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Anscombe, G. E. M.. Modern Moral Philosophy
1958, Philosophy 33(124): 1-19
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Added by: Anne-Marie McCallion

Summary: The author presents and defends three theses: (1) “the first is that it is not profitable for us at present to do moral philosophy; that should be laid aside at any rate until we have an adequate philosophy of psychology.” (2) “the second is that the concepts of obligation, And duty… And of what is morally right and wrong, And of the moral sense of ‘ought’, Ought to be jettisoned if this is psychologically possible….” (3) “the third thesis is that the differences between the well-Known English writers on moral philosophy from Sidgwick to the present day are of little importance.”

Comment: This text offers an advanced-level criticism of the dominant normative ethical theories of the 20th century (namely consequentialism and deontology). Since this is a seminal text, it would be suitable for history of philosophy courses, moral philosophy courses (especially sections pertaining to Aristotelian or Neo-Aristotelian Virtue ethics). It does require rudimentary knowledge of Consequentialism and Deontology and as such would be best utilised in second or third year undergraduate (or postgraduate) courses.

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Davis, Nancy. Contemporary deontology
1993, In Peter Singer (ed.), A Companion to Ethics. John Wiley & Sons.
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Added by: Clotilde Torregrossa, Contributed by: Simon Fokt

Abstract: Many people profess to believe that acting morally, or as we ought to act, involves the self-conscious acceptance of some (quite specific) constraints or rules that place limits both on the pursuit of our own interests and on our pursuit of the general good. Though these people do not regard the furtherance of our own interests or the pursuit of the general good as ignoble ends, or ones that we are morally required to eschew, they believe that neither can be regarded as providing us with morally sufficient reason to take action. Those who hold such a view believe that there are certain sorts of acts that are wrong in themselves, and thus morally unacceptable means to the pursuit of any ends, even ends that are morally admirable, or morally obligatory. (How strong the prohibition is against performing such acts is a matter that will be taken up later.) Philosophers call such ethical views ‘deontological’ (from the Greek deon , ‘duty’), and contrast them to views that are ‘teleological’ in structure (from telos , Greek for ‘goal’). Those who hold teleological views reject the view that there are special kinds of acts that are right or wrong in themselves. For teleologists, the rightness or wrongness of our acts is determined by a comparative assessment of their consequences. […] The focus of this essay is on deontological theories.

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Heinzelmann, Nora. Deontology defended
2018, Synthese 195 (12):5197–5216
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Added by: Björn Freter, Contributed by: Björn Freter

Abstract: Empirical research into moral decision-making is often taken to have normative implications. For instance, in his recent book, Greene (2013) relies on empirical findings to establish utilitarianism as a superior normative ethical theory. Kantian ethics, and deontological ethics more generally, is a rival view that Greene attacks. At the heart of Greene’s argument against deontology is the claim that deontological moral judgments are the product of certain emotions and not of reason. Deontological ethics is a mere rationalization of these emotions. Accordingly Greene maintains that deontology should be abandoned. This paper is a defense of deontological ethical theory. It argues that Greene’s argument against deontology needs further support. Greene’s empirical evidence is open to alternative interpretations. In particular, it is not clear that Greene’s characterization of alarm-like emotions that are relative to culture and personal experience is empirically tenable. Moreover, it is implausible that such emotions produce specifically deontological judgments. A rival sentimentalist view, according to which all moral judgments are determined by emotion, is at least as plausible given the empirical evidence and independently supported by philosophical theory. I therefore call for an improvement of Greene’s argument.

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Hursthourse, Rosalind. On Virtue Ethics
2000, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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Back Matter: Virtue ethics is perhaps the most important development within late twentieth-century moral philosophy. Rosalind Hursthouse, who has made notable contributions to this development, now presents a full exposition and defence of her neo-Aristotelian version of virtue ethics. She shows how virtue ethics can provide guidance for action, illuminate moral dilemmas, and bring out the moral significance of the emotions. Deliberately avoiding a combative stance, she finds less disagreement between Kantian and neo-Aristotelian approaches than is usual, and she offers the first account from a virtue ethics perspective of acting ‘from a sense of duty’. She considers the question which character traits are virtues, and explores how answers to this question can be justified by appeal to facts about human nature. Written in a clear, engaging style which makes it accessible to non-specialists, On Virtue Ethics will appeal to anyone with an interest in moral philosophy.

Comment: The Introduction provides an excellent overview of virtue ethics and its relations with other moral theories. It makes for a perfect main reading for units on virtue ethics in general ethics modules. Chapter 4 offers a valuable discussion of deontology, and other chapters are best used as further reading, or as main readings in modules devoted fully to virtue ethics.

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Hursthouse, Rosalind. Virtue, Theory and Abortion
1991, Philosophy & public affairs 20(3): 223-246.
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Added by: Simon Fokt

Abstract: The sort of ethical theory derived from Aristotle, variously described as virtue ethics, virtue-based ethics, or neo-Aristotelianism, is becoming better known, and is now quite widely recognized as at least a possible rival to deontological and utilitarian theories. With recognition has come criticism, of varying quality. In this article I shall discuss nine separate criticisms that I have frequently encountered, most of which seem to me to betray an inadequate grasp either of the structure of virtue theory or of what would be involved in thinking about a real moral issue in its terms. In the first half I aim particularly to secure an understanding that will reveal that many of these criticisms are simply misplaced, and to articulate what I take to be the major criticism of virtue theory. I reject this criticism, but do not claim that it is necessarily misplaced. In the second half I aim to deepen that understanding and highlight the issues raised by the criticisms by illustrating what the theory looks like when it is applied to a particular issue, in this case, abortion.

Comment: Most useful as further reading in two contexts: (1) the ethics of abortion and the use of virtue ethics in determining its moral status; (2) virtue ethics, its relations with deontology and utilitarianism, and objections against it, with a discussion of the problem of abortion supporting the value of the neo-Aristotelian theory.

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Olberding, Amy (ed.). Dao Companion to the Analects
2014, Springer.
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Added by: Nick Novelli

Publisher’s note: This volume surveys the major philosophical concepts, arguments, and commitments of the Confucian classic, the Analects. In thematically organized chapters, leading scholars provide a detailed, scholarly introduction to the text and the signal ideas ascribed to its protagonist, Confucius.

The volume opens with chapters that reflect the latest scholarship on the disputed origins of the text and an overview of the broad commentarial tradition it generated. These are followed by chapters that individually explore key areas of the text’s philosophical landscape, articulating both the sense of concepts such as renli, and xiao as well as their place in the wider space of the text. A  final section addresses prominent interpretive challenges and scholarly disputes in reading the Analects, evaluating, for example, the alignment between the Analects and contemporary moral theory and the contested nature of its religious sensibility.

Dao Companion to the Analects offers a comprehensive and complete survey of the text’s philosophical idiom and themes, as well as its history and some of the liveliest current debates surrounding it. This book is an ideal resource for both researchers and advanced students interested in gaining greater insight into one of the earliest and most influential Confucian classics.

Comment: This volume provides an excellent overview of Confucius' Analects, with a number of excellent essays by both Chinese and Western philosophers. It would be a good textbook to use for a course that is an introduction to Asian/Confucian philosophy, or individual chapters could be used to provide an additional perspective in more general courses on certain topics:

  • Hui Chieh Loy's chapter on language and ethics would be useful in moral theory courses that focus on virtue ethics or the relation between epistemology and morality,
  • Bai Tongdong's chapter could be taught in the context of comparative political theory (particularly potential justifications for authoritarianism),
  • and Li-Hsiang Lisa Rosenlee's chapter would be very valuable as part of an examination of care ethics and feminist philosophy.
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Wolf, Susan. Moral Saints
1982, Journal of Philosophy 79 (8):419-439.
Reprinted in Crisp R. and Slote M. (eds.), Virtue ethics . Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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Added by: Simon Fokt

Content: Wolf argues that “moral perfection, in the sense of moral saintliness, does not constitute a model of personal well-being toward which it would be particularly rational or good or desirable for a human being to strive.”

Comment: The text is written in an accessible, entertaining way and can provide an excellent introduction to a first year ethics module, or an inspiration to a thought-provoking discussion on the practical application of particular ethical theories.

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Woollard, Fiona. Doing and Allowing Harm
2015, Oxford University Press
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Added by: Simon Fokt, Contributed by: Lizzy Ventham

Abstract: Fiona Woollard presents an original defence of the Doctrine of Doing and Allowing, according to which doing harm seems much harder to justify than merely allowing harm. She argues that the Doctrine is best understood as a principle that protects us from harmful imposition, and offers a moderate account of our obligations to offer aid to others.

Comment: This book gives a great overview to the debate about the difference between doing and allowing harm, as well as advancing its own view. I recommend it as further reading on courses in a number of topics, including any that cover non-consequentialism and those that cover certain applied ethical topics. Woollard also co-authors the stanford encyclopedia entry on the same topic, which I also include in my reading lists.

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