This is a very short introduction to ethics. It divides into three parts: first, introducing and discussing reasons for skepticism about ethics; second introducing themes of birth, death, happiness, desire and freedom to show how deeply our lives are interwoven with ethics; third, introducing attempts to found ethics, due to Aristotle, Kant, and the contractarian tradition.
When faced with an ethical dilemma, should we seek solutions that offer the greatest good or happiness to the greatest number of people? Are there any universal laws or principles by which ethical conduct should be governed? From what sources are ethical principles derived? Cambridge philosopher Blackburn addresses these and other questions in this straightforward introduction to ethics, a companion to his Think: A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy. In part one, he considers seven subjects religion, relativism, evolutionary theory, egoism, determinism, unreasonable demands and false consciousness "that seem to suggest that ethics is somehow impossible." For example, relativism (the idea there is no one truth but different truths), he argues, often ends in nihilism, or the notion that there are indeed no values and no truth. Next, Blackburn discusses several ethical theories, including deontology (the theory that our ethical actions must be governed by rules) and utilitarianism (the theory that our ethical actions must be governed by their consequences), as well as rights theories and Kant's categorical imperative, which elevates duty to universal law. In a final section, Blackburn suggests that neither Kant, rights theories, deontology or utilitarianism provide adequate grounds for being good. Rather, he argues, "ethical principles are those that would be agreed in any reasonable cooperative procedure for coming to one mind about our conduct." Unfortunately, Blackburn never develops his idea about a common point of view for judging our conduct (he doesn't explain, for instance, how such a cooperative transaction can take place when partners in the conversation are using different ethical languages), and that is where this little book, which is so rich in analysis, falters significantly. Illus.