Good & Evil, Right & Wrong
Michael J. Zimmerman (Rowman & Littlefield: Jul 2001), 288 pages.
At the heart of ethics reside the concepts of good and bad; they are at work when we assess whether a person is virtuous or vicious, an act right or wrong, a decision defensible or indefensible, a goal desirable or undesirable. But there are many varieties of goodness and badness. At their core lie intrinsic goodness and badness, the sort of value that something has for its own sake. It is in virtue of intrinsic value that other types of value may be understood, and hence that we can begin to come to terms with questions of virtue and vice, right and wrong, and so on. This book investigates the nature of intrinsic value: just what it is for something to be valuable for its own sake, just what sort of thing can have such value, just how such a value is to be computed. In the final chapter, the fruits of this investigation are applied to a discussion of pleasure, pain, and displeasure and also of moral virtue and vice, in order to determine just what value lies within these phenomena. ~ From the Publisher
Mark C. Murphy (Cambridge University Press: June 2001), 298 pages.
According to the natural law account of practical rationality, the basic reasons for actions are basic goods that are grounded in the nature of human beings. Practical rationality aims to identify and characterize reasons for action and to explain how choice between actions worth performing can be appropriately governed by rational standards. Natural Law and Practical Rationality is a defense of a contemporary natural law theory of practical rationality, demonstrating its inherent plausibility and engaging systematically with rival egoist, consequentialist, Kantian and virtue accounts. ~ Product Description • "An impressive tour de force...Any philosopher doing work in contemporary ethics generally, as well as those doing work specifically in the areas of natural law and practical reason, will benefit enormously from grappling with the vigorous argumentation of this book." ~ Review of Metaphysics
John E. Hare (Eerdmans: June 2001), 136 pages.
There has been a debate between modern ethicists who see moral judgments as objectively corresponding to a moral reality independent of human opinion and those who insist that moral judgments are essentially expressions of our will. In this excellent philosophical work John Hare outlines a theory that combines the merits of both views, arguing that what makes something right is that God calls us to it.In the first chapter Hare gives a selective history of the sustained debate within Anglo-American philosophy over the last century between moral realists and moral expressivists. Best understood as a disagreement about how objectivity and subjectivity are related in value judgment, this debate is of particular interest to Christians, who necessarily feel pulled in both directions. Christians want to say that value is created by God and exists whether we recognize it or not, but they also want to say that when we value something, our hearts' fundamental commitments are also involved. Hare suggests "prescriptive realism" as a way to bring both perspectives together. The second chapter examines the divine command theory of John Duns Scotus, looking particularly at the relationship that Scotus established between God's commands, human nature, and human will. Hare shows that a Calvinist version of the divine command theory of obligation can be defended via Scotus against natural law theory as well as against contemporary challenges. A significant theme treated here is the view that the Fall disordered our natural inclinations, rendering them useless as an authoritative source of guidance for right living. In the last chapter Hare moves to the key philosophical juncture between the medieval period and our own time — the moral theory of Immanuel Kant in the late eighteenth century. Modern moral philosophy has largely taken Kant's work as a refutation of divine command theory and a refocusing of the discussion on human autonomy. Hare shows that Kant was in fact not arguing against the kind of divine command theory that Hare supports. He discusses what Kant meant by saying that we should recognize our duties as God's commands, and he defends a notion of human autonomy as appropriation. Featuring original moral theory and fresh interpretations of the thought of Duns Scotus and Kant, God's Call is valuable both for its overview of the history of moral debate and for its construction of a sound Christian ethic for today. ~ Product Description
Robert P. George (Oxford University Press: April 2001), 360 pages.
In Making Men Moral, his 1995 book, Robert George questioned the central doctrines of liberal jurisprudence and political theory. In his new work he extends his critique of liberalism and goes beyond it to show how contemporary natural law theory provides a superior way of thinking about basic problems of justice and poltical morality. It is written with the same combination of stylistic elegance and analytical rigor that distinguishes his critical work. Not content merely to defend natural law against its cultural critics, he deftly turns the tables and deploys the idea to mount a stunning attack on predominant liberal beliefs about such issues as abortion, sexuality, and the place of religion in public life. Readers interested in law, political science, and philosophy will find George's arguments both challenging and compelling. ~ Product Description
John Kells Ingram (Adamant Media Corporation: September 2000), 163 pages.
William Spohn (Continuum International: September 1, 2000), 238 pages.
What does Jesus have to do with ethics? There are two brief answers given by believers: "everything" and "not much." While evangelical or fundamentalist Christians would find authoritative guidance in the words and commands of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament, many mainstream Christian ethicists would say that Jesus is too concrete or narrowly particular to have any direct import for ethics.In this book, Williams Spohn takes a middle way, showing how Jesus is the "concrete universal" of Christian ethics. By forming a bridge from the lives of contemporary Christians to the words and deeds of Jesus, Jesus' story as a whole exemplifies moral perception, motivation and Christian identity. In addition, Spohn shows how the practices of Christian spirituality — specifically prayer, service, and community — train the imagination and reorient emotions to produce a character and a way of life consonant with Christian New Testament moral teaching. ~ Product Description
Paul K. Moser and Thomas L. Carson, eds. (Oxford University Press: August 2000), pages.
Are all moral truths relative or do certain moral truths hold for all cultures and people? In Moral Relativism: A Reader, this and related questions are addressed by twenty-one contemporary moral philosophers and thinkers. This engaging and nontechnical anthology, the only up-to-date collection devoted solely to the topic of moral relativism, is accessible to a wide range of readers including undergraduate students from various disciplines. The selections are organized under six main topics: (1) General Issues; (2) Relativism and Moral Diversity; (3) On the Coherence of Moral Relativism; (4) Defense and Criticism; (5) Relativism, Realism, and Rationality; and (6) Case Study on Relativism. Contributors include Ruth Benedict, Richard Brandt, Thomas L. Carson, Philippa Foot, Gordon Graham, Gilbert Harman, Loretta M. Kopelman, David Lyons, J. L. Mackie, Michele Moody-Adams, Paul K. Moser, Thomas Nagel, Martha Nussbaum, Karl Popper, Betsy Postow, James Rachels, W. D. Ross, T. M. Scanlon, William Graham Sumner, and Carl Wellman. The volume concludes with a case study on female circumcision/genital mutilation that vividly brings into focus the practical aspects and implications of moral relativism. An ideal primary text for courses in moral relativism, Moral Relativism: A Reader can also be used as a supplementary text for introductory courses in ethics and for courses in various disciplines — anthropology, sociology, theology, political science, and cultural studies — that discuss relativism. The volume's pedagogical and research value is enhanced by a topical bibliography on moral relativism and a substantial general introduction that includes explanatory summaries of the twenty selections.
Kevin Bales (University of California: July 1, 2000)
Slavery is illegal throughout the world, yet more than twenty-seven million people are still trapped in one of history's oldest social institutions. Kevin Bales's heart-wrenching story of slavery today reaches from brick kilns in Pakistan and brothels in Thailand to the offices of multinational corporations. His investigation of conditions in Mauritania, Brazil, Thailand, Pakistan, and India reveals the tragic emergence of a "new slavery," one intricately linked to the global economy. The new slaves are not a long-term investment as was true with older forms of slavery, explains Bales. Instead, they are cheap, require little care, and are disposable. Bales offers suggestions for combating the new slavery and provides examples of very positive results from organizations such as Anti-Slavery International, the Pastoral Land Commission in Brazil, and the Human Rights Commission in Pakistan.
The Secular Web is currently hosting the Carrier-Roth Debate in which Jennifer Roth argues that an ethical case can be made against abortion without reference to God or any other supernatural entity. It is telling that neither disputant attempts to justify the intrinsic worth they assume for human persons. If each party just grants that humans are inherently more valuable than rocks and trees, the crucial issue has been missed: the question of what it is that makes anything valuable. William Lane Craig presses this very issue in a new article in Paper Trails, "The Indispensability of Theological Meta-ethical Foundations for Morality." There is also philosophical confusion in the debate about what constitutes personal identity and other problems, but there are also many highlights in this exchange. Whether or not Roth is successful, it is refreshing to hear concerns about abortion outside of the religious community. Apart from condemnations of clinic violence, ethical considerations are conspicuously absent from virtually every pro-choice website, from Planned Parenthood to Protect Choice. Teenwire is about as close as you get with its swift dismissal: "Abortion is a touchy subject with a lot of people. Remember that this is your body and your decision... You have a right to end an unwanted pregnancy if you feel that it is the wisest decision for you." Considering this, The Secular Web's substantive discussion is especially commendable.
Frank Jackson (Oxford University Press: May 11, 2000), 192 pages.
Frank Jackson champions the cause of conceptual analysis as central to philosophical inquiry. In recent years conceptual analysis has been undervalued and widely misunderstood, suggests Jackson. He argues that such analysis is mistakenly clouded in mystery, preventing a whole range of important questions from being productively addressed. He anchors his argument in discussions of specific philosophical issues, starting with the metaphysical doctrine of physicalism and moving on, via free will, meaning, personal identity, motion, and change, to ethics and the philosophy of color. In this way the book not only offers a methodological program for philosophy, but also casts new light on some much-debated problems and their interrelations. ~ Book Description
The Genesis of Justice Ten Stories of Biblical Injustice That Led to the Ten Commandments and Modern Law
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
Leonard D. Katz (Imprint Academic: Mar 1, 2000), 352 pages.
Four principal papers and a total of 43 peer commentaries on the evolutionary origins of morality. To what extent is human morality the outcome of a continuous development from motives, emotions and social behaviour found in nonhuman animals? Jerome Kagan, Hans Kummer, Peter Railton and others discuss the first principal paper by primatologists Jessica Flack and Frans de Waal. The second paper, by cultural anthropologist Christopher Boehm, synthesizes social science and biological evidence to support his theory of how our hominid ancestors became moral. In the third paper philosopher Elliott Sober and evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson argue that an evolutionary understanding of human nature allows sacrifice for others and ultimate desires for another's good. Finally Brian Skyrms argues that game theory based on adaptive dynamics must join the social scientist's use of rational choice and classical game theory to explain cooperation.
Arthur Koestler on War said...
Even a cursory glance at history should convince one that individual crimes committed for selfish motives play a quite insignificant part in the human tragedy, compared to the numbers massacred in unselfish loyalty to one's tribe, nation, dynasty, church, or political ideology, ad majorem gloriam dei. The emphasis is on unselfish. Excepting a small minority of mercenary or sadistic disposition, wars are not fought for personal gain, but out of loyalty and devotion to king, country or cause. Homicide committed for personal reasons is a statistical rarity in all cultures, including our own. Homicide for unselfish reasons, at the risk of one's own life, is the dominant phenomenon of history.
Peter Kreeft (Ignatius Press: October 1, 1999)
The only boring aspect of this book is its title, which doesn't do justice to apologist Kreeft's intelligent, engaging dialogue between two fictional friends during a week of relaxation at Martha's Vineyard. Kreeft, philosophy professor at Boston College and author of more than 25 books, describes the absolutist character 'Isa as a Muslim fundamentalist from Palestine who teaches philosophy at the American University in Beirut. His interviewer and sparring partner is Libby Rawls, an African-American, liberal feminist journalist. Using a classic debate format, with impressive fairness to the opposite side, Kreeft defines relativism and its importance. Tracing relativism's evolution and history in Western philosophy, Kreeft notes that relativism is a fairly modern perspective, originating within the last few hundred years. He outlines the philosophical distinctions between it and absolutism with clarity and an integrity that will delight both the layperson and the professional philosopher. For Kreeft, relativism has eroded a collective and individual sense of accountability and contributed to social decay, yet he can see the other side, especially with regard to cross-cultural differences. Although the purpose of the book is to uphold absolutism, Kreeft outlines the relativist perspective in an approachable, respectful manner. By giving counterarguments a fighting chance, this becomes a book that may actually persuade people, not just preach to the absolutist choir. ~ Publishers Weekly
"Is the Religious Right Finished?" in Christianity Today (September 6, 1999), pg. 47
Frustration at slow progress in the political arena is understandable. But my advice to my friends in the pro-family movement is this: Do not be discouraged. As Reinhold Niebuhr once observed, "The arc of history is long, but it curves towards justice." This road is often long and hard. But it has always been so. The antislavery movement began petitioning Congress in the 1830s, and did not see slavery abolished for 30 years — and that required a bloody war. The NAACP was founded in 1909, but it did not even gain support in a national party platform until 1948, and it did not pass landmark civil-rights legislation until 1964. The suffragist movement gathered at Seneca Falls in 1848, and women did not gain the right to vote nationally until 1920. The same will be true in the pro-life and pro-family movements. The gradual and incremental nature of our progress and victories is not unusual in the history of social-reform movement in the United States. It is the norm.
Jean Porter (Eerdmans: August 1999), 344 pages.
Though the concept of natural law took center stage during the Middle Ages, the theological aspects of this august intellectual tradition have been largely forgotten by the modern church. In this book ethicist Jean Porter shows the continuing significance of the natural law tradition for Christian ethics. Based on a careful analysis of natural law as it emerged in the medieval period, Porter's work explores several important scholastic theologians and canonists whose writings are not only worthy of study in their own right but also make important contributions to moral reflection today. ~ Product Description • "This is a first-class contribution to fundamental ethics. It is elegantly written, historically sensitive, philosophically sophisticated, and theologically nuanced. Jean Porter replies brilliantly to theological varieties of naive essentialism and postmodern relativism as she illumines an alliance between natural law theory and Christian faith that is at once traditional and contemporary." ~ Lisa Sowle Cahill
Gary A. Haugen (InterVarsity: July 1, 1999)
International news accounts describe mind-blowing horrors of child prostitution, state-sponsored religious persecution, racial violence, torture and genocide. What can we possibly do in response? Can ordinary Christians make a difference? And where is the God of justice? The good news about injustice is that God is against it. Gary Haugen explains that God is in the business of using the unlikely to accomplish justice and mercy. This book offers stories of courageous Christians who have stood up for justice and also calls the body of Christ to action. Haugen provides concrete guidance on how Christians can rise up to seek justice throughout the world.
"Cowards" in World (March 27, 1999), pg. 7
Selected aspects of the whole scenario are then reported by a cowardly media. I say "slected aspects" because the steady media diet we're all offered conspicuously leaves out two key aspects of the story. With all the focus on the violence just outside the clinics, never is there a detailed accounting of the much more terrible violence within. And only rarely is there an accounting of the violence that happens deep in women's hearts and souls as they say a deliberate and purposeful goodbye to their own offspring. Only a cowardly media could ignore so central — and so gripping — a part of the story. Yet the most cowardly aspect of all may be the outsized disparity between the big people and the little people. The parents who concieve the babies, the abortionists who destroy them, the politicians who aid and abet, the reporters who give one-sided accounts — all these grownups conspire agianst tiny victims who typically will not be permitted even to draw their first breath of life, much less use that breath to scream their protest.
T. M. Scanlon (Harvard University Press: February 1999), 432 pages.
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
Normative Ethics (Westview Press: 1998), pp. 15-6.
The position we have arrived at is this: in defending a moral theory, we must see how well that theory fits in with a wide variety of judgments that we are inclined to make about many different matters. We have opinions about cases, about principles, about the nature of morality, about what counts as an adequate explanation, and more. Some of these opinions are fairly specific, others are more general; some are arrived at rather "intuitively" and spontaneously, others only after considerable reflection; some are extremely difficult to give up, others are more easily abandoned. We try to find the moral theory that provides the overall fit with this eclectic set of beliefs. But if — as seems overwhelmingly likely — no theory can actually accomodate all of the relevant initial beliefs, we revise the set: we alter our beliefs, and reevaluate our theories, until we arrive as best we can at a theory that seems on balance to be more plausible than any of its rivals. Ultimately, then, defending a normative theory is a matter of arguing that it provides the best overall fit with our various considered judgments.