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Practical Ethics 2nd Edition

43 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521439718
ISBN-10: 052143971X
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Editorial Reviews


"Singer's book is packed with admirably marshaled and detailed information, social, medical, and economic, and has a splendid appendix of notes and references to further reading. The utility of this utilitarian's book to students of its subject can hardly be exaggerated." New York Review of Books

"This book is concentrated fare. The masterly and lively writing, rich with brief and telling examples, is devoted to close reasoning on some basic issues confronting the human community." The Humanist

"...a terrific volume...offer[s] insights into ethics...extremely readable and thought-provoking." - Life Insurance Selling, Richard Hoe

Book Description

Focusing on the application of ethics to difficult and controversial social questions, this second edition of a classic introduction to applied ethics has been completely revised, updated and expanded since its original publication in 1979.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 411 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 2 edition (January 30, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 052143971X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521439718
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #379,673 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

54 of 62 people found the following review helpful By Kai Chan ( on November 9, 1999
Format: Paperback
Singer's "Practical Ethics" is a masterpiece of ethical reasoning. While many other philosophers clothe their arguments in the jargon of their discipline, Singer's arguments are methodical, rigorous, and easily comprehensible. The result is a book that is an enjoyable read for a lay person; a book that leads us down a path that few of us have travelled so carefully. This rigorous philosophy leads us--through Singer--to challenge the conclusions of countless famous ethicists throughout history. Furthermore, it challenges us to question our innate responses, those emotions ingrained in us by biology or society. If there is any lesson to be learned from "Practical Ethics" it's that it takes *courage* to reason ethically, and to recognise the moral transgressions that we have all committed in ignorance. . . . Although I don't agree with every conclusion of Singer's, his impeccable composition and clear logical process allow me to pinpoint the cause of our few differences. Despite any disagreement, this book is well worth reading for the ethical journey through which it guides you.
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56 of 66 people found the following review helpful By John Noodles on January 19, 2000
Format: Paperback
Peter Singer's views are very controversial--his recent appointment at Princeton was vigorously protested by various groups--but they certainly make for an interesting read.
He espouses utilitarianism, a branch of ethics that measures "rightness" or "wrongness" on an action's effect on the majority of people (and animals). As a result, there is very little voice given in defense of certain rights that many of us--especially us Americans--consider to be fundamental (except, of course, to refute them). The individual is of little importance in his scheme of ethics, and his brand of utilitarianism, based on a rigorous logic, leads to some pretty scary destinations. For instance, in his argument in favor of animal rights, Singer argues that a) speciesism is no different from racism, that our perception of a difference is no less illogical and unethical than our one-time perception of an ethical difference between, say, men and women, or blacks and whites; b) that intelligence is no basis for dermining ethical stature, that, for instance, the lives of humans are not worth more than the lives of animals simply because they are more intelligence (if intelligence were a standard of judgment, he points out, we could perform medical experiments on the mentally retarded with moral impunity); c) that we need to measure the *interests* of the parties involved, and that, ultimately, all things being equal, an animal has as much interest in living as a human. Therefore, all things being equal, medical experimentation on animals is immoral. If, however, sacrificing the lives of, say 20 animals will save millions of human lives, then all things are not equal, and the interests of millions of people outweighs the interests of 20 animals.
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39 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Al Gebraic on January 23, 2000
Format: Paperback
Various other well-reviewed reviewers have covered this book's general qualities. I will try to clip some dangling threads. Singer's book is eminently readable, and well-reasoned. I highly recommend it for those who wonder, "What is ethics?" and "Why be ethical?" and for those who reject religious dogmatism in favor of defensible positions on some of the most contentious issues out there: abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, omnivorism, the refugee problem, protection of the environment, and so on. Singer hasn't dodged anything.
The flaws in his argument seem to reside in his basic framework: an absolute hierarchy of interests (preferences, desires). Singer bases this book on the notion that equal desires should be considered equally...thus skirting the notion that desires have weight, and the lesser desires of, say, a thousand people can outweigh the greater desire of one person. Singer does not shy from controversy - see the last section of the book - so his absolutist myopia seems to be a genuine flaw, rather than an attempt to mollify the masses by permanently putting (for example) the right to remain alive above the right to live free of torture.
Practical Ethics attacks the issues directly and generally unflinchingly, and I highly recommend it. Singer's rationality is a breath of fresh air for those who are frustrated with the dogmatic, uninformed or otherwise predirected arguments rampant in philosopy.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By G J Douglas on December 14, 1999
Format: Paperback
This latest edition of Singer's influential book is well written and thorough, and provides a fine introduction to utilitarian ethics. Singer's conclusions are challenging, and provide the tools for some serious revision of our attitudes to some important contemporary issues. For the general reader this book is accessible (if not an easy read) and is a sound model of philosphical analysis of issues that affect us all.
In the end, I'm not sure that he has sufficiently supported his radical conclusions, but has nevertheless provided a benchmark for treatment of these issues. What he does demonstrate is that discussion of contraversial topics like abortion, euthenasia and the morality of killing animals should take place in the realm of well constructed arguments. Highly Recommended.
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