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What We Owe to Each Other Paperback – December 15, 2000

ISBN-13: 978-0674004238 ISBN-10: 067400423X
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What We Owe to Each Other + The Sources of Normativity + The Methods of Ethics, 7th Edition (Hackett Classics)
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Scanlon offers a sharp challenge to much contemporary moral philosophy. Most philosophers think that agreements between people play only a subsidiary role in moral theory. What is right or wrong is independent of what people accept. Agreements rest on morality; they do not underlie it. Scanlon dissents. In his conception, morality depends on principles it would not be reasonable for people to reject. These agreements do not derive from further moral facts. Scanlon also challenges the view that desires give reasons for action, leveling heavy artillery at the contrary position of Bernard Williams. The originality, scope, and careful argument of this work mark it as an indispensable book.?David Gordon, Bowling Green State Univ., OH
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

[Scanlon's] discussions are deep and honest, and they illuminate many key concepts of moral philosophy: well being, trust, friendship, loyalty, promises. It would be--and will be--the business of more than one doctoral thesis to assess his success. (Simon Blackburn New York Times Book Review)

T. M. Scanlon is a scrupulous, astringent, relentlessly exact writer, without any of the fuss and flutter that come from the desire to please. His book is pure philosophy, unadulterated. (Stuart Hampshire New York Review of Books)

Thomas Scanlon's understanding of [morality's] complexity and of its sources in the variety of human relations and values is one of the virtues of this illuminating book. To say that it is long awaited would be an understatement. Scanlon has been one of the most influential contributors to moral and political philosophy for years...The appearance of his first book, a complex and powerful argument for the moral theory first sketched in his essay Contractualism and Utilitarianism, is a philosophical event. (Thomas Nagel London Review of Books)

I rejoice in the appearance of this magnificent book. It is not often that a work on ethics opens up a novel, arresting position on matters that have been debated for thousands of years. And What We Owe To Each Other does precisely that. (Philip Pettit Times Literary Supplement)

Mr. Scanlon has produced a compelling explanation of the moral thinking behind such duties as truth-telling and promise-keeping, and for this he deserves great praise. (Douglas A. Sylva Washington Times)

What do we owe to each other? What obligations of honesty, respect, trust and consideration exist between people? That is the deep and ancient question Harvard philosopher T. M. Scanlon attempts to illuminate in this closely argued book. Its success as an argument illustrates why moral philosophy should matter...Scanlon is a careful and precise thinker, a leading figure in contemporary philosophy, and here he is working at the height of his considerable powers. (Mark Kingwell Globe and Mail)

Scanlon presents the most complete statement to date of his version of 'contractualism'...He treats as basic the notion that we have reason to want to live with others and are motivated to seek agreement on a set of principles for the general regulation of behavior that others similarly motivated could not reasonably reject...He carefully addresses many concerns that have been raised about his and similar versions of contractualism; anyone discussing contractualism will have to consider his account. (D. R. C. Reed Choice)

Scanlon offers a sharp challenge to much contemporary moral philosophy. Most philosophers think that agreements between people play only a subsidiary role in moral theory. What is right or wrong is independent of what people accept. Agreements rest on morality; they do not underlie it. Scanlon dissents. In his conception, morality depends on principles it would not be reasonable for people to reject. These agreements do not derive from further moral facts. Scanlon also challenges the view that desires give reasons for action, leveling heavy artillery at the contrary position of Bernard Williams. The originality, scope, and careful argument of this work mark it as an indispensable book. (David Gordon Library Journal)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press (November 15, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067400423X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674004238
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #67,212 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Arnaeus on April 28, 2005
Format: Paperback
A stunning text - beautifully written and argued; very difficult to poke holes in it (which is not surprising given the big name philosopher friends who commented on drafts). I am most attracted to the chapter on values: it is a brave attempt to put consequentialists on a leash. Does Scanlon succeed? Some consequentialists - namely, the Australian philosopher Philip Pettit- would say no, not because Scanlon's account of the complexity of values is false, but because he overestimates what consequentialists must be committed to. Nonetheless, Scanlon's non-consequentialist axiology remains an attractive alternative to other deontological theories (eg. Kamm). All of this aside, Scanlon's book is an excellent example of sound analytical philosophy delivered with style. It is worth reading just to get a taste of the best in this kind of philosophising.
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41 of 57 people found the following review helpful By James Ryan on September 30, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Fabulous philosophizing, five stars, were it not for the obvious alternative theory that when we say "I have no desire to take bitter medicine", we mean "no desire that I can palpably feel at the forefront of consciousness, even though I remember that I have a very strong desire to take the medicine because I strongly desire to get well"; and that when we say "the mere fact that I have a desire to get a new computer is no reason to get one (since I don't need a new one, old one's fine, etc.)", we mean "no reason to speak of" since that desire, although a reason, is vastly outweighed by my other desires. (E.g. we say that there's "no chance" the team will win - we mean "none worth mentioning", not literally "none"). With these and similarly disappointing arguments, Scanlon concludes that desires have only a negligible role in practical reasoning. But clearly practical reasoning is a matter of determining what the most coherent set of one's strongest desires decrees. Scanlon doesn't even mention that alternative theory. Also, the contract theory he offers is supposed to take fairness into account when deciding what counts as a reasonable contract and to do this without circularity. Scanlon says he'll get out of the circle (what is right in terms of what is a reasonable contract, what is a reasonable contract in terms of what is right), but he never gets out. So smart, so close, and yet so far, from 5 stars. Still, it's head and shoulders above most books in moral theory this decade, (so careful and painstaking in many places).
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By Jeffrey Rubard on September 28, 2014
Format: Paperback
*A Theory of Justice*, the massive work published by John Rawls in the 1970s, will be front-and-center in future discussions of 20th century philosophy: coming after decades of people trying to rehabilitate utilitarianism, Rawls attempted to clarify the basic shared principles of political liberalism from a "deontological" standpoint -- rights, not goods, and the social contract, not contract per se. Love him or hate him, Rawls was unquestionably a force to be reckoned with. But his own reckoning went little further than the virtue of justice: though early essays by him tried out a deontological approach to ethics in general, Rawls balked at assembling an elegantly designed system and stuck with the major business of politics. T.M. Scanlon, Rawls' colleague at Harvard and sometime student, has over the past twenty years put a general ethics with Rawlsian contours on the philosophical agenda: in this book, he succeeds quite admirably in adumbrating a theory of moral obligation that those who know the "veil of ignorance" will find familiar.

Scanlon's basic insight is that moral claims, considered from a deontological standpoint, require the proffering of convincing and cogent reasons for acting in a certain way: if we wish to treat another person morally, we must be prepared to offer reasons for our acting thus-and-so that they could not reasonably reject. In this way, the contractarian approach to moral reasoning acquires a larger purchase without losing its resonance with liberal social institutions and ways of living: Scanlon recognizes that human goods are plural and subject to debate, and he certainly does not require that all agents must march in lock step for morality to obtain.
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Format: Paperback
It is an excellent book concerning moral norms and specifically emphasizes Scanlon's contractualist view. Scanlon seems to make 'justification' the core basis of ethics. But his contractualist view has several contoversial issues, as in the case of Gauthier's contractarian view. But, without doubt, this an important book by a first-rate scholar.
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