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Being Good: A Short Introduction to Ethics [Paperback]

Simon Blackburn
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 17, 2003 0192853775 978-0192853776 2nd
Writing with wit and elegance, Simon Blackburn tackles the basic questions of ethics in this lively book, highlighting the complications and troubling issues that spring from the very simple question of how we ought to live. Blackburn dissects the many common reasons for why we are skeptical about ethics. Drawing on examples from history, politics, religion and everyday personal experience, he shows how cynicism and self-consciousness can paralyze us into considering ethics a hopeless pursuit. He assures us that ethics is neither futile nor irrelevant, but an intimate part of the most important issues of living-of birth, death, happiness, desire, freedom, pleasure, and justice. Indeed, from moral dilemmas about abortion and euthanasia, to our obsession with personal rights, to our longing for a sense of meaning in life, our everyday struggles are rife with ethical issues. Blackburn distills the arguments of Hume, Kant and Aristotle down to their essences, to underscore the timeless relevance of our voice of conscience, the pitfalls of complacency, and our concerns about truth, knowledge and human progress.

Blackburn's rare combination of depth, rigor, and sparkling prose, along with his distinguished ranking among contemporary philosophers, mark Being Good as an important statement on our current disenchantment with ethics. It challenges us to take a more thoughtful reading of our ethical climate and to ponder more carefully our own standards of behavior.

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

This is not your typical ethics book: its sleek physical dimensions mirror Simon Blackburn's intelligent but unencumbered treatment of the main threats and origins of ethics. In Being Good, Blackburn addresses the fear that "ethical claims are a kind of sham" before sketching a road map of the history of ethics, its practical consequences, and its ultimate foundations. All this is an ambitious task for such a diminutive volume.

A professor of philosophy at the University of Cambridge, Blackburn is one of the giants of contemporary moral theory and a trustworthy guide through its labyrinth. He prefers parsimony to complexity--helpful for readers with only a casual acquaintance with philosophy--yet he manages to avoid trivializing his subject matter. Moreover, Being Good is wonderfully enlivened by illustrations by Paul Klee, William Blake, Eugène Delacroix, Francisco de Goya, and even Vietnam War photography and cartoons. Blackburn concludes on a promising note: "If we are careful, and mature, and imaginative, and fair, and nice, and lucky, the moral mirror in which we gaze at ourselves may not show us saints. But it need not show us monsters, either." --Eric de Place --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

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.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 172 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 2nd edition (April 17, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192853775
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192853776
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 5.6 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #92,416 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Simon Blackburn is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge. He was Edna J. Doury Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina, and from 1969 to 1990 was a Fellow and Tutor at Pembroke College, Oxford. He is the author of The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy and the best-selling Think and Being Good, among other books.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
48 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ethics, Short and Clear August 3, 2001
Format:Hardcover
Philosophy is important. "What is our place in the universe?" is not just a scientific question. What is the meaning of life, how can we be happy, do gods make a difference? All are good philosophical questions, not really to be left just to professional philosophers. It has taken centuries, but philosophers led us into the idea that humans have certain rights, something we take for granted now although we are not always good at ensuring every human gets the rights that are due. We can allow that human well-being is pretty much the gold standard in assessing values, and perhaps we take into account animal well-being, as well as the well-being of the Earth as a biological system. We think we can behave morally, but we have doubts that this can occur without gods of some sort. Gods or not, we sense that there is some larger meaning, and that selfishness just won't do, but selfishness seems to run a great deal of the world. It wouldn't be a bad thing if we could think about these ethical, philosophical issues with more clarity.
And so professional philosopher Simon Blackburn has given us _Being Good: A Short Introduction to Ethics_ (Oxford University Press). He has distilled thousands of years of thinking on ethical issues by various philosophers into a slim book. It may not be a Guide for Living covering every situation, but it is an admirable introduction about how philosophers think about such matters, and where we ought to look for ethical answers. His book is witty and pithy, and demonstrates that thinking about big ideas can be fun. But we are largely on our own in this endeavor. Socrates, in Plato's _Euthyphro_, provided the classic challenge to the idea that ethics must have a religious foundation.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good enough December 2, 2002
Format:Hardcover
"Being Good: A Short Introduction to Ethics" is just that, a slim volume about the philosophy of ethics and how philosophers think about this subject. It is an introduction for people who are brave (or fooligh) enough to dare to ask "Why be good?". Far to few people it seems have bothered to ask this question or assumed there is a patent answer without ever taking that answer out into the daylight to examine it.
Thinking ethically isn't done in a vacuum, it is of a process. When faced with an ethical problem, how do you seek a solution? Do you try to maximize the good for the most people? Do you try to identify universal laws and then try to follow them? Do you seek the advice of authority figures or authoritative books?
The text is split into three distance parts, the first addresses what Mr. Blackburn refers to "threats to ethics." These threats include relativism, skepticism, nihilism, challenges to free will, and altruism. Threats are largely those things which suggest that there is no real reason to be good at all; it's just something we as a people do. With each topic, he explains why they do not make ethics "impossible" after all. Mr. Blackburn explains how religion's declining influence does not harm ethical thinking, in fact he views this in a positive light in that without religion frees us to make independent choices, rather than to simply be automatons. Relativism is a more serious challenge, but when taken to its logical conclusion relativism refutes itself and removes the arguer from the conversation altogether.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gets Right to the Point February 3, 2006
Format:Paperback
Blackburn promises a short intro to ethics, and he delivers. This is perfect for someone who wants to get right to what different ethical concepts are without reading a book on each. Perfect for the person who wants to "see it all" in one slim book, then has the opportunity to investigate it more fully to his/her heart's content. Illustrations, particularly the one of the "Accidental Napalm Attack" in Vietnam, hit home with me, as I have small children.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars If It's Tuesday This Must Be Hume June 29, 2008
Format:Paperback
"Being Good" is a short, well-written overview of philosophical ethics. The author, Simon Blackburn, starts by defusing skeptical projects such as relativism and evolutionary determinism, whose truth would call into question the whole ethical enterprise. Having neutralized these threats, he proceeds to unpack some concrete issues such as birth, death and human rights. He ends by examining the "foundations" of ethics, asking where binding norms could come from and how they could impose obligations on us. Blackburn comes down (more or less) on the side of David Hume, who located our sense of right and wrong in sympathy for other people reinforced by our practical need to reason to a common point of view in order to achieve social cooperation.

On the positive side, Blackburn's writing is never labored or academic, and he does a great job of linking philosophy to larger political and cultural concerns. However, his relatively informal and discursive approach makes "Being Good" a less-than-ideal textbook for beginning students. Readers looking for a primer should consult a book like James Rachels' "The Elements of Moral Philosophy." However, "Being Good" would be a good warm up or companion for anyone tackling a classic text like Hume's "An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals." (I know because I read the "Enquiry" at the same time I was reading "Being Good.")
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but it could bemore clear
A good introduction to many important issues in ethics, but it could vbe more clear about some of them. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Lilyp
3.0 out of 5 stars Blackburn oversimplifies rather than summarizes
In many ways, this book is a good introduction to basic ethical theories. However, Blackburn's handling of feminism and religion are surprisingly biased due to the objective nature... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Mellissa
4.0 out of 5 stars a little rough
I needed this book for a class i was taking, its a good book. Served its purpose for my class
Published 5 months ago by Donna P
4.0 out of 5 stars Sound Reasoning in Clear Language
If I want guidance on the kinds of everyday moral quandaries that relationships, jobs, money, etc., present, I like to read Randy Cohen (formerly "The Ethicist" for the NY Times). Read more
Published 6 months ago by Editorious
4.0 out of 5 stars Being Good: An Introduction to Ethics
My book review of Being Good: An Introduction to Ethics by Simon Blackburn published by Oxford University Press first published in 2001, ISBN 0-19-210052-1 $8.18. Read more
Published 15 months ago by DMack
5.0 out of 5 stars Ethics
This was also a very interresting class. This was a book that went along with my Ethics book and was a really neat story all on its own.
Published 17 months ago by Sunnys
2.0 out of 5 stars Hard to read and did not help me understand or decide how to do the...
I wanted a book that presented and critiqued practical principles for doing the right thing. Being Good did not do the job for me. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars OK if it's assigned for a class
Interesting approach to ethics. Blatantly sacrilegious. Spends a little more time shooting holes in the Bible than developing an ethical theory. But not super hard to read.
Published 17 months ago by Ellis
5.0 out of 5 stars An easily accessible book on an important topic
This is an elegantly written, easily accessible book on an important topic. It covers a lot of ground in a succinct manner. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Diana Newton-Smith
2.0 out of 5 stars Difficult Read, Fairly Bias
I was disappointed in this book. While the text is broken down into sections and smaller chapters, the reading was often difficult to follow. Read more
Published on March 21, 2012 by Shep40
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