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The Foundations of Morality Paperback – June 1, 1998

ISBN-13: 978-1572460720 ISBN-10: 1572460725 Edition: 3rd

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--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 398 pages
  • Publisher: Foundation for Economic Education; 3 edition (June 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1572460725
  • ISBN-13: 978-1572460720
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,444,529 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By D. W. MacKenzie on December 6, 2007
Format: Paperback
The Foundations of Morality could be seen as an additional chapter to Human Action, by Ludwig von Mises. Mises adopted a utilitarian stance on ethical issues, but Hazlitt wrote a detailed explanation of what Austrian economics implies about utilitarian ethics. Social cooperation under the division of labor is moral because it makes improvements in human welfare possible. Hazlitt ignored all of the false comparisons that mainstream economists of the mid 20th made between real imperfect markets and idealized views of government. Markets enable people to improve their lives, while never achieving perfection. The market process is progressive, and government regulation leads to stagnation and even decline. Moral rules work to minimize conflict and promote social cooperation. "The system of capitalism is a system of freedom, of justice, of productivity". Hazlitt understood Mises and knew how to bring his economics into discussions of natural rights, act utilitarianism, and rule utilitarianism.

Hazlitt also brings the issue of time preference into the discussion of ethics. The idea that immorality derives from high discount rates is so simple that one has to wonder how nobody thought of it before Hazlitt (at least as far as I know). Yet this is a profound insight. Hazlitt is not remembered as a great scholar, but there are few scholars who can claim to have hit upon such an insight.

Whether you agree with Hazlitt or not, any reasonable person should admit that this is a well thought out book. This book is a must read for anyone interested in ethics and economics. Unfortunately, Hazlitt does not have enough of a reputation to get the attention he deserves. There is an abridged version for those who want to economize on their time, but either way, read this book!
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Steve Jackson on October 5, 2002
Format: Paperback
Henry Hazlitt was the author of 17 books. He is best known in libertarian and conservative circles for his outstanding, ECONOMICS IN ONE LESSON. He also wrote a fascinating book on ethics entitles, THE FOUNDATIONS OF MORALITY.
This is a comprehensive work on the foundations of ethics. According to Hazlitt, the foundation of morality is social cooperation and from this principle he develops a variation of rule utilitarianism. Drawing upon the free enterprise tradition in general and the economic theory of von Mises in particular, Hazlitt argues that actions are good that promote social happiness, and the best way to achieve this is through the free enterprise system. Hazlit therefore rejects other approaches to ethics, such as natural law or religious based morality.
The best portion of this work is how Hazlitt relates utilitarianism and self-interest. One argument against utilitarianism is that by making the social good the basis of morality, all self-interest and initiative is destroyed. But as Hazlitt shows, those acts that are in our own self-interest tend to increase the overall happiness of society. If all my acts had to motivated by a desire to save starving people in the four corners of the world, neither they nor I would be likely be any better off as a result.
After he describes the foundations of ethics, he takes up some practical issues. For example, there are two outstanding chapters which discuss the relative morality of capitalism and socialism.
This book contains a brief introduction by Prof. Leland Yeager, who has written a book on ethics from a similar perspective entitled, ETHICS AS A SOCIAL SCIENCE: THE MORAL PHILOSOPHY OF SOCIAL COOPERATION. For a different view on ethics from a libertarian perspective, check out Murray Rothbard's, THE ETHICS OF LIBERTY.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Everfree on August 14, 2011
Format: Paperback
A logical, rational, and refreshingly unpretentious explanation of morality that doesn't fall victim to crass oversimplification, mysticism, or myopia, and which incorporates many of the best insights of previous moral philosophers while successfully debunking so many of the accompanying myths that don't stand up to analysis. It is so refreshing to read a book on ethics that actually takes the principles of economics into account.

Hazlitt takes what most of us already seem to intuitively understand about the utilitarian nature of morality (as revealed through our preferences and implicit in the way that we argue our moral views), and helps put these intuitions into a logical framework that brings impressive clarity and comprehension to the great moral mysteries. In so doing, we discover that the common man is often closer to understanding the truth than the moral philosophers who make it their business!

One of the great things about Hazlitt's perspective (and I am tempted to in fact call it the correct one) is that it presents an objective case for morality (explaining its _foundations_) without dismissing the realities of moral conflict and ambiguity. Hazlitt's special brand of rule-utilitarianism (or "Mutualism") still allows for much reasonable debate over what the precise rules are that will in fact be most socially (and thus individually) beneficial in the long run, although he certainly gives us some solid pointers to that end.

Hazlitt has some really brilliant sections in here, most notably his chapter on "The Moral Criterion" and the final chapter which, taken together, provide a succinct overview of his moral framework. The writing is generally clear and understandable for any reader.
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