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Utilitarianism: For and Against Paperback – January 1, 1973

ISBN-13: 978-0521098229 ISBN-10: 052109822X

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 155 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (January 1, 1973)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 052109822X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521098229
  • Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 4.9 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #107,106 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 27, 2003
Format: Paperback
This terrific little book was my introduction to ethical philosophy in college. This is, in fact, the best way to introduce anyone to real philosophy: Present an important philosophical problem and let two very intelligent, articulate, and well-educated people of opposing views & good faith argue the merits, demerits, and difficulties inherent in a particular theory. In fairly clear and straightforward prose, Smart and Williams plunge right into the matter and hash it out with meticulous care. Smart offers a sophisticated version of Utilitarianism for our consideration. Williams draws out the implications of it and shows how Utilitarian ethics contains contradictions and potentially repellent outcomes. (Although Williams never makes it explicit in this book, he adheres to a sophisticated modern version of classical virtue ethics, a sort of refined Nicomachean ethics.)
This may not be the last word on Utilitarianism, but it is certainly one of the most intelligent and insightful. A perfect entree to ethical philosophy, that endlessly fascinating & vitally important dialogue about how we ought to live our lives.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By snalen on October 7, 2004
Format: Paperback
The reviewer from Berkley could not be more right in recommending this book as an introduction to modern moral philosophy. Smart and Williams are two of the most brilliant and important philosophers of the last century and both are brilliantly clear and engaging communicators. The result is not just good introduction but a book that takes you right to the cutting edge of the subject. Smart contributes a splendidly bold and clear headed statement and defence of a form of act utilitarianism (`the view that the rightness or wrongness of an action depends only on the total goodness or badness of its consequences, i.e. on the effect of the action on the welfare of all human beings (or perhaps all sentient beings)'). Williams then provides a peerlessly brilliant and devastating critique of that same theory. The reader is left with a clear understanding both of why so many people as sensible and intelligent as Smart consider utilitarianism just obviously right and why so many people as humane and thoughtful as Williams think it is just crazy. If you are interested in philosophy, then, it's a wonderfully rewarding read. Indeed it's a great thing to read if you aren't sure whether you re interested in philosophy or not. If you find Williams on consequentialism, integrity and negative responsibility a dull read you will probably find pretty well any philosophy dull and you can safely conclude that the subject is not for you.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By amazonophile on October 28, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a scholarly, technical examination of Utilitarianism. While I read it and appreciated it as a graduate student, the freshmen to whom I assigned it found it impenetrable.
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By Jan Kroken on June 29, 2014
Format: Paperback
First a note: I only read half this book before I concluded that it would be a poor use of my time to read the second
half (this despite it being a quick read) - this needs to be taken into account when reading my review.

If you expect a structured academic analysis, then you will be sorely disappointed. This book is as subjective as
it comes, and the argumentation is brief and selective. The author presents his viewpoint (a positive act utilitarian),
while other variants of utilitarianism are either shallowly and informally argued against, or just dismissed as "I don't
agree with them".

The book is not completely useless (which is why I gave it 2 stars and not 1):
- I assume that for someone who are unfamiliar with utilitarianism, this might be a good way to peek into the mind and rationale of one positive act utilitarian, and thus gain a little insight
- It does present a series of interesting questions and scenarios, so even though the treatment of those is shallow, at least they do provide food for thought...

However, if you are familiar with utilitarianism, and you have thought it through, don't expect this book to give you any significant new insights.
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