10 books like Ethics Without Principles

By Jonathan Dancy,

Here are 10 books that authors have personally recommended if you like Ethics Without Principles. Shepherd is a community of 7,000+ authors sharing their favorite books with the world.

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The Moral Problem

By Michael Smith,

Book cover of The Moral Problem

There are a lot of great books about metaethics and a lot of great books about reasons, but this book nabs my top recommendation because Smith makes the topics so deceptively easy to get into and start thinking about. This is the book that I wrote my undergraduate senior thesis on that got me into studying and writing about philosophy for a living, and it is also one of the key books that everyone in my generation in my field grew up thinking about and reacting to. It also has a great balance between an overarching project that spans all of the chapters and some pretty self-contained discussions, especially in the earlier chapters, that helps the reader to focus on one question at a time while also getting a glimpse of how philosophical questions can add up to something bigger.

The Moral Problem

By Michael Smith,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Moral Problem as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This acclaimed volume offers a systematic introduction to and striking analysis of the central issues animating current debate in moral philosophy. It will be of interest to anyone with a serious interest in the philosophical foundations of ethics. Topics discussed in this book include: realist vs anti-realist accounts of moral truth; cognitivist vs expressivist accounts of moral judgement; internalist vs externalist accounts of the relation between moral judgement and the will; Humean vs anti-Humean theories of motivation; and the debate between those who think that morality is a system of hypothetical imperatives and those who think that moral requirements are…


The Sources of Normativity

By Christine M. Korsgaard,

Book cover of The Sources of Normativity

In this book, Korsgaard makes really forceful the question of what it is that gives morality any authority over us. She divides and surveys the space of possible answers to this question, and develops an incredibly ambitious answer that draws extensively on her interpretation of the historical philosopher Immanuel Kant and makes Kant’s own views intelligible in contemporary terms. It nabs my second recommendation not only because it is gripping and relatively easy to get into, but because, like my top recommendation, of the formative role that it has played for so many contemporary philosophers of my generation, for whom it set the standard of what questions needed to be asked and answered, and what the space of tools might be for trying to answer them.

The Sources of Normativity

By Christine M. Korsgaard,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Sources of Normativity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ethical concepts are, or purport to be, normative. They make claims on us: they command, oblige, recommend, or guide. Or at least when we invoke them, we make claims on one another; but where does their authority over us - or ours over one another - come from? Christine Korsgaard identifies four accounts of the source of normativity that have been advocated by modern moral philosophers: voluntarism, realism, reflective endorsement, and the appeal to autonomy. She traces their history, showing how each developed in response to the prior one and comparing their early versions with those on the contemporary philosophical…


Reasons as Defaults

By John F. Horty,

Book cover of Reasons as Defaults

In this book, Horty uses tools that were originally developed in the fields of artificial intelligence and non-monotonic logic in order to develop an explanatory theory of how reasons compete with one another. The main thing that has led contemporary moral philosophers to be so interested in reasons is that they seem to be able to compete. For example, if on the one hand, you promised your friend to keep a secret, that is a reason that counts against telling anyone else, but if the secret is that they are having an affair with the spouse of another of your friends, that is a reason that counts in favor of telling, and to figure out what you should do, it seems like we have to weigh these reasons together to see which one is more important. But very few ethicists have gotten very far in thinking about the distinctive challenges…

Reasons as Defaults

By John F. Horty,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Reasons as Defaults as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Although the study of reasons plays an important role in both epistemology and moral philosophy, little attention has been devoted to the question of how, exactly, reasons interact to support the actions or conclusions they do. In this book, John F. Horty attempts to answer this question by providing a precise, concrete account of reasons and their interaction, based on the logic of default reasoning. The book begins with an intuitive, accessible introduction to
default logic itself, and then argues that this logic can be adapted to serve as a foundation for a concrete theory of reasons. Horty then shows…


What We Owe to Each Other

By T.M. Scanlon,

Book cover of What We Owe to Each Other

Featured prominently in the plot of the NBC comedy The Good Place, Scanlon’s 1998 book covers much more than reasons and metaethics – it offers an ambitious explanatory theory of where our moral obligations to one another come from, and why they have the particular shape that they do – including of why we can’t justify doing terrible things to someone just because it benefits many other people. But in the first two chapters of the book, Scanlon also offers a large range of important and influential arguments about the nature of reasons and their relationship to both desire and value, and those two chapters in their own right merit this book a place on this list, in addition to its many other virtues.

What We Owe to Each Other

By T.M. Scanlon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked What We Owe to Each Other as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How do we judge whether an action is morally right or wrong? If an action is wrong, what reason does that give us not to do it? Why should we give such reasons priority over our other concerns and values? In this book, T. M. Scanlon offers new answers to these questions, as they apply to the central part of morality that concerns what we owe to each other. According to his contractualist view, thinking about right and wrong is thinking about what we do in terms that could be justified to others and that they could not reasonably reject.…


Epistemic Injustice

By Miranda Fricker,

Book cover of Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing

This is one of the most imaginative, exciting, and accessible books of philosophy to appear in the past 25 years. Not all of it is about empathy, but one especially terrific chapter is. Fricker argues that we do people a “hermeneutical injustice” when our language and concepts leave no room for a ready way of understanding their experience (her example is how people responded to women who were sexually pressured in the workplace, before the phrase "sexual harrassment" was coined). And the cure for this problem, she says, is empathy:  opening ourselves to the person telling us about their experience, and trying to feel our way into how they understood it, even if we are initially baffled by it.

Epistemic Injustice

By Miranda Fricker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Epistemic Injustice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this exploration of new territory between ethics and epistemology, Miranda Fricker argues that there is a distinctively epistemic type of injustice, in which someone is wronged specifically in their capacity as a knower. Justice is one of the oldest and most central themes in philosophy, but in order to reveal the ethical dimension of our epistemic practices the focus must shift to injustice. Fricker adjusts the philosophical lens so that we see through to the
negative space that is epistemic injustice.

The book explores two different types of epistemic injustice, each driven by a form of prejudice, and from…


Spinoza on Reason, Passions, and the Supreme Good

By Andrea Sangiacomo,

Book cover of Spinoza on Reason, Passions, and the Supreme Good

This is another important contribution to our understanding of Spinoza as a moral philosopher. It is a denser read than the first three books, but fascinating nonetheless for those already with a little Spinoza under their belt. Rather than concentrating on just the latter parts of the Ethics, where most scholars interested in Spinoza’s moral philosophy focus and where we find the mature discussion of the “free person” who lives under the “guidance of reason”, Sangiacomo is especially concerned with the evolution of Spinoza’s moral thought from his earliest writings to his final, uncompleted work. He considers tensions within, and pressures upon, Spinoza’s understanding of the “Supreme Good” and how to achieve it, and the changes that that account consequently undergoes. Sangiacomo’s thesis is thus both historical and philosophical.

Spinoza on Reason, Passions, and the Supreme Good

By Andrea Sangiacomo,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Spinoza on Reason, Passions, and the Supreme Good as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Spinoza's thought is at the centre of an ever growing interest. Spinoza's moral philosophy, in particular, points to a radical way of understanding how human beings can become free and enjoy supreme happiness. And yet, there is still much disagreement about how exactly Spinoza's recipe is supposed to work. For long time, Spinoza has been presented as an arch rationalist who would identify in the purely intellectual cultivation of reason the key for ethical progress.
Andrea Sangiacomo offers a new understanding of Spinoza's project, by showing how he himself struggled during his career to develop a moral philosophy that could…


Think Least of Death

By Steven Nadler,

Book cover of Think Least of Death: Spinoza on How to Live and How to Die

Baruch Spinoza was the philosophical flower of the Dutch Golden Age. Bertrand Russell called him the "noblest and most lovable of the great philosophers", and I am certainly not going to disagree. Like many of the innovators of the Golden Age, his ideas still seem fresh. Expelled from his Jewish community in Amsterdam for his ‘heresies’, we now find his conception of God as nature highly congenial. We probably share his dislike of ritual and perhaps aspire to his renunciation of materialism. His advice neither to fear nor to hope when it concerns things we can do nothing about is as good now as it was when it appeared in his most famous work, Ethics, in 1677.

Spinoza’s philosophy is hard to approach in the original – his arguments are rigorously constructed in the style of ancient Greek mathematics proofs. But Steven Nadler, as well as producing a towering biography…

Think Least of Death

By Steven Nadler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Think Least of Death as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From Pulitzer Prize-finalist Steven Nadler, an engaging guide to what Spinoza can teach us about life's big questions

In 1656, after being excommunicated from Amsterdam's Portuguese-Jewish community for "abominable heresies" and "monstrous deeds," the young Baruch Spinoza abandoned his family's import business to dedicate his life to philosophy. He quickly became notorious across Europe for his views on God, the Bible, and miracles, as well as for his uncompromising defense of free thought. Yet the radicalism of Spinoza's views has long obscured that his primary reason for turning to philosophy was to answer one of humanity's most urgent questions: How…


Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics

By Aristotle, Robert C. Bartlett (translator), Susan D. Collins (translator)

Book cover of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics

Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics has always been one of my favorite books. Although Aristotle suggests that proper habituation in noble conduct is important for young people and those who never mature intellectually, he emphasizes the importance of reason for those who are capable of it. He provides an excellent argument for free will, without using modern terminology. He distinguishes between moral virtues and intellectual virtues. The moral virtues include such things as moderation and courage, and these are properly guided by an ethical mean—neither excess nor deficiency—as was earlier stated by Confucius. He extols the life of reason, as distinguished from the life of passion. He teaches, contrary to much modern philosophy, that reason applies to both ends and means.

Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics

By Aristotle, Robert C. Bartlett (translator), Susan D. Collins (translator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"The Nicomachean Ethics", along with its sequel, "the Politics", is Aristotle's most widely read and influential work. Ideas central to ethics - that happiness is the end of human endeavor, that moral virtue is formed through action and habituation, and that good action requires prudence - found their most powerful proponent in the person medieval scholars simply called 'the Philosopher'. Drawing on their intimate knowledge of Aristotle's thought, Robert C. Bartlett and Susan D. Collins have produced here an English-language translation of the Ethics that is as remarkably faithful to the original as it is graceful in its rendering. Aristotle…


The Theory of Moral Sentiments

By Adam Smith,

Book cover of The Theory of Moral Sentiments

The more you read the classics, the more you come to realise that the challenges we debate and grapple with today are no different to those that have been debated and grappled with across the eras. Times might change, but human nature is a constant. And for me, in his Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith provides one of the best treatises on human nature. I am sure there have been other attempts made but in my mind nothing I have read comes close to this work. In parts it is clear that the book was written in a different era, but in the main the lessons and the insights it provides are timeless. I have read the book twice and still feel I have only scraped the surface in unearthing and absorbing the lessons it provides. It is that kind of book – it can become a companion…

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

By Adam Smith,

What is this book about?

The foundation for a general system of morals, this 1749 work is a landmark in the history of moral and political thought. Readers familiar with Adam Smith from The Wealth of Nations will find this earlier book a revelation. Although the author is often misrepresented as a calculating rationalist who advises the pursuit of self-interest in the marketplace, regardless of the human cost, he was also interested in the human capacity for benevolence — as The Theory of Moral Sentiments amply demonstrates.
The greatest prudence, Smith suggests, may lie in following economic self-interest in order to secure the basic necessities.…


Ethics

By Simon Blackburn,

Book cover of Ethics: A Very Short Introduction

For the more philosophically minded this is a great short introduction to the major theories of ethicality, including what has been said about ethics by Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Adam Smith, Kant, Hobbes, Hegel, Marx, Martha Nussbaum, Amartya Sen, and others for our orientations to external world issues of great moment and to the more specific issues of what we owe to each other as relatives, community members, world citizens, and human beings. How do we choose our personal (and national and cultural) ethical choices? What are their roots in religion, family, culture, professional training, and economic conditions (e.g., assumptions of scarcity or human flourishing)?  A very good background read for anyone who thinks before acting in negotiation. When do we act from “rights“ and when from “needs”? How should we treat our fellow human beings and have our conceptions changed over time?

Ethics

By Simon Blackburn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ethics as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Very Short Introductions: Brilliant, Sharp, Inspiring

Our self-image as moral, well-behaved creatures is dogged by scepticism, relativism, hypocrisy, and nihilism, and by the fear that in a Godless world science has unmasked us as creatures fated by our genes to be selfish and tribalistic, or competitive and aggressive. Here, Simon Blackburn tackles the major moral questions surrounding birth, death, happiness, desire, and freedom, showing us how we should think about the meaning of life, and why we should mistrust the soundbite-sized absolutes
that often dominate moral debates.

This second edition of the Very Short Introduction on Ethics has revised and…


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