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A Short History of Ethics 1st Edition

4.0 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0268017590
ISBN-10: 026801759X
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Editorial Reviews

Review

'Very powerful ... this book is an impressive contribution to our endless argument about the meaning of ethical concepts.' – The Observer --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Back Cover

The author writes...'This history of moral philosophy which runs from the Greeks to contemporary Anglo-Saxon discussion is necessarily compressed and selective, but is intended to enable the general reader and the student to place particular texts in moral philosophy in an historical perspective. The function of this perspective is to clarify three kinds of historical and philosophical connection whose importance is often underrated. The first is a matter of the debts which moral philosophers owe to their predecessors; the second concerns the question of the nature of the moral concepts which furnish any moral philosopher with the objects of his enquiry upon moral concepts themselves and the extent to which the philosophical analysis of a concept may play a part in transforming or even discrediting it. A consequence of these preoccupations is that the book contains a higher proportion of purely philosophical enquiry than might be expected in an historical work.'
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: University of Notre Dame Press; 1 edition (January 15, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 026801759X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0268017590
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #158,442 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By E. Nilsson on February 3, 2003
Format: Paperback
This is a reissue of a 1964 work. MacIntyre provides a new introduction that critically reviews what he sees as the strength and weaknesses of the book. The book itself, however, is unchanged from the 1964 text.
Beginners will find this a difficult book to work through. MacIntyre presumes the reader has a basic understanding of the ideas and philosophers he discusses.
But for those with adequate background this is a wonderful book, full of many insights. Be warned, though, this book is not a neutral review of the subject matter. In this book MacIntyre lays the groundwork for his own particular version of ethics (developed most fully in After Virtue).
Much of the book is dense and part of it is, arguably, poorly written. But it is worth the work needed to get through it.
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I wonder if the other reviewers who panned this book stuff their own shirts or send them out. I suspect that rather than disliking the book they dislike the message. MacIntyre uses this book to drop the bread crumbs to lead moderns back to the foundation of Western Civilization, which curiously enough takes us back to the beginning. "You shall not cease from exploration; and the end of your exploring will be to arrive where you started and to know the place for the first time." MacIntyre is one of those philosophers who holds that there is a real world, that there are right and wrong choices for human beings, that we have screwed up our language and philosophical discourse to the point where they mean nothing and the only answer is to rectify our basic understanding, to recalibrate our thought to reality. I find the author to be difficult because his thought is so loaded with content and one must follow him carefully. DON'T BUY THE KINDLE EDITION YET. THE GREEK TERMS ARE DISTORED BY POOR SCANNING AND THERE ARE NUMBEROUS TYPOS (LIKE LEAVING OUT THE WORD "NOT" IN A SENTENCE).
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Format: Paperback
I was always in a certain kind of doubt when it was asked of me to recommend one or the other of numerous histories of philosophy. They are not your ordinary texts, which you can browse about in your leasure time. They often require some thinking to really grasp what author had in mind and where does he stand at all. After all history of philosophy is elusive subject even to profficient ones. Looking back, in something less than seven thousand years of culture as we know it (it began with emergence of Summerian epos - Gilgamesh), one finds himself before wast ammount of data, to put it that way. When faced with them, one feels compelled to escape in any direction avaliable to him.

But neverthelles, something drives you to continue your studies, to learn and feed upon knowledge of others, to live in times long forgotten and to think an re-think thought again and again. But without that initial spark which puts great flames in motion all would be in vain. MacIntyre book is one that feeds that flame, helping it to grow.

If one really wants to understand key questions of ethics and how, at the first place they came to be, one should start with MacIntyre. You won't find your asnwers listed here, rather contrary, MacIntyre, in his almost positivistic scepticism, states many pro et contra arguments for theories presented in his book, that reader finds himself confused on many occasions. But precisely that kind of expose is what drives one to continue searching and to complete questions posed by MAcIntyre. A task that takes whole lifetime and more.

In the end I have to mention that ethics described here concernes itself mostly with western ethics and ethical thought. East is left out. For which purpose, I'll let you find for yourself.
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This is a fine discussion of (western) moral theory and its history up to the early twentieth century. It may not be the best short introduction to the history of ethics, but it is perceptive and serviceable.

One reviewer on Amazon comments that MacIntyre's writing is not clear. I found his diction at times quite lucid; however, his style is learned in the early to mid twentieth-century British (Scottish) way. This book is not always an easy read, but it is an informative one. It is good for someone who is interested in the subject, who is looking for an historical introduction, and who is willing to pay careful attention.

Part of the reason why it is not an always easy read is related to MacIntyre's rebuttal to A. J. Ayer. MacIntyre, contra Ayer, believes that right understanding of the history of moral theory is not just descriptive rehearsal of what various people thought but involves the participant in the philosophical enterprise itself. Therefore, MacIntyre's history contains philosophical argumentation. It not only reproduces the reasoning process of historical persons but also demonstrates MacIntyre's own evaluation of moral theories.

I initially read the first edition, which is essentially identical to the second edition except that the latter contains an updated preface. Otherwise the two editions are the same. The preface in the second edition is essential reading and not to be skipped over. In it MacIntyre addresses weaknesses in four chapters: on Christianity, on the British Eighteenth-Century, on Kant, and on modern moral philosophy.
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