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Whatever Happened to Good and Evil? Paperback – October 2, 2003

ISBN-13: 978-0195168730 ISBN-10: 0195168739

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (October 2, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195168739
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195168730
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.4 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #114,746 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"The idea behind this book was ingeniously conceived, and the execution of that idea is handled brilliantly. This is a superb book. It is philosophically astute, passionately argued, and written in a wonderfully accessible and eloquent style. I've never seen a better introduction to meta-ethics."--Brad Hooker, University of Reading

"This is an excellent introductory textbook on moral relativism and objectivity. It is concise, well-written, well-organized, and well-reasoned. It fills a real gap in the literature."--Paul K. Moser, Loyola University of Chicago

"The topic is timely, the execution is admirable, and there is no other book quite like it. I would gladly assign it to my students and recommend it to other teachers."--Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Dartmouth College

About the Author

Russ Shafer-Landau is at University of Wisconsin.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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See all 9 customer reviews
I used the book as the first text in my class on Ethical Theory, and with great success.
Snubnosed in Alpha
I think this makes this book one of the most important books of our time - if only more people would read it!
J. A. McCarron
Yes he does use logic, but his arguments are easy going enough for us laymen, and they are fun to follow.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Snubnosed in Alpha on February 27, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Russ Shafer-Landau's *Whatever Happened to Good and Evil?* is the more reader-friendly counterpart to his *Moral Realism: A Defence*. After a brief introduction of the philosophical terrain that he is to cover, Shafer-Landau begins his case for "ethical objectivism" (moral realism) by urging a powerful prima facie case against the varieties of moral skepticism. The moral skeptic is unable to account for the seeming possibility of moral error, moral disagreement or moral progress; affirms a position that, ironically, yields a kind of moral dogmatism (because each person's moral views are "correct" in the only possible sense that the skeptic can allow) and is unable to ground the value of tolerance, and must hold the implausible position that the respective moral views of a Mother Theresa and a Charles Manson are morally equivalent and arbitrarily espoused. The entire section is well done as it puts the moral skeptic on the defensive and challenges the common assumption that skepticism is the "default" position. A strong positive case for some variety of moral realism in the final section, Part Three, would, when combined with th e conclusions of Part Two, provide a powerful case for moral realism indeed.

However, in my opinion, Part Three does not ultimately deliver the goods. He opens this section with a chapter noting that ethical objectivism solves the various problems raised by moral skepticism, and this is surely correct. He also argues, convincingly, I think, that the fact of moral disagreement--even intractable disagreement--yields no conclusions of philosophical importance. (If we thought that it did, then what should we make of the fact that there is intractable *metaethical* disagreement?
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By ctdreyer on May 25, 2004
Format: Paperback
This book is a very nice, and very basic, introduction to meta-ethics, the field of philosophy studying the metaphysical, epistemological, semantic, and psychological issues concerning morality. Though it might help to have had some prior philosophy, it should be accessible to anyone who is interested in what philosophers might have to say about the these issues. Shafer-Landau has decided to introduce meta-ethics through an extended argument concerning a single topic: the objectivity (or lack thereof) of morality. And while this is only one of the issues that meta-ethicists discuss, it's perhaps the single most important and general issue in the field.
Shafer-Landau writes a clear and accessible style, and his book isn't jargon-laden. He is, moreover, up-front about the nature of his arguments, what he's assuming, and where people might respond to his arguments. He doesn't expect the reader to piece his arguments together for herself or to expend a great deal of effort trying to figure out just what he means. He makes his points lucidly and succinctly, and then he moves on to the next one. And despite its brief length, this book is packed full of interesting and important arguments both for and against the objectivity of ethics. (There's also a helpful short appendix that summarizes the main arguments of the book and Shafer-Landau's analysis of them.) Importantly, though, this is not a work covering the literature on this topic. Shafer-Landau refers to other philosophers only occasionally, and he tends to refer to major historical figures when he does refer to philosophers. Nor is this a work covering the various positions that have been defended in meta-ethics.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By T. Bachman on November 23, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
First of all, it is nice to see an academic eschew orthodoxy and consider seriously the possibility of some kind of cosmic standard of good and evil. That alone merits two stars.

Second of all, Shaefer-Landau does a pretty good job at describing the problematic implications of maintaining that there is no such standard (i.e., that there ultimately can be no non-arbitrary basis for any valuation of any practice, whether rape or altruism or anything else).

Third, the author deserves credit for trying to write a book intelligible to those not accustomed to reading scholarly treatises. That said, it seemed to me that this book could have used a good sweeping through by an unsparing editor, to brush out the numerous repetitions (I presume, added so as to try to make the points clearer).

Fourth, the author does a pretty good job of arguing how a theory of ethical objectivism may *logically* be sustained in the face of criticisms of it. In particular, he attempts to place this theory outside the realm of that which is scientifically testable. He does so by noting that science can only vindicate causal or predictive principles - not those of the normative variety, like moral principles.

What this all adds up to, however, appears to be the creation of a mental "environment" that can facilitate belief in the possibility that morality has some constant nature. But anything is possible, isn't it? I feel almost as though at the end of the book, I am right where I was at the beginning of it.

What I miss in this book is a serious attempt at proving that morality is something like a property fundamental to the cosmos (essentially the author's argument). Where is the evidence? If morality were more than human invention, how would we know?
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