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The Theory of Morality Paperback – September 15, 1979

ISBN-13: 978-0226155678 ISBN-10: 0226155676 Edition: New edition

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 294 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; New edition edition (September 15, 1979)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226155676
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226155678
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #197,294 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By David H Miller on January 8, 2004
The basic purpose of Alan Donagan's "A Theory of Morality" is to overturn the "meta-ethical" perspective of twentieth-century philosophy of ethics and to re-create ethics as a substantive discipline.
There are two basic questions in ethical philosophy. First, what are the contents of morality. Second, why should (or shouldn't) we bother to adhere to the precepts of morality.
Logically, the first question would seem to be prior to the second: after all, how can you decide whether or why to be moral until you have some reasonably clear idea as to what being moral actually consists of?
It would be as if one were converting to Islam (or Hinduism or Mormonism or whatever) before bothering to ascertain what Islam, Mormonism, or Hinduism actually consisted of.
Yet, twentieth-century philosophers curiously inverted the order of the two basic questions. Most of twentieth-century ethical philosophy consisted of trying to invent reasons why people should be moral before having made clear what constituted "being moral."
Even honest attempts to found substantive theories of morality did not start with the contents of morality but rather with trying to uncover motives that might be sufficient to motivate people to behave morally. Once such motives were identified, a moral system was constructed that might manage to appease these motives.
For example, Tara Smith begins her recent book, "Viable Values," by declaring, "My immediate concern is not so much with how to be moral as it is with why one should be moral...The source of moral authority is logically prior to the contents of moral prescriptions..."
The moral cart was thereby pulling the moral horse.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Joel Marks on January 6, 2008
If you are a Kantian, as I am, you will love this book. It is the best statement of that kind of ethical philosophy since Kant's own of which I am aware. Donagan not only points out the fatal flaw of utilitarianism (which is blithely ignored by most utilitarians), namely, that it requires knowledge that cannot be had; he also persuasively defends Kantianism against the supposedly equally fatal charge of requiring actions that are insane (as in the expression "Let justice prevail even though the sky may fall"). To be perfect, all this book needs is a better index.
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