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Monday, May 30, 2011


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I give my students an historical primary approach. I'd suggest the Republic or Nicomachean Ethics, kant's groundwork of the metaphysics of morals, and mills utilitarianism. I figure this covers the three most popular, serious ethical systems out there.

Not that up on anthologies.

For what it's worth: Georgetown University took a "throw them in and hope they float" approach. My Introduction to Ethics class consisted of two texts: Artistotle's Nicomachaean Ethics and Kant's Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals. Class was mostly assigned readings, lecture, and some in-class discussion. We probably had a paper or two to write, as well as some sort of project, but this was back in 1987, so my memory's fuzzy.

_Morality and the Meaning of Life: An Introduction to Ethical Theory_, by Joseph Ellin.


Sean and Kevin,

The texts you mention are of course classics that any serious student must eventually tackle. My correspondent, however, is an older person with limited time who needs an overview.



As an overview for a beginner, the audio series The Modern Scholar: Ethics: A History of Moral Thought, by Peter Kreeft can't be beat. Get it from your local library or through interlibrary loan.

As a freshman at the University of Chicago (1988)I was required to read Aristotle's Ethics and was force fed Kant's Grundlegung but happily Smith's Wealth of Nations as well. UoC still had standards back then about what is necessary to lead a thoughtful life. Allan Bloom and Joseph Cropsey pointed the way my second year. I see no reason not to start with Aristotle, lest you want to learn Greek first. Frankly, you can spend a lifetime tackling Aristotle's Ethics without missing else. His work is all encompassing. But what is the purpose of studying ethics without the will to practice them? So study Aristotle and work your way upwards and out of the cave.

Mark Timmons' *Moral Theory* is an excellent introduction to normative ethics. It surveys the major schools. Shelly Kagan's *Normative Ethics* takes an analytic approach to the same subject. By analytic here I mean that he bases his discussion on concepts, such as well-being, then introduces and examines additional factor after factor until he's covered the major theories. Unfortunately, there is not a superb metaethics introduction at this time.

Three introductory books I'd recommend are:

1. John Hospers: Human Conduct

2. James Otteson's Actual Ethics looks good, based on the parts I've read and David Gordon's review:


3. Stanley Grenz: The Moral Quest

I also like The Morality of Everyday Life by Thomas Fleming.

I'm not an Objectivist but I think Tara Smith's book Viable Values makes out a good case for Rand's ethical theories.

Patrick Grim's Teaching Company course Questions of Value is excellent, although I think marred by his anti-Christian bias. Your friend can download it for $35 bucks and listen to it in his car. It's a great value for 12 hours of teaching.

-Neil Parille

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