Magazine article New Oxford Review

An Introduction to Ethics: A Natural Law Approach

Magazine article New Oxford Review

An Introduction to Ethics: A Natural Law Approach

Article excerpt

An Introduction to Ethics: A Natural Law Approach. By Brian Besong. Cascade Books. 248 pages. $30.

An unfortunate feature of many introduction-to-ethics texts and college courses is a severe lack of attention to the traditional natural-law perspective. Many either skip the view altogether or unfairly dismiss it. Brian Besong's presentation of a natural-law approach to ethics constitutes a persuasive and sorely needed defense of a viable ethical theory. His inclusion of common objections is a valuable resource for responding to the ubiquitous and often superficial objections used to dismiss natural-law theory.

Besong's Introduction to Ethics is structured to guide the reader in a logical and teleological manner. For example, Besong begins with a discussion of foundational issues concerning questions of metaethics, or the foundations of ethics, specifically within the context of axiology, or the theory of value. He leads the reader to consider a vast array of topics within moral philosophy, and then he addresses moral responsibility, rights and duties, and virtues and vices. Besong covers much ground in these chapters but keeps readers engaged and doesn't bog them down. In other words, he balances substance and accessibility. By concluding the book with a discussion of virtue and vice, Besong brings the reader full circle: The virtuous person is the person who is happy, an exemplar of what it looks like to answer properly the foundational questions.

Besong brings clarity to difficult subject matter by defining all technical terms in a straightforward manner. Plus, his use of everyday examples helps crystallize abstract philosophical concepts. He uses instances of disagreement over certain applied ethical issues, such as abortion and capital punishment, in order to discuss debates within metaethics - e.g., whether morality is objective or subjective.

An Introduction to Ethics is one of few introductory texts recently published that defends a traditional natural-law perspective. Given that the natural law is often overlooked or ignored in ethics courses, many probably do not know that naturallaw theorists are divided into two broad camps. Two primary differences between traditional natural lawyers and those who consider themselves new natural lawyers are disagreement over the basic set of fundamental goods, and the grounding of morality in the metaphysics of human nature. …

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