The Elements of Moral Philosophy
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The Elements of Moral Philosophy by James Rachels and Stuart Rachels is a best-selling text for undergraduate courses in ethics. Thirteen thought-provoking chapters introduce readers to major moral concepts and theories in philosophy through clear, understandable explanations and compelling discussions.
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About the Author
STUART RACHELS is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Alabama. He has revised several of James Rachels’ books, including Problems from Philosophy (second edition, 2009) and The Right Thing to Do (fifth edition, 2010), which is the companion anthology to this book. Stuart won the United States Chess Championship in 1989, at the age of 20, and he is a Bronze Life Master at bridge. His website is www.jamesrachels.org/stuart.
James Rachels, the distinguished American moral philosopher, was born in Columbus, Georgia, graduating from Mercer University in Macon in 1962. He received his Ph.D. in 1967 from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He taught at the University of Richmond, New York University, the University of Miami, Duke University, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he spent the last twenty-six years of his career. 1971 saw the publication of Rachels’ groundbreaking textbook Moral Problems, which ignited the movement in America away from teaching ethical theory towards teaching concrete practical issues. Moral Problems sold 100,000 copies over three editions. In 1975, Rachels wrote “Active and Passive Euthanasia,” arguing that the distinction so important in the law between killing and letting die has no rational basis. Originally appearing in the New England Journal of Medicine, this essay has been reprinted roughly 300 times and is a staple of undergraduate education. The End of Life (1986) was about the morality of killing and the value of life. Created from Animals (1990) argued that a Darwinian world-view has widespread philosophical implications, including drastic implications for our treatment of nonhuman animals. Can Ethics Provide Answers? (1997) was Rachels’ first collection of papers (others are expected posthumously). Rachels’ McGraw-Hill textbook, The Elements of Moral Philosophy, is now in its fourth edition and is easily the best-selling book of its kind. Over his career, Rachels wrote 5 books and 85 essays, edited 7 books and gave about 275 professional lectures. His work has been translated into Dutch, Italian, Japanese, and Serbo-Croatian. James Rachels is widely admired as a stylist, as his prose is remarkably free of jargon and clutter. A major theme in his work is that reason can resolve difficult moral issues. He has given reasons for moral vegetarianism and animal rights, for affirmative action (including quotas), for the humanitarian use of euthanasia, and for the idea that parents owe as much moral consideration to other people’s children as they do to their own. James Rachels died of cancer on September 5th, 2003, in Birmingham, Alabama.
Most helpful customer reviews
0 of 0 people found the following review helpful.
A textbook on Moral Philosophy
By Walter W. Olson, Ph.D, P.E.
The Elements of Moral Philosophy
I am troubled by the fact this textbook on Moral Philosophy fails to define what a moral is. Instead, the authors go straight into making statements about morality. (It should be noted that James Rachel was the sole author of the first four editions and passed away in 2003. He work is continued by Stuart Rachel.) It would seem to me that a textbook of this nature would make a distinction between a moral and morality giving definitions for both.
A moral and morality are quite different things. In my opinion, a moral is a statement or concept that defines that action that a person might take as either right or wrong. One can argue to length what “right” and “wrong” mean. They are not the same as true or false, or for matter, good or bad, although common dictionaries defined them in that manner. Specifically, we look at a moral as having two possible or binary states, right and wrong. An action consistent with the moral is right while an action inconsistent with the moral is wrong. It is not inconceivable that some might hold that morals may have more states but for purposes of this philosophy, we should consider them binary. Thus for a given moral, an action can be right, bad and false, all at the same time, although one would expect a right action under an accepted moral to good and true. By accepted, I mean a moral that one chooses, thus accepts, to honor in their life. Clearly, for people who have never thought about morals, their society has chosen them for those people in absentia.
Morality is a system of beliefs about accepted morals. A system contains elements, in this case, an group of morals accepted into the system. Some subset of the moral group may allow a common principle of action to emerge under analysis. The morality system may also start from a principle a priori from which separate morals then can be derived.
The authors hold there is a minimum system for morality, to wit, “Morality is, at the very least, the effort to guide one’s conduct by reason—that is, to do what there are the best reasons for doing—while giving equal weight to the interests of each individual affected by one’s action.” But this definition contains moral statements and can not be accepted as an impartial definition. The authors, who in the last chapter of the book propose their support for “Multiple-Strategies Utilitarianism,” admit that their biases may have intruded into their work in the Preface.
Their concept of a moral is biased by prejudged concepts of what morals are right and wrong and thus is reflexive. It is important that any student using this as a textbook understand that prior to their study of this book.
However, once that is understood, and the biases of the author in several contemporary issues, the book is an easy read. The authors discuss several prominent morality theories and try to present the unbiased pro’s and con’s of the theories.
Among the theories discussed are Utilitarianism, the Categorical Imperative, Ethical Egoism (others have term this Objectivism,) Virtue Ethics, and the Social Contract Theory. There is a chapter on feminist theories of care which I feel is either misplaced or underdeveloped but consistent with the authors’ biases for contemporary issues.
I think, with the criticisms above noted, the authors have achieved a goal of teaching Moral Philosophy in their textbook. I also believe this is an introduction, a starting point for the subject. I would encourage the student to read original sources, in their original language if they have the ability to do so.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful.
Thin and pricey.
By Lab Geek
I know a lot of educational programs are using this "textbook", but the real winner is the author. It is expensive for simply reading somebody's opinion on different philosophical concepts without many footnotes to even refer to.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful.
This is the main book we use in my Introduction to Ethics class at the University of Kansas and it does a very good job at disproving the 4 common "failed" ethical theories that most people know about and provides an understandable explanation of the viable ethical theories today such as Utilitarianism and Social Contract Theory. It does not read like a textbook, it is very captivating and I would recommend it to anyone that is interested in a general understanding of ethical theory.