to it, and is often "mistaken for it It is worth asking now whether this reading of Edwards does justice to the latter's stress on the doctrine of sin and its inevitable drive toward self-love. But whether or not Ramsey goes too far in his reading of Edwards, it is this openness to virtue performed "by ordinary people" that acts as a bridge between the covenant-centered world of faith and the everyday world. Such a bridge is a necessity for any ethics desiring a hearing in the public square.

The foundational aspects of Ramsey's ethics having been covered, I'll next address his writings on medical ethics. The issues he addresses-abortion, euthanasia, the patient-physician relationship-are forever relevant, and splashed across today's headlines on nearly a daily basis; and his views often mirror those from both sides of the academic spectrum. Like many "liberals" today, Ramsey was a fastidious believer in the medical doctrine of informed consent; but, like many modem "conservatives," he was staunchly against abortion and against the increasing liberalization of sexual mores and codes. If there's any theme to Ramsey's medical ethics, it's his concern for the most vulnerable in society, and how ethics "at the margins of life" can employ the divine message of 'agape' while withstanding the seemingly inevitable push of medical technology.

The last chapter contains a theological discussion on Ramsey's theory of the state, specifically how it is possible to join 'agape' with his well-known just war beliefs. Speaking broadly, I see Ramsey as combining the beliefs of the two primary Reformers of the Christian church with a powerful tincture of Niebuhrian realism: Luther's strong insistence on public order combined with Calvin's more transformational and public role for religion. It's not just a question of whether or not such an alloy can stick together, but how Ramsey blends his sources that deserves scrutiny.

Finally, the book concludes with a section focusing on Ramsey's special relevance for today. It bears repeating that, whatever Ramsey's views on specific issues, he was no separatist or biblical fundamentalist. He saw a great deal of good in common morality, and his use of biblical materials is primarily focused on the possibilities and potential of God's love ('agape) set loose in the world. If ever there were an ethics designed to be both religious and "audience-friendly," it was Paul Ramsey's. Thus, in its essential characteristics, Ramsey's ethics was far ahead of its time: religious but not pretentious, respectful of theological heritage but not mired in any one tradition; anchored in faith but not afraid of reason, serious but not shrill. Society has come full circle: it is once again ready to hear the Professor from Princeton.


Foreword by John P. Crossley
Introduction--Speaking His Mind in the Public Square
The Theological Foundations of Ramsey's Thought
The Bible and Paul Ramsey
Natural Law--The Splendor of Natural Morality
Medical Ethics--Ethics at the Margins of Life
Fighting the Just War
Conclusion--For Such a Time as This

FORCED EXIT: The Slippery Slope from Assisted Suicide to Legalized Murder by Wesley J. Smith ($25.00, hardcover, 291 pages, resources, notes, index, Times Books, ISBN: 0-8129-2790-7)

This lucid, comprehensive, and absorbing account of a dangerous movement that will eventually affect us all if assisted suicide is legalized, for it will inexorably lead to lawful euthanasia. The Hippocratic Oath—which commands physicians above all to do no harm—is the most enduring ethical legacy in the medical profession. Society will rue the day it permits doctors to be killers as well as healers. Smith offers a compelling argument against legalizing assisted suicide and clearly explains the devastating effects it would have on an unwary public. Smith has done a great service with this important study. "Forced Exit argues against legally assisted suicide in so many compelling ways. It should drive the terms of debate on this highly charged controversy that is sweeping a country in the grip of rationed care and the plight of millions of uninsured Americans.

"Wesley Smith maintains a balance between sane, well-grounded observation and deeply felt passion. In so doing, he brings a needed dimension of human complexity to the discussion of assisted suicide. More than others who have written on this subject, he introduces readers to human perspectives that have been overlooked. In particular, the voices of persons with disabilities who have worked hard to analyze the impact of assisted suicide on their community and on greater society emerge powerfully. The stories, data, and interpretive text are clear and absorbing, resulting in a book that says more than we expect about how to live.

MAKING CHOICES: A Recasting of Decision Theory by Frederic Schick ($49.95, cloth, 164 pages, notes, bibliography, index, Cambridge University Press, ISBN: 0-521-58181-8)

This book is a nonmathematical overview of decision theory. It presents the logic of rationality and the basics of the theory of games. It shows how social choice theory yields a parallel logic, a logic of choosing for others. It considers the part that is played by how people grasp or see their situations, how different seeings can make for ambiguity and for inner conflicts and value reversals - and how these can be dealt with. And it discusses some problems of time: problems of discounting, of value change, and of the contingency of our future values on what we do today. The author presents many examples from history and from literature, examples dealing with love, war, friendship, and crime.

Because it is completely factual in orientation, this book neither advances a moral argument nor logically implies anything of a moral nature. Even so, the structural relativity of right and wrong—the major theme— may have a human significance worthy of further contemplation.

The empirical evidence indicates that a universal morality, indifferent to the social structure of individual cases, nowhere exists in human society never has, and never will. Any claim of universality in the application of morality is sociologically naive if not meaningless. Nonetheless, an unsociological program of this kind—morality in a social vacuum—is advanced by nearly everyone, including philosophers, theologians, and jurisprudes.

But should we now conclude that moral universalism is obsolete? Are we entering a new stage of moral evolution when right and wrong are explicitly defined partly by particular locations and directions in social space—among intimates, strangers, organizations, nations, against superiors and inferiors? Or is a relativistic morality a contradiction in terms and the death of morality itself? The answer is not self-evident. And precisely how the structural relativity of morality and moral universalism should be reconciled, if at all, is unanswerable by science alone.

This is a short book with much breadth of scope. It will interest anyone concerned with the problems of decision making, whether in philosophy, psychology, or economics.


by Donald Black

Academic Press

$48.95, hardcover, 224 pages, notes, references, indexes


The handling of right and wrong, known in sociology as social control or conflict management, occurs throughout the social universe, wherever people intermingle. It includes phenomena as diverse as litigation, violence, mediation, gossip, ostracism, psychotherapy, sorcery, sabotage, and suicide. It occurs unilaterally (by one party against another), bilaterally (between two parties), and bilaterally (by a third party). It involves groups as well as individuals—lynching and rioting as well as fist-fighting and wifebeating—and covers everything from a glance of disapproval to the bombing of a city. This volume contains formulations that predict and explain the nature of social control anywhere and everywhere, throughout the world and across history.

The application of morality varies with the social structure of each conflict: Who has a grievance against whom? Who else participates? What is their location in social space—their degree of intimacy, wealth, organization, interdependence, and homogeneity? Is the social direction of the grievance downward (against an inferior), upward (against a superior), or lateral (against an equal)? Such variables predict and explain the handling of every case: who wins and loses (if anyone) and what happens thereafter (if anything). In this sense, we can specify the structural relativity of right and wrong.

The theoretical strategy pursued here has several characteristics that may be unfamiliar to some readers. First, it is radically sociological. It pertains to social realty alone. It neither assumes nor implies anything about the psychology of anyone, the subjective meanings of anything, or even the behavior of individuals as such. It specifies only how one variable feature of social life generates another, how, in particular, the social location and direction of a conflict predict and explain its fate. Social space is a universe unto itself, populated by entities conceptually distinct from people in the ordinary sense and subject to understanding in its own terms.

The strategy also favors formulations applicable to the widest range of facts possible—to human conflict everywhere it arises, across societies and communities, from one relationship to another. Such formulations specify how the social structure of conflict determines the way it is handled, regardless of the unique circumstances of its occurrence, such as its cultural or historical setting or the blend of personalities involved. Formulations of this kind illustrate the character and scope of general theory in sociology.

Finally, the strategy is uncompromisingly scientific. It conforms to a conventional philosophy of science sometimes viewed as inappropriate to the study of human beings. It seeks to develop a body of theory not only radically sociological and maximally general but also entirely free of value judgment and falsifiable in the face of the facts. Every formulation is quantitative in language, predictive in content, and testable by simple procedures of observation and measurement (i.e., by counting something). Every formulation is a model of social reality.

The first chapter, "Social Control as a Dependent Variable," introduces the sociological study of moral phenomena, including the origins, mission, and theoretical logic of this field. It begins with the observation that law (governmental social control) is a comparatively small part of this subject matter, less significant in everyday conflict than might be supposed. It also introduces several variable aspects of social control: its form (unilateral, bilateral, trilateral), its style (penal, compensatory, therapeutic, conciliatory), and its quantity (amount applied).

The second chapter, "Crime as Social Control," suggests that much conduct regarded as criminal in modern societies is moralistic: It involves the handling of a grievance by unilateral aggression—self-help—a primary mode of social control in many societies of the past (such as tribal and peasant societies). Most homicides and assaults, for example, are cases of self-help. Criminal behavior of this kind belongs to the same family— social control—as law itself. This view implies an understanding of crime that departs considerably from traditional criminology.

The third chapter, "Compensation and the Social Structure of Misfortune," identifies structural conditions associated with the compensatory style of social control, whereby a grievance is handled by a payment to the aggrieved, and also the conditions associated with differing degrees of liability, whether relative, strict, or absolute. The so-called litigation explosion in modern society partly reflects a proliferation of these conditions. Organizations are more vulnerable than individuals to claims for compensation, for example, and to broader standards of liability. Hence, the growing population of organizations and the growing dependency of individuals on them partly explains why organizations such as business corporations and government agencies are increasingly subject to lawsuits by aggrieved individuals.

Chapter 4, "Social Control of the Self," explores the use of social control by individuals against themselves and proposes that it obeys the same principles as social control in general. Individuals may submit themselves to their victims or to third parties such as parents, priests, or psychotherapists. They may also punish themselves (including self-execution). In legal cases, they may plead guilty—a self-application of law—according to the same principles that predict and explain the application of law by complainants, police, judges, or anyone else.

Chapter 5, "The Elementary Forms of Conflict Management," identifies five modes of handling grievances—self-help, avoidance, negotiation, settlement, and toleration—and illustrates the diverse phenomena they embrace. Each arises in a social field with its own peculiarities. For example, self-help (by vengeance) is most extreme in stable agglomerations of equal but socially distant groups, whereas avoidance is most extreme in unstable aggregations of independent individuals with fragmented relationships. Social fields such as these may prove to be elementary forms of social life itself

Chapter 6, "Toward a Theory of the Third Party" (co-authored with M. P. Baumgartner), classifies third parties (those who participate in the conflicts of others) according to the nature of their intervention. It presents a typology of twelve roles, including partisans (such as advisers and advocates), settlement agents (such as mediators and judges), negotiators (who combine partisan and settlement behavior), and healers (who handle conflict without defining it as such). In addition, the chapter offers formulations that predict and explain the behavior of third parties according to their social location.

The volume concludes with Chapters 7 and 8, a complementary pair of essays that examine the structural relativity of partisanship and moralism (extending the theory of the third party introduced in Chapter 6). Chapter 7, "Taking Sides," proposes a principle of social gravitation and outlines its impact on partisan behavior in various settings. This chapter also out lines the evolution of partisanship from its earliest days as an expressior of primordial intimacy to its modern incarnation as a commodity in the marketplace and a service of the state. Chapter 8, "Making Enemies,’ proposes a principle of social repulsion to predict and explain moralistic behavior, the opposite of partisanship. It focuses primarily on third-part, moralism, expressed by formalism (an emphasis on rules), decisiveness (winner takes all), coerciveness (the use of force), and punitiveness (pain or deprivation as a remedy). Unilateral moralism by one party against another is discussed as well. The chapter closes by noting that modern society is losing the structural conditions most conducive to the production of enemies.


Personal Responsibility—How We Avoid It and What To Do About It

by Vincent Barry

Andrews and McMeel

$19.95 paper, 202 pages, notes


As Vincent Barry notes in this insightful exploration of personal responsibility in America today, the more we look for a place to put the blame, the more we accuse others deadbeat dads, welfare moms, promiscuous teens, crooked politicians, soft-headed judges, sleazy lawyers, illegal aliens, demanding bosses, nagging spouses. But what about us? How are we faring? Busy blaming others, we may be giving up the only real power any of us has: the power to take full responsibility for our lives. So claims Vincent Barry in THE DOG ATE MY HOME WORK which puts the "personal" back into personal responsibility and takes the finger pointing out of it.

In Part I, Barry explores common language and familiar expressions we use, often unconsciously, to escape and avoid responsibility. For example: "How was I supposed to know?" "I didn't want to get involved." "I was just following orders." "Boys will be boys." "I'm too old to change." Barry says becoming aware of cop-out language is something all of us can do to stop copping out. But more is required.

In Part II, Barry suggests a philosophy of self-responsibility built around courage and self-knowledge, conscience and community, confidence and commitment, exemplars and wholeheartedness. His inspiring advice is plain and simple, such as: understand one Vellum of responsibility, not just its price; believe you can make a difference, then do what you can; be the mature, responsible adult you want your children to be.

Vincent Barry, a professor of philosophy at Bakersfield College in Southern California, buts personality into his subject. Informative and timely, conversational and entertaining, he leaves little excuse for not reading THE DOG ATE MY HOME WORK.


Moral Argument at Home and Abroad

by Michael Walzer

University of Notre Dame Press

$10.00, paper; 108 pages, index



by Sissela Bok

University of Missouri Press

$27.50, cloth; 130 pages


A decade ago Walzer published his SPHERES OF JUSTICE. In this short volume he refines his argument from that book and answers in critics in the main. Walzer's position is that basically there are two styles of distributive ethics applied to a situation. the thick is the moral argument that is culturally connected with one's own perceived interests, entangled with one own detailed positions in the world. In the second, thin type is abstract, derived from principle or ad hoc, detached from particular conditions and general. It is the measure applied to others, not one's own perceived interests and ethical practice. Walzer sees that both measures are fairly applicable in all situations of judgment and national development. By so constructing a two standard grid by which to consider value and progress he opts away from the untenable assertion of some of his critics. For example the Foucauldian claim that internal, reformist social criticism must entail complicity with the status quo or the Habermasian claim that social criticism must proceed from universal moral truth. Walzer position is less polemical and more pragmatic. He does not reject universalism so much as balance its claims with the obvious need for self interest. Recommended for any who wish to become informed of the standards by which people and nations can be held accountable Bok's attempt to find the bedrock of human values is in Walzer view a definitely thin approach because it can be shared across cultural, ethnic, religious and national boundaries. She argues persuasively against the thesis that cultural diversity is antagonistic to common values, using a series of different arguments than Walzer's. In stead she proposes people share too much the same interest to let cultural differences to stand in the way of mutual cooperation and good faith. This work stands as a common sense proposal to find common ground in a world too close to stay separated.


Aristole and Kant on Virtue

by Nancy Sherman

Cambridge University Press

$19.95, paper, 387 pages, notes, bibliography, index



This book is the first to offer a detailed analysis of Aristotelian and Kantian ethics together in a way that remains faithful to the texts and responsive to debates in contemporary ethics.

Recent moral philosophy has seen a revival of interest in the concept of virtue, and with it a reassessment of the role of virtue in the work of Aristotle and Kant. This book brings that reassessment to a new level of sophistication. Nancy Sherman argues that Kant preserves a notion of virtue in his moral theory that bears recognizable traces of the Aristotelian and Stoic traditions, and that his complex anthropology of morals brings him into surprising alliance with Aristotle. She develops her argument through close readings of major texts by both Aristotle and Kant, illustrating points of congruence and contrast.

While scrupulously focusing on textual details the book presents a dialogue between Aristotle and Kant that sheds light on contemporary debates about the importance of general principles in any account of moral judgment, on the one hand, and a grasp of particulars on the other. She also argues for the significant role emotions play in both the Kantian and the Aristotelian accounts of moral agency.

Preface and Acknowledgments
Abbreviations and Notes on Translations
A New Dialogue
The Emotional Structure of Aristotelian Virtue
A Brief Stoic Interlude
The Passional Underpinnings of Kantian Virtue
The Shared Voyage
Aristotelian Particularism
Making Room for Practical Wisdom in Kantian Ethics
Perfecting Kantian Virtue: Discretionary Latitude and Superlative Virtue

Nancy Sherman is Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University. She is the author of The Fabric of Character (1989).

"The current state of debate makes this book timely. Sherman's discussions of Aristotle on the emotions and on their relation to character are illuminating. She also is able to show that Kant's views on the emotions and friendship are much more nuanced and interesting than ordinarily supposed. And her discussion of sociality and the values of interaction is especially interesting and suggestive." -Stephen Darwall, University of Michigan


by Catherine Z. Elgin

Princeton University Press

$32.50, cloth, 227 pages, notes, index


CONSIDERED JUDGMENT develops and argues for a reconception of epistemology that makes reflective equilibrium the standard of rational acceptability rather than seeking some universal certainty as normative. A system of thought is in reflective equilibrium when its components are reasonable in light of one another, and the account they comprise is reasonable in light of our antecedent convictions about the subject at hand. Such a system affords no guarantees. It is rationally acceptable not because it is certainly true but because it is reasonable in the epistemic circumstances.

The main purpose of this book is to develop and argue for a version of imperfect procedural epistemology. But the position Elgin advocates sacrifices seemingly legitimate epistemic aspirations. So part of the argument involves showing that those aspirations toward certainty cannot in any case be met.

Since such a position forsakes the goals of certainty and permanent credibility, Elgin argues that those goals cannot be met. Elgin develops the positive account of reflective equilibrium, showing that it has valuable resources that more familiar approaches lack.

Many epistemologists now concede that certainty is a chimerical goal. But they continue to accept the traditional conception of epistemology’s problematic. For them, the question remains how to justify literal, factual beliefs. Elgin suggests that in abandoning the quest for certainty we gain opportunities for a broader epistemological field. One that potentially comprehends the arts and does justice to the sciences where traditional epistemology has floundered. The position Elgin advocates thus recognizes that metaphor, fiction, emotion, and exemplification often advance understanding in science as well as in art. The range of epistemology turns out to be broader and more variegated than has been usually recognized. Tenable systems of thought are neither absolute nor arbitrary. But even though they are subject to revision, they are good in the way of belief.

Elgin has managed an eloquent argument for a contextual epistemology that is relative and relational without being relativistic. In so doing she actually opens up the field of epistemological inquiry to encompass emotions, the arts and sciences in ways before were artificially restricted. This work is likely to be widely read and debated. Her philosophical voice is an example of well reasoned and eloquent debate. Other titles: Between the Absolute and the Arbitrary, and With Reference to Reference, among several studies of Nelson Goodman.

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