An Introduction to Ethics

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This book examines the central questions of ethics through a study of theories of right and wrong that are found in the great ethical works of Western philosophy. It focuses on theories that continue to have a significant presence in the field. The core chapters cover egoism, the eudaimonism of Plato and Aristotle, act and rule utilitarianism, modern natural law theory, Kant's moral theory, and existentialist ethics. Readers will be introduced not only to the main ideas of each theory but to contemporary developments and defenses of those ideas. A final chapter takes up topics in meta-ethics and moral psychology. The discussions throughout draw the reader into philosophical inquiry through argument and criticism that illuminate the profundity of the questions under examination. Students will find this book to be a very helpful guide to how philosophical inquiry is undertaken as well as to what the major theories in ethics hold.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This is a beautifully and elegantly written introduction to the fundamental questions of ethics. It is a comprehensive and accessible book that will be of interest to students and also to anyone reflecting about how to live a good and normatively defensible life. Highly recommended.'
- John Fischer, University of California, Riverside

"a tightly integrated and exceptionally well-written survey of the central questions of ethics. ... I recommend Deigh's book to those wanting a sophisticated introduction for undergraduates, to non-specialists prepared to engage with a serious text, and to every graduate student in philosophy."
-Nancy E. Schauber, University of Richmond, Notre Dame Philosophical Review

"...An Introduction to Ethics is rich with interesting insights, and the prose succeeds in constructing a coherent narrative. One of the book’s most novel features is its complex methodology."
--George Lăzăroiu, PhD, Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences, New York, Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521775977
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 3/31/2010
  • Series: Cambridge Introductions to Philosophy Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 250
  • Product dimensions: 6.80 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

John Deigh is Professor of Philosophy and Law at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of The Sources of Moral Agency (Cambridge, 1996) and of Emotions, Values, and the Law (2008).
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Table of Contents

Preface xi

1 What is ethics? 1

1 The problems of ethics: an example 1

2 Socrates and Thrasymachus 4

3 The subject of ethics 7

4 An alternative conception of morality 11

5 Two types of ethical theory 14

6 The problem of deontology 16

7 The idea of a moral community 19

8 Ethical theories and moral ideals 22

2 Egoism 25

1 The wise pursuit of happiness 25

2 The concept of happiness 28

3 The primary argument for egoism 32

4 Psychological egoism 34

5 An alternative argument for egoism 37

6 Psychological hedonism 39

7 The Hobbesian program 43

8 Troubles with the Hobbesian program's derivations 49

9 Troubles with the Hobbesian program's scope 52

10 Thrasymachus' challenge again 53

3 Eudaimonism 56

1 Egoism v. eudaimonism 56

2 The Platonic form of eudaimonism 58

3 Perfectionist objections to hedonism 60

4 Epicurus' answer 63

5 Mill's defense of hedonism 65

6 Plato's ethics 71

7 Rationalism v. naturalism 77

8 Aristotle's naturalism 81

9 A problem in Aristotle's program 86

10 Prospects for contemporary eudaimonism 90

4 Utilitarianism 93

1 Impartiality 93

2 Two problems 98

3 Consequentialism 101

4 Mill's restatement of utilitarianism 103

5 An inconsistency in Mill's restatement 107

6 Rule utilitarianism 111

7 Act utilitarianism revisited 115

8 Is act utilitarianism self-refuting? 118

9 When act utilitarianism ceases to be an ethical theory 121

5 The moral law 123

1 Two theories of moral law 123

2 Divine command theory 128

3 Rational intuitionism 131

4 Ethics and mathematics 135

5 Kant's way 140

6 Formalism in ethics 147

7 The problem with Kant's formalism 151

6 The ethics of self-determination 157

1 Kant's step into metaphysics 157

2 The formula of humanity 160

3 Is the formula of humanity an independent principle? 163

4 The formula of autonomy and the kingdom of ends 167

5 Answering the charge of excessive formalism 171

6 Rationalism revisited 174

7 Personal autonomy 179

8 Existentialist ethics 183

9 The excesses of existentialism 188

10 Existentialist ethics pruned of excess 194

7 Practical reason 196

1 Meta-ethics 196

2 Meta-ethical disputes: an illustration 199

3 Aristotle's answer and an existentialist response 201

4 Can there be motives that aim at doing evil for its own sake? 205

5 The obsolescence of Aristotle's answer 209

6 The eliminability of teleological explanations 213

7 Modern skepticism about practical reason 216

8 Hume's meta-ethics 219

9 Practical reason in modern philosophy 222

10 Kant's notion of practical reason 226

11 Freedom and reason 230

Appendix: Diagram of different teleological theories 233

Works cited 234

Suggested further readings 236

Index 239

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