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The Elements of Moral Philosophy 6th Edition

81 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0073386713
ISBN-10: 0073386715
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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 from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He taught at the University of Richmond, New York University, the University of Miami, Duke University, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he spent the last twenty-six years of his career. 1971 saw the publication of Rachels’ groundbreaking textbook Moral Problems, which ignited the movement in America away from teaching ethical theory towards teaching concrete practical issues. Moral Problems sold 100,000 copies over three editions. 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.

STUART RACHELS is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Alabama. He has revised several of James Rachels’ books, including Problems from Philosophy (second edition, 2009) and The Right Thing to Do (fifth edition, 2010), which is the companion anthology to this book. Stuart won the United States Chess Championship in 1989, at the age of 20, and he is a Bronze Life Master at bridge. His website is www.jamesrachels.org/stuart.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 203 pages
  • Publisher: McGraw-Hill Higher Education; 6th edition (2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0073386715
  • ISBN-13: 978-0073386713
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.4 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (81 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #20,505 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

67 of 72 people found the following review helpful By Robert Lane on March 17, 2000
Format: Paperback
I use this book (in conjunction with _The Right Thing to Do_, edited by Rachels) as a text for an intro-level ethics course that I teach. I can't recommend it highly enough. Rachels is a sharp philosopher, as well as an interesting and lucid writer. In this book he covers all the basics (Divine Command Theory, Cultural Relativism, Subjectivism, Utilitarianism, Kant...), and does a fine job of drawing examples from applied ethics (gay rights, euthanasia, animal rights...) to illustrate the theories he discusses. This is not to suggest that you will find no fault with any of Rachels' arguments. I myself am less than satisfied with his criticisms of emotivism and Kantianism -- but all things considered, this a minor complaint. The book still deserves five stars. If you are teaching ethics at the college level and are looking for an introductory level text, suitable for students with no previous exposure to philosophy, this is the one -- I know of none better.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By LyssaToldMe on February 3, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Honestly the changes between the 6th and 7th edition must be extremely minor. So far there have been no differences between the books in class. It gets the job done and is still up-to-date and accurate.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By not me VINE VOICE on February 9, 2008
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"The Elements of Moral Philosophy" is a fabulous, non-technical introduction to ethics. The writing is clear and historically informed, the main schools of thought are covered, and Rachels doesn't pretend that he's found all the answers to very difficult questions. I can't think of a better book for a college student who is new to philosophical ethics and wants to get a feel for how philosophers approach these issues.

I was struck by the handful of super-negative Amazon reviews. I suspect they were written by students who were forced to read the book for a class and either expected something else or were put off by Rachels' respectful but negative treatment of religious-based ethics. Ignore them.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Boris Yakubchik on October 24, 2011
Format: Paperback
A lucid, beautifully written overview of the theories historically proposed as "the right moral theory". The author gives generous renditions to all the theories he presents, and proceeds to describe their weaknesses with equal clarity.

If there is only one book you want to read about morality, make this it. I have a bachelor's degree equivalent knowledge of philosophy and read numerous introductory books; this is my favorite.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Ann on August 4, 2012
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Very interesting textbook and well-written. This book kept me engaged for the entire semester. I truly recommend this book for not only philosophy classes but also for your personal pleasure.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 29, 1999
Format: Paperback
I used this book as text for a college course at The University of Central Oklahoma. I found it an easy-read. The author is very good at taking ethical systems, and looking at them from both sides. I also believe that Mr. Rachels does quite a good job of proving that it is impossible to be completely objective. Overall, it is a great book, and I believe that anyone who is interested in Morals and Ethics will enjoy it.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Bucherwurm on March 18, 2002
Format: Paperback
This slim volume is an excellent introduction to ethics. It is geared to the layman, and is an eminently readable exposition of all the main schools of moral thought. Author Rachels presents each ethical theory, and then presents arguments favoring and opposing the concept. He also applies ethical theories to such concrete problems as abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia, and civil disobedience. If you like mind challenging ideas than you will enjoy this book. At the least you will find that all is not as it seems in the world of moral behavior.
All of the main schools of thought are discussed including religious theories, cultural relativism, egoism and utilitarianism. It's an engrossing book that may easily change the way you think.
Consider cultural relativism. Is it always wrong to kill? Years ago it was found that nomadic Eskimos often killed newborn infants. A child requires breast nourishment for four years in the cold north, and is carried and sheltered in the mother's parka as the family constantly travels. It is not feasible for a mother to carry, protect, and feed two infants at one time. The entire group would face extinction if too many infants were allowed to grow. Are these Eskimos to be considered immoral?
If you have an open mind, this is a great opportunity to learn that ethical behavior is not as rigidly defined as you may have thought.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 3, 1999
Format: Paperback
If you're looking for an easy to read introduction to moral thought, then look no further. This book can easily be finished in just a few sittings and remains interesting and thoughtful throughout. My only dislike is the author's attempt to formulate his own 'Philosophy Without Hubris' theory, in which I find many inconsistencies. Still, this is only done in the last chapter and gives the reader a chance to perorm a critical evaluation. For those about to delve into the tumultuous world of moral thought, I highly recommend this book. However, if you're already familiar with the basics, you should probably investigate other titles.
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