Welcome to the Ethics page...
You’re in good company! Most people who visit this site head to this section, and that’s not surprising, since issues of right and wrong and how we should live are absolutely fundamental to any sort of philosophy or religion.
I’ve tried to include here a range of books and links that you may find useful. My own titles are listed on the right; just click on any of them for further information.
Freedom, determinism and moral responsibility...
How do we understand the nature of freedom and moral responsibility, particularly in the case of those with mental illness? Are we morally responsible if everything we think and do is (even theoretically) predictable?
A question on this topic and my response is to be found on my new blog. Just click here.
Nigel Warburton's podcasts
These podcasts give extremely useful bite-size introductions to many aspects of Ethics - both ethical theories and applied ethics. They have now been organised by theme, so you can scroll down his list to find the section on Ethics. Just click here for the link.
Mary Warnock 'Dishonest to God' Continuum, 2010
When I bought this book, I assumed from its title that it would contribute mainly to the
Philosophy of Religion. I was wrong. It’s a book that everyone studying ethics should read.
The first half of the book gives a wonderfully clear outline of the issues of life and death – abortion, euthanasia, IVF, the status and treatment of the human foetus, cloning, stem cell research – in terms of the debates when these matters were brought before parliament in the UK.
For anyone doing ethics at A level, this is a wonderful place to start to unpack these issues.
She also explores the basis upon which the law and ethics should be built, the main thrust of her argument (and hence the title of the book) being that religious authority should not be presented as an alternative to rational debate. Those wanting to legislate for a secular society should present reasons for their view that are accessible to anyone, whether religious or not. Religion is seen as a source of imaginative experience and can thus contribute to moral debate, but when it comes to legislation it should not claim any special authority.
The book also explores the relationship between morality and law – setting the moral debates in the context of the framing of legislation. It is a beautifully clear exposition of key ethical issues.
The Open University...
The Open University has a set of 10 podcasts introducing issues in ethics and political philosophy. Entitled 'Justice and Morality' you can hear them by following this link:
And for a whole range of material on ethics, visit the Open University on:
... for the Curious
Curious to know more about Ethics? This double CD audio book may be just what you're looking for. It records a discussion chaired by Mark Vernon.
Sam Harris on science and moral values...
Agree with him or not - and I'm one of those who do not agree with him on many points - Sam Harris argues well and gives everyone a great deal to think about. Here is a short lecture in which he claims that science can provide a basis for ethical values. This is a great way to start the discussion about how facts and values are related. Naturally, being Sam Harris, he has a few juicy criticisms of religion in store, but don't let that (if you are from a religious background) stop you appreciating the logic of his argument. A great stimulus piece for groups of ethics students!
Whether facts and values should be kept separate has always been a big issue for ethics. Sam Harris, in the lecture featured here, wants to link them. Here, at the other extreme is A J Ayer (in Language, Truth and Logic)…
‘…. in saying that a certain type of action is right or wrong, I am not making any factual statement, not even a statement about my own state of mind. I am merely expressing certain moral sentiments. And the man who is ostensibly contradicting me is merely expressing his moral sentiments. So that there is plainly no sense in asking which of us is in the right. For neither of us is asserting a genuine proposition.’
But does that view – in which moral views are merely subjective wishes, without factual basis – adequate? Does it help or hinder the process of moral decision-making? And particularly, if it is merely a matter of ‘moral sentiments’, should we not ask why we should have such sentiments in the first place?
Listen to Sam Harris critically - the relationship between objective facts, science and moral values is rather more slippery than he would have us believe!
Starting with the classics
Here are just some classic texts on Ethics:
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (Oxford World Classics, 1998)
David Hume, Treatise on Human Nature (Penguin, 1986)
Immanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason (CUP, 1997)
Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (CUP, 1998)
Søren Kierkegaard (trans. Alastair Hannay), Either / Or (Penguin Classics, 1992)
John Locke, Treatises of Government (CUP, 1998)
John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism (OUP, 1998)
Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals (Dover Publications, 2003) Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil (Penguin, 1990)
Plato, The Republic (Penguin, 2003)
Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism and Human Emotions (Citadel Press, 1984)
Henry Sidgwick, Essays on Ethics and Methods (Clarendon Press, 2000)
Paul Tillich, Morality and Beyond (Westminster John Knox Press, 2004)