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The Elements of Moral Philosophy Paperback – May, 2002

19 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0072476903 ISBN-10: 0072476907 Edition: 4th

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

James Rachels is University Professor of Philosophy at the University of Alabama at Birminghamand is widely respected in the field of moral philosophy. He is also the author of THE END OF LIFE: Euthanasia and Morality and CREATED FROM ANIMALS: The Moral Implications of Darwinism.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Mcgraw-Hill College; 4th edition (May 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0072476907
  • ISBN-13: 978-0072476903
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.4 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #303,041 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

James Rachels, the distinguished American moral philosopher, was born in Columbus, Georgia, graduating from Mercer University in Macon in 1962. He received his Ph.D. in 1967. In 1975, Rachels wrote 'Active and Passive Euthanasia,' arguing that the distinction so important in the law between killing and letting die has no rational basis. Originally appearing in the New England Journal of Medicine, this essay has been reprinted roughly 300 times and is a staple of undergraduate education. The End of Life (1986) was about the morality of killing and the value of life. Created from Animals (1990) argued that a Darwinian world-view has widespread philosophical implications, including drastic implications for our treatment of nonhuman animals. Can Ethics Provide Answers? (1997) was Rachels' first collection of papers (others are expected posthumously). Rachels' McGraw-Hill textbook, The Elements of Moral Philosophy, is now in its fourth edition and is easily the best-selling book of its kind.

Over his career, Rachels wrote 5 books and 85 essays, edited 7 books and gave about 275 professional lectures. His work has been translated into Dutch, Italian, Japanese, and Serbo-Croatian. James Rachels is widely admired as a stylist, as his prose is remarkably free of jargon and clutter. A major theme in his work is that reason can resolve difficult moral issues. He has given reasons for moral vegetarianism and animal rights, for affirmative action (including quotas), for the humanitarian use of euthanasia, and for the idea that parents owe as much moral consideration to other people's children as they do to their own.

James Rachels died of cancer on September 5th, 2003, in Birmingham, Alabama.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

101 of 111 people found the following review helpful By Norman Schultz on March 28, 2006
Format: Paperback
I teach college-level ethics and decided to give the Rachels text a try for one of my courses this semester. It being probably the most popular ethics text, I thought it surely would be at least adequate. It is not.

Pros: Rachels' section on cultural relativism is probably the best discussion of the topic in print. Use it as a pivotal reference. His sections on "Absolute Moral Rules" and "Kant and Respect for Persons" are solid, and his section "The Idea of Social Contract" is a decent discussion of an oft-slighted moral theory. He also includes a not-too-shabby discussion of feminist ethics.

Cons: I must list these.

1) Rachels' section on utilitarianism is extremely poor, hardly mentioning the very important distinction between Bentham and Mill over the object of utility or Bentham's "Calculus of Felicity" which is an extremely important utilitarian first-step.

2) In the section on utilitarianism and in a few other places (inexplicably), Rachels forgoes an adequate explanation of the theory at hand, instead choosing to discuss it in the context of an applied problem like euthanasia or homosexuality. In doing so, he tries to accomplish far too much in far to short a time without a foundation.

3) His section "Subjectivism in Ethics" is hopelessly muddled between the view that morality is up to individual tastes or doesn't exists at all, and proper metaethical concerns about the meaning of moral statements (propositions or expressions of emotion?). The two are actually separate matters, and regardless they cannot both be adequately covered in 16 4"x8" pages. Better to leave out some material than cover it badly.

4) The book is too expensive. $32 for a text that is the length of a short paperback novel is obscene.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful By TiZ on June 19, 2003
Format: Paperback
People often argue about particular moral issues, and often enter into debates with entirely different conceptions of how morality works, with different metaethical and normative ethical frameworks. Some people believe that which is moral is that which maximizes happiness, while other people believe that there are absolute moral rules which should never be transgressed (even if this were to increase happiness), still others believe that there are no objective, universal moral principles at all.
This book is a clear and thorough introduction to moral philosophy. Rachels explores Cultural Relativism, Subjectivism, Divine Command Theory, Ethical Egoism, Utilitarianism, Kantian Ethics, Social Contract Theory, Virtue Ethics and other currently relevant issues in ethics. Each ethical theory is described quite systematically and Rachels offers the popular arguments both for and against each theory. But the text isn't dry or tiring; the book is enjoyable and easy to read, and Rachels offers many colourful examples to illustrate his points.
As with almost all philosophy texts, introductory or otherwise, and especially when ethics is the subject and such topics as affirmative action and abortion are discussed, albeit briefly, don't expect to agree with every argument of the author. The book ends with suggestions for further reading for each chapter, which may also be very helpful.
This book was prescribed for a course in moral philosophy I attended, but I recommend it to anyone interested in the subject. This review refers to the third edition of this book.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By MM on January 18, 2005
Format: Paperback
Supralapsiarian's comments are a bit unfair to Rachels. The book overall is very thought-provoking, despite the occasional strawman (mostly due to his secular bias). It *is* weak on abortion, homosexuality, religious morality, and the divine command theory for example. Rachels picks the most oversimplified positions in these areas to criticize.

There is no real problem with "reification of Reason" though. It's just useful shorthand. All his statements about Reason (capital R) can be translated into statements about reason and reasons (lower case r). And he does not set himself up as "a stable throne in the realm of moral epistemology". He says repeatedly things like:

"Moral truths are truths of reason. Such truths are objective in the sense that they are true independently of what we might want or think."

"Reason says what it says, regardless of our opinions or desires".

These are not statements of a subjectivist about reason or morality, or someone just projecting his own opinions or desires. He regards the relationship between moral conclusions and moral reasons as in some sense necessary, and that is a respectable view. It's analogous to the relationship between the conclusion that "copper melts at 1984 degrees F" and statements about this or that sample of copper melting at 1984 degrees F: "Reason" (i.e. objective rules of reasoning) determines that connection, not us (by what we believe or desire). Regardless of our beliefs or desires, the fact that this or that sample of copper melts at 1984 degrees F *is* (part of) a good reason for thinking that "copper melts at 1984 degrees F".

Similarly, there are good and sometimes conclusive reasons for some moral views (ex.
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