Culled from his 12-year tenure as the man behind the The New York Times Magazine's "The Ethicist," this anthology of Cohen's columns, now divided into categories such as "Family," "Money," "Technology," and "Love & Sex," blends nuanced ethical discussions with gentle humor. Although much of the content will be redundant for regular readers of "The Ethicist"—Cohen provides brief essays at the beginning of each chapter, but little else is new—the organization of this book helps clarify Cohen's formation of a code of ethics that is socially progressive and community-based. Although some of the dilemmas presented are thought-provoking on their own, the most interesting portions are those in which Cohen returns to earlier decisions, sharing letters from readers, revising arguments, and discussing controversies that resulted from certain pronouncements. Seeing Cohen defend his decisions against intelligent dissenters and remark how the passage of time has altered his thinking on others is perhaps the most instructive aspect of the book—a demonstration in how to actually practice the art of ethical thinking. One could argue this was Cohen's intention all along; in assembling this volume, what he has created is "a set of practice problems" meant to test and strengthen the reader's own ethical compass. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
"What [Cohen] has created is "a set of practice problems" meant to test and strengthen the reader's own ethical compass. "
- Publisher's Weekly"
What struck me most was his claim that, despite our quickly changing world of social media and altered interpersonal communications, ethics themselves have not changed much over time. Etiquette changes; social mores shift. But whether you're a Googler or a gladiator, the basic line stays the same: When in doubt about how to act, be good. We all know (pretty much) what that means."
While there's plenty of common-sense inside this book, there's also lots to ponder about right and wrong."
- Alaska Journal
Cohen was the author for 12 years of the popular Ethicist column for the New York Times Magazine, in which he addressed readers' questions about ethical issues they faced in their daily lives. Here, after a useful introduction in which he explains his methods and procedures, Cohen collects many of these columns, organized into thematic chapters around such topics as family, doctors and nurses, work, love and sex, money, and religion. Each chapter includes a preliminary essay in which Cohen comments on the general ethical questions surrounding that theme. He does not rely on any formal ethical theory in answering the questions, though he at times is in touch with eminent philosophers including Martha Nussbaum and Peter Singer. Instead, he relies on common sense, sometimes derided, he tells us, as a "gut reaction." But his is common sense informed by wide reading and careful thought. Many of the questions concern issues of honesty, e.g., making a false statement about one's religion to avoid discrimination in a foreign country. VERDICT Even those who disagree with his answers are likely to recognize that Cohen is an acute and caring writer. Anyone interested in ethical questions—and who is not?—will find this book valuable.—David Gordon, Bowling Green State Univ., OH