Normative Ethics

Normative Ethics

Normative Ethics

Normative Ethics


Providing a thorough introduction to current philosophical views on morality, Normative Ethics examines an act's rightness or wrongness in light of such factors as consequences, harm, & consent. Shelly Kagan offers a division between moral factors & theoretical foundations that reflects the actual working practices of contemporary moral philosophers. The first half of the book presents a systematic survey of the basic normative factors, focusing on controversial questions concerning the precise content of each factor, its scope & significance, & its relationship to other factors. The second half of the book then examines the competing theories about the foundations of normative ethics, theories that attempt to explain why the basic normative factors have the moral significance that they do. Intended for upper-level or graduate students of philosophy, this book should also appeal to the general reader looking for a clearly written overview of the basic principles of moral philosophy.


How should one live? There are few questions, I think, that are as gripping and as inescapable as this one. Unlike many of the other classical questions of philosophy, this question -- the central question of moral philosophy -- seems pressing and important. It matters what answers we come up with, for it matters what I do with my life. What I make of myself, how I live, what I do, what kind of person I become -- these things are of vital concern to each of us, even if few of us normally reflect on them in a systematic or critical fashion.

Moral philosophy attempts to answer the question of how one should live. Because of the staggering difficulty and significance of the question, any attempt to provide an answer can seem arrogant, pretentious, or embarrassing. Who could be so foolish, so naive, or so dogmatic, as to think that they had themselves (finally!) arrived at the truth about how to live? Indeed, many of us have learned to pretend -- or have even fooled ourselves into thinking that we believe -- that there are no correct answers here, that ethics is all simply a matter of opinion.

And yet, on reflection, most of us do in fact think that there are right and wrong answers in ethics. Here is a simple example: it would be immoral to set a child on fire for the mere pleasure of watching him burn. Is there anyone who seriously doubts the truth of this claim?

Perhaps there is. (Human history has produced more than its share of demented or wicked individuals.) If so, such a person need read no further in this book. But for the rest of us -- for those who think that there are indeed certain moral claims that are correct and others that are wrong -- the question is not whether there are right answers in moral philosophy but only to what extent we can arrive at them. How farcan we go toward systematiz-

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