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A Short History of Ethics: A History of Moral Philosophy from the Homeric Age to the Twentieth Century [Paperback]

by Alasdair C. MacIntyre
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

February 1998 026801759X 978-0268017590 2
A Short History of Ethics is a significant contribution written by one of the most important living philosophers. For the second edition Alasdair MacIntyre has included a new preface in which he examines his book "thirty years on" and considers its impact. It remains an important work, ideal for all students interested in ethics and morality.

"The second edition of this classic will be more widely read than the first, one expects, if only because in the intervening three decades the author has become perhaps the most important moral philosopher in the English-speaking world." —First Things

"This brilliant and provocative book is not so much a history of ethics as it is an essay about the history of ethics, with numerous examples. . . ." —Philosophical Review

". . . MacIntyre is always provocative, and this book will continue to excite engagement with fundamental moral issues." —Choice

Frequently Bought Together

A Short History of Ethics: A History of Moral Philosophy from the Homeric Age to the Twentieth Century + After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, Third Edition + Whose Justice? Which Rationality?
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Editorial Reviews


'Very powerful ... this book is an impressive contribution to our endless argument about the meaning of ethical concepts.' – The Observer --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Alasdair MacIntyre is Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of numerous books, including After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, revised edition, and Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry: Encyclopaedia, Genealogy, and Tradition, both also published by the University of Notre Dame Press.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 280 pages
  • Publisher: University of Notre Dame Press; 2 edition (February 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 026801759X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0268017590
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #259,470 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Alasdair MacIntyre is Senior Research Professor of Philosophy, University of Notre Dame. He is the author of several bestselling books, including After Virtue, Whose Justice? Which Rationality?, and A Short History of Ethics (a Routledge Classic).

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good book for the prepared reader February 3, 2003
This is a reissue of a 1964 work. MacIntyre provides a new introduction that critically reviews what he sees as the strength and weaknesses of the book. The book itself, however, is unchanged from the 1964 text.
Beginners will find this a difficult book to work through. MacIntyre presumes the reader has a basic understanding of the ideas and philosophers he discusses.
But for those with adequate background this is a wonderful book, full of many insights. Be warned, though, this book is not a neutral review of the subject matter. In this book MacIntyre lays the groundwork for his own particular version of ethics (developed most fully in After Virtue).
Much of the book is dense and part of it is, arguably, poorly written. But it is worth the work needed to get through it.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent introduction January 28, 2007
I was always in a certain kind of doubt when it was asked of me to recommend one or the other of numerous histories of philosophy. They are not your ordinary texts, which you can browse about in your leasure time. They often require some thinking to really grasp what author had in mind and where does he stand at all. After all history of philosophy is elusive subject even to profficient ones. Looking back, in something less than seven thousand years of culture as we know it (it began with emergence of Summerian epos - Gilgamesh), one finds himself before wast ammount of data, to put it that way. When faced with them, one feels compelled to escape in any direction avaliable to him.

But neverthelles, something drives you to continue your studies, to learn and feed upon knowledge of others, to live in times long forgotten and to think an re-think thought again and again. But without that initial spark which puts great flames in motion all would be in vain. MacIntyre book is one that feeds that flame, helping it to grow.

If one really wants to understand key questions of ethics and how, at the first place they came to be, one should start with MacIntyre. You won't find your asnwers listed here, rather contrary, MacIntyre, in his almost positivistic scepticism, states many pro et contra arguments for theories presented in his book, that reader finds himself confused on many occasions. But precisely that kind of expose is what drives one to continue searching and to complete questions posed by MAcIntyre. A task that takes whole lifetime and more.

In the end I have to mention that ethics described here concernes itself mostly with western ethics and ethical thought. East is left out. For which purpose, I'll let you find for yourself.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars DO NOT BUY POORLY EDITED "KINDLE" ED. March 20, 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I wonder if the other reviewers who panned this book stuff their own shirts or send them out. I suspect that rather than disliking the book they dislike the message. MacIntyre uses this book to drop the bread crumbs to lead moderns back to the foundation of Western Civilization, which curiously enough takes us back to the beginning. "You shall not cease from exploration; and the end of your exploring will be to arrive where you started and to know the place for the first time." MacIntyre is one of those philosophers who holds that there is a real world, that there are right and wrong choices for human beings, that we have screwed up our language and philosophical discourse to the point where they mean nothing and the only answer is to rectify our basic understanding, to recalibrate our thought to reality. I find the author to be difficult because his thought is so loaded with content and one must follow him carefully. DON'T BUY THE KINDLE EDITION YET. THE GREEK TERMS ARE DISTORED BY POOR SCANNING AND THERE ARE NUMBEROUS TYPOS (LIKE LEAVING OUT THE WORD "NOT" IN A SENTENCE).
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An unevenly engaging History of Ethics May 5, 2010
Alasdair MacIntyre's "A Short History of Ethics" is an uneven attempt at examining the history of Western culture through the development of ethics. It is quite clear that MacIntyre aims to advance his thesis of the decline of morality and ethical philosophy in the modern era with this short history of ethics. MacIntyre is generally skeptical and critical of most ethical theories, and offers a succinct criticism of most theories immediately after introducing them. While some chapters, like those on Homeric and pre-classical and Hellenistic Greek Philosophy, Christianity, New Values, and Modern Moral philosophy, offer engaging insights, others are redundant and seemingly irrelevant to the advancement of his general thesis. MacIntyre admits in the preface that this book suffers from too many aims. This problem is most troubling when MacIntyre attempts to offer a ~20-page summary of Plato or Aristotle which can neither be expected to inform the advanced reader or to introduce these seminal philosophers to beginning students of philosophy. While there are surely better "History of Philosophy" and "History of Ethics" books available, MacIntyre's "Short History of Ethics" occasionally surprises the reader with insightful criticisms and arguments which make it an uneven if mildly engaging little book on Ethics.
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Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a fine discussion of (western) moral theory and its history up to the early twentieth century. It may not be the best short introduction to the history of ethics, but it is perceptive and serviceable.

One reviewer on Amazon comments that MacIntyre's writing is not clear. I found his diction at times quite lucid; however, his style is learned in the early to mid twentieth-century British (Scottish) way. This book is not always an easy read, but it is an informative one. It is good for someone who is interested in the subject, who is looking for an historical introduction, and who is willing to pay careful attention.

Part of the reason why it is not an always easy read is related to MacIntyre's rebuttal to A. J. Ayer. MacIntyre, contra Ayer, believes that right understanding of the history of moral theory is not just descriptive rehearsal of what various people thought but involves the participant in the philosophical enterprise itself. Therefore, MacIntyre's history contains philosophical argumentation. It not only reproduces the reasoning process of historical persons but also demonstrates MacIntyre's own evaluation of moral theories.

I initially read the first edition, which is essentially identical to the second edition except that the latter contains an updated preface. Otherwise the two editions are the same. The preface in the second edition is essential reading and not to be skipped over. In it MacIntyre addresses weaknesses in four chapters: on Christianity, on the British Eighteenth-Century, on Kant, and on modern moral philosophy.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars good Job
I needed this book for an online class and I received it well within time limit. Thanks for speedy service!
Published 13 months ago by Dponder
4.0 out of 5 stars Deep, valuable insights; mediocre writing
MacIntyre has an acute mind and a broad familiarity with the history of moral philosophy. This short volume is an extremely valuable contribution to the field. Read more
Published on March 28, 2012 by Honest Abe
4.0 out of 5 stars Too much analysis, too little exposition, but it is a good read
The title of the book is misleading. It gives one the impression that AM will gives us a survey of the history of ethical positions. Read more
Published on March 29, 2009 by Jacob
4.0 out of 5 stars Ethics
The book arrived in a VERY timely fashion!! The book was in okay condition (not spectacular), but good enough for me and worth the savings.
Published on May 9, 2008 by C. Crawshaw
3.0 out of 5 stars A Book on Moral Philosophy
Professor Alasdair MacIntyre in "A Short History of Ethics" produced an interesting book covering the long history of moral philosophy. Read more
Published on January 23, 2006 by Elijah Chingosho
4.0 out of 5 stars A Short History of Ethics.
A classic of MacIntyre, written from his Aristotelian point of view.
Published on October 10, 2005 by T. Philips
1.0 out of 5 stars Mons peperit mus - The mountain gave birth to a little mouse
This is a deceptive book.
It promises an outline of the history of Ethics "from the Homeric age to the Twentieth Century", that is, with a perspective wider than the... Read more
Published on March 24, 2005 by Amore Roberto
3.0 out of 5 stars Serious shortcomings
Professor MacIntyre's book is in some respects fine, in other respects terrible. The good thing is that he offers valuable insights and arguments for an historical approach to the... Read more
Published on November 8, 2003 by J. de Lijster
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