- Hardcover: 216 pages
- Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell; 1 edition (May 26, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0631219021
- ISBN-13: 978-0631219026
- Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 0.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,216,261 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Moral Theory: A Non-Consequentialist Approach 1st Edition
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"Oderberg's discussion of [the] issues is rich and thought provoking. [The] work is, even for non-believers, an important and engaging statement of non-consequentialist moral theory" Kaspar Lippert-Rasmussen, The Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 51, no. 204, July 2001.
"Oderberg writes clearly and with precision in a way that is neither patronising, popularist, or difficult.... His is a serious look at what's gone wrong in recent moral philosophy and at how we ought to recast our theories. As such it offers no feel good John Lennon 'Imagine' type view of the changed world. What it does instead is to remind us of a strangely misplaced aim to morality, that of living the good life, of simply being or trying to be a good and whole person....This is a book that throws a new light in a new direction on an old subject and as such should be widely read by both those in the business of philosophy and, perhaps equally importantly, by those outside the academic circles." Reviewed by Ashley Harrold, bookseller at Blackwell's Bookshop, King's Road Reading
"Moral Theory ... provides a welcome alternative to current debates dominated by the consequentialist approach" CHOICE
From the Back Cover
The last thirty years have seen the burgeoning of applied ethics, in which moral philosophy is applied to concrete ethical problems. While this is a welcome development, it is also true that the discipline has been dominated by one particular ethical theory, namely consequentialism.
Moral Theory, and its companion volume Applied Ethics, provide a much-needed alternative to consequentialist orthodoxy. Moral Theory sets out the basic system used to solve moral problems, the system that consequentialists deride as 'traditional morality' and which they believe is 'dead'. The central concepts, principles and distinctions of traditional morality are explained and defended: rights; justice; the good; virtue; the intention/foresight distinction; the acts/omissions distinction; and, centrally, the fundamental value of human life.
By challenging contemporary thinking, Moral Theory and Applied Ethics make a distinctive and provocative contribution to current debate, which will be useful both to undergraduates and professional philosophers.
Top customer reviews
The Principle of Double Effect
Consider the classic thought experiment of transplant. Five sick people will die unless they get an organ transplant. A healthy young man goes to see his doctor for a routine checkup. The doctor notices that he has the same tissue type as the five sick people, so he kills the healthy young man and gives them his organs. According to utilitarianism transplant is morally good, but most people strongly disagree. Natural rights morality explains why. For an act to be good three things have to be in harmony. 1) "The Ends" must be good. That's true in the case of transplant (on balance four lives are saved). 2) "The means" must also be good. It is wrong to use a bad means - like killing - to achieve a good end. That's where transplant fails. 3) Intention. Acting with good intentions is the single most important plank of natural rights morality. Transplant probably fails this test as well. Critics may argue that the doctor's intention was to save the five lives, but "he who intends the ends intends the means." The doctor had to intentionally kill in order to intentionally save lives.
Acts and Omissions
Suppose Alice sends poisoned meat to Africa which kills ten people. Bob fails to donate any money to African poverty relief so ten people starve to death. Has Bob acted as wrongly as Alice? Most people say no (if you disagree then please send yourself to jail immediately!) Utilitarians respond with a different thought experiment. Smith drowns his cousin in a bathtub to get an inheritance. Jones sees his cousin drowning in a bathtub and does nothing to save him. Is Jones as guilty as Smith? Most people now say yes. I personally disagree. Smith may be more vicious than Jones - you can't get away from the importance of intention. However let's concede the point. Utilitarians are still in trouble. They are forced to argue that there is never a difference between an act (killing) and an omission (failing to save a life). By contrast, natural rights moralists argue a much more modest position. Sometimes there is a difference. In those cases it is morally permissible (but not morally good) to do nothing.
The failure to distinguish between Acts and Omissions explains a lot of the fuzzy-headed moralizing that goes on in modern society. People who are pro-life are often called hypocrites for opposing euthanasia, or even the removal of a feeding tube from a patient in a persistent vegetative state. But they allow people to forego expensive medical treatments. According to these critics, Christians serve two masters. When they have to chose between God and Mammon (money), they choose money. The distinction between acts and omissions shows that this is not so. Foregoing expensive, cutting-edge medical techniques is like not donating to African poverty (morally permissible although not morally good). Removing a feeding tube is like watching a cousin drown in a bathtub (morally bad).
This book is a powerful and vigorous defense of natural rights morality. I would make a few nitpicks. I do not like Oderberg's defense of moral realism. I find the argument to be wishy-washy. The only decent argument I've seen for objective moral principles bases them on God's loving nature. Moral realism also means that atheists don't need God for there to be objective ethics and a meaning for life.
Another problem is that I don't like the heavy emphasis on intention at the expense of "the means." I think this backs you into a corner. Consider the case of a soldier who jumps on a grenade to save his brothers-in-arms. Most people would agree that this act is moral. But what about pushing another soldier on a grenade? Some people might dodge the question by arguing that your intention must really be to save your own skin, not the lives of all the other soldiers. The intention is not for the greater good. But what if it really was for the greater good? What if the other soldier had a better angle at the grenade? I think that Warren Quinn has the better solution, which is to focus on "the means" (or agency). You have the right to sacrifice your own life for others just as you have the right to sacrifice your own money for others. But you do not have the right to steal from others even if you want to use the money to donate to charity. The same thing applies to forcing another soldier to make the ultimate sacrifice. IIRC, Oderberg does not get into the soldiers and the grenade case, but a close reading of 'Moral Theory' shows the problems of relying on intention to do the heavy lifting. Even Oderberg admits that these cases are brutally tough. I think Quinn's approach of using "the means" works better.
Finally, there is one more flaw that is increasingly troubling for me. I've read a fairish amount of Christian philosophy and apologetics and much of it has been extremely sophisticated. But they have neglected the mainstream scholarship from the social sciences. Philosophers in general need to do a better job of being less bound to their armchairs and do more work grappling with the empirical research. That is doubly true for Christian philosophers because modern scholarship makes a strong cases for traditional Judeo-Christian morality. Consider the field of behavioral economics. A superficial reading of the literature is "people are irrational, we need the government to steer people towards good decisions." Another superficial reading is "people are irrational, utilitarian thinking is the theoretical ideal." But a more honest reading is that strategic behavior, reciprocity, fairness norms, and prosocial traits such as shame and guilt are the reasons why people tend to behave "irrationally" and that these traits lead to more efficient and stable societies. See for example, The Bounds of Reason: Game Theory and the Unification of the Behavioral Sciences(you can profitably skip the math) and Rationality in Economics: Constructivist and Ecological Forms.
Against the implications of another reviewer, this book is not at all religious in content (it is thus not 'a rational defense of Catholic moral teaching' as such, although the moral conclusions drawn by the Catholic faith and those drawn by classical natural law theory do coincide).