Ethics for A-Level
Mark Dimmock, Torquay Boys' Grammar School
Andrew Fisher, University of Nottingham
Pub Date: 2017
ISBN 13: 978-1-7837439-0-2
Publisher: Open Book Publishers
Conditions of Use
This textbook is tailored to AQA Philosophy and OCR Religious studies, yet it is comprehensive enough to be easily adapted to introductory surveys in read more
This textbook is tailored to AQA Philosophy and OCR Religious studies, yet it is comprehensive enough to be easily adapted to introductory surveys in Ethics. It contains a helpful introduction to the field of ethics, discusses some standard ethical theories (Part I), the classic debate in Metaethics between cognitivism/non-cognitivism about moral utterances and realism/anti-realism about the existence of moral facts (Part II), and applies the moral theories covered in part I to important moral issues (Part III). The introduction defines the field of ‘ethics’, explains basic distinctions and methods like thought-experiments and their role in evaluating moral beliefs, and discusses other important distinctions like the difference between moral and legal reasons. The authors, however, omit any discussion of the logic of moral arguments or standard criteria for evaluating competing moral theories, despite the methodological significance of these topics. Supplementary materials or chapters on these topics must be added for this introduction to be better suited for an ethics class. Part I covers Utilitarianism, Kant’s Ethics, Aristotelian Virtue Ethics, Natural Law Theory, and Joseph Fletcher’s Situation Ethics. The exposition and evaluation of these theories is clear, concise, engaging, and manage to avoid unnecessary jargon. A central benefit of these chapters is that they are short and to the point, so the reader gets a good sense of the core elements of each theory as well as their pros and cons. For instance, students often struggle to understand the idea that Kant’s Categorical Imperative does not appeal to consequences in evaluating maxims but focuses instead on a maxim’s ability to function consistently if turned into law. The authors manage effectively to explain and illustrate the difference with interesting cases like lying and suicide. Each chapter also contains a nice summary, a very helpful section of common student mistakes, a list of terms covered, and a set of issues that can be used for further reflection. All of these features can be used for discussions, exercises, and quizzes. The list of references at the end of each chapter is also welcomed, although it would be nice to add sections containing “further readings” or “additional resources” in case the reader wants to further pursue the topics. Part I does not cover Ethical Egoism, Social Contract Theory, The Ethics of Care, or Feminism. This may be understandable if A-Level students are not being tested on these theories but less so if this book is to be used for a class in ethics. Despite that most philosophers reject it, Ethical Egoism is quite popular outside philosophy, so students ought to be given the opportunity to learn why this is so. Social Contract Theory forms the basis of some of the most influential theories of Justice, like John Rawls’ Justice as Fairness, and The Ethics of Care and Feminism represent some of the important contributions that women philosophers have made to our understanding of right and wrong. Accordingly, these topics would have to be added to make the textbook better suited for an ethics class. The part on Metaethics details the classic positions about the meaning of ethical utterances and the status of moral facts for those who wish to cover this topic in their classes. This part, however, would be enhanced if a chapter discussing relativism were added. Many students think that morality is reducible to individual or cultural preferences. Accordingly, a textbook purporting to introduce students to ethics should cover relativism’s pros and cons, as well as how one could defend a belief in the objectivity of morality against it. The discussion of how the ethical theories covered in Part I apply to the moral issues and dilemmas posed by Euthanasia, Sexual Ethics, Stealing, Simulated Killing, Lying, and Animal Rights is quite good. These chapters provide the reader with a general sense of how these theories deal with the central issues that define these topics. For instance, the application of Utilitarianism’s emphasis on suffering as the mark of moral status to animal rights is quite good. So is the application of Kant’s ethics to the concept of private property and its relation to stealing. However, teachers focusing on practical issues may be disappointed by the absence of important issues like abortion, cloning, genetic enhancement, same-same marriage, the death penalty, affirmative action, war, terrorism, torture, economic inequality, and other moral issues typically cover in an applied ethics class.
The textbook handles the material covered fairly accurately. However, it contains a strong bias towards religious thinking, especially in its presentation of Natural Law Theory. For instance, the authors downplay or fail to mention several standard objections against Natural Law Theory, like the difficulty of deriving an “ought” from an “is” or of identifying an activity’s proper function. Also, their decision to cover Joseph Fletcher’s situational ethics instead of more important frameworks, like the Ethics of Care or Feminism, appear gratuitous and gender bias. Anyone wanting to teach ethics more inclusively would have to rely on extra readings or add new chapters to address these shortcomings.
The textbook presents classic theories, arguments, and examples. These contents should stand the test of time. The book’s format and organization allows for easy incorporation of revisions and updates if needed.
The textbook stands out for its clarity and concision. It uses technical jargon sparingly and defines technical term well when it does. It also offers a vey useful vocabulary at the end.
The content is generally consistently developed, but there is a clear bias towards Natural Law Theory and a stronger emphasis on religious arguments than I think is appropriate for a philosophical approach to moral issues. This may be explained by the fact that the textbook was written for OCR Religious Studies. Nevertheless, these issues need to be addressed before I could use it for my classes.
The textbook is broken down nicely into chapters and sections that stand on their own and can be easily revised, reorganized, or remixed in various ways. Some chapters, e.g., the part on Metaethics, can be skipped completely without undermining the coherence, intelligibility, or flow of the remaining chapters.
The textbook is well organized. Key concepts are explained and material is appropriately divided into easily digestible chunks. The authors use relevant examples that support well important problems and concepts. Transitions are easy to follow and allow the reader to make important connections within and between chapters and parts. Overall, I really like the way the book is structured and the way its explanations flow.
Students have access to a PDF and an ease-to-navigate, online version of this textbook. Printed copies of the whole or parts of it can be made easily. It is also published under a CC By license, which permits the greatest freedom to retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute its contents.
The authors mistakenly use the term ‘rationale’ instead of ‘rational’ on page 41; otherwise the book is generally free of grammatical errors.
Although in important ways culturally relevant, the book fails to include enough women perspectives.
Overall, this textbook can work well for an introductory class in ethics if supplemented with additional readings or chapters that address the limitations I have already described.
The approach taken in this text, while specific to the AQA philosophy and OCR religious programs, would work quite well with lower level/introductory read more
The approach taken in this text, while specific to the AQA philosophy and OCR religious programs, would work quite well with lower level/introductory ethics students, who have no background in philosophy. However, the book covers only 4 major ethical theories: utilitarianism, deontology, virtue theory and natural law theory. So, it misses social contractarianism, divine command theory, ethical relativism, and ethical egoism. I would have to supplement this text. Part I covers the four classical ethical theories traditionally covered by introductory ethics courses plus one on situational ethics. The chapter content is straightforward and peppered occasionally with direct quotes from relevant philosophers. The thought experiments are effective and useful in helping students further connect with the abstract theories. That there is a section of “Problems” with the various theories is also excellent. The idea of helpful sections like “common student mistakes” was appreciated, and it does capture some of what my students tend to struggle with. Another benefit is that the text itself was very clear, basic and thorough in explaining ethical reasoning processes that many introductory students struggle to grasp. For example, they often struggle with conducting the hedonic calculus and recognizing the difference between act and rule utilitarianism, or applying the categorical imperative to various scenarios. Helpfully, this text goes into depth explaining and demonstrating how to understand apply these approaches to sample cases. So, although there are no exercises or quizzes with this text, the text itself provides plenty of discussion fodder. Additionally, the “Issues to Consider” and “Key Terms” sections which are very helpful and can be adapted for student reflection or discussion. Placing the references section at the end of each chapter with some resources that are “freely available” is very helpful for students who want to quickly look up additional resources. However, that drops off as the chapters progress. A nice addition would be a section containing further readings or additional resources. I certainly think it's possible to locate some freely available resources for the chapter on Virtue Theory. Part II could be skipped in an intro to ethics course, or used in an intro to philosophy course. I didn’t review this section as I prefer to take an applied approach to philosophy. Part III: Applied Ethics is pertinent to anyone who likes to incorporate some popular moral arguments and it nicely covers several major ethical dilemmas. The section on euthanasia is structured well in that it provides multiple pro and con arguments for the students to analyze. Initially I was unsure how relevant a section on “Stealing” is for students, but the application of Kantian ethics to the concept of property is quite good. The remaining sections contain theoretical reasoning by applying the ethical theories to the moral issues. These should make for a good beginning to discussion. However, they would be strengthened by the inclusion of pro/con arguments so students would have something to analyze.
Generally the text accurately summarizes the theories themselves and supplies relevant critiques of the theories. However, there is a strong bias toward religious reasoning that is evident throughout and particularly apparent in the treatment of natural law theory and euthanasia. There is also some inconsistency in the headings/section titles used throughout the book, which is confusing at best and at times appears deceptive. For example, the switch in category headings from “Problems” to “Objections” might be confusing to some. As an example of the weaknesses of this text, the chapter on natural law theory only very briefly covers divine command theory, but students usually need more of an explanation on why religious ethics like this are abandoned. Although, I do recognize that even with a thorough analysis many students fail to fully grasp the implications of the Euthyphro dilemma; so, perhaps it is better to gloss over it in favor of Natural Law. Another problem is that while the explication of the Natural Law position is solid, the critique is downplayed and ultimately hidden under a deceptive section title. First the critiques were called “Problems,” then “Objections,” and in this chapter they changed to “Some thoughts.” This is a letdown. It appears biased. The authors, as philosophers (lovers of wisdom and truth) have an obligation to maintain an evenhanded critique of strengths and weaknesses for all theories. It is also an interesting choice to structure the last section as Fletcher’s situationism when I see more problems with relativism and a far greater need to clarify and critique that position. Moderate objectivism or ethical situationalism (see Pojman) would have been a better choice; however, I think again the author’s loyalties/origins have affected its inclusion. In Part III, particularly the section on euthanasia, the authors also skew the analysis toward religion. Since I can’t assume all my students are Catholic, nor do I think that strictly faith based religious or Biblical reasoning is relevant as a critique, this section of the text falls short in modeling true philosophical reasoning and rational critique. However, the analysis of sexual ethics appears forthright and objectively handled, although instead of pro or con arguments we are given the various theories’ treatment of sexual ethics.
I don't think there will be an issue of this book going out of date. The examples/issues remain relevant. The theories are classics.
The text appears very clear and any jargon used is fully defined and explained through copious examples and applications.
As noted above, the switch in headings from "problems" to "objections" to "thoughts" is misleading and confusing. Additionally, there is a definite propensity toward religion and religious reasoning, which leads to uneven analysis in some points.
The layout of this text is lovely. The chapters could be reorganized and as I stated above, the entirety of part two could be skipped. Additionally, the effective use of headings allows certain sections of the text to be cut or supplemented.
The text's flow and organization is consistent and appealing. It is easy to section out, and the examples are appropriately inserted to support and clarify key concepts.
The interface is nice. It is published both as a PDF and online, so readers can choose their preference. The PDF has a nice book like setup, so you can flip to the next page and don't have to scroll downward through pages. Both the web and PDF version are very clear and clean. Additionally, for students who desire a print copy, the web version allows printing of chapters, sections, etc.
While I did not do a close study, I only noticed a few minor grammatical issues like pluralization and possessives.
The text is fine. It might even be too wary of offending at the expense of sound analysis.
Overall, when paired with some additional readings in moral theories and arguments in applied ethics, this secondary text provides a solid basis for a lower level intro to ethics course.
Table of Contents
Part I Normative Ethics
- Chapter 1 Utilitarianism
- Chapter 2 Kantian ethics
- Chapter 3 Aristotelian virtue ethics
- Chapter 4 Aquinas’s natural law theory
- Chapter 5 Fletcher’s situation ethics
Part II Metaethics
- Chapter 6 Metaethical theories
Part III Applied Ethics
- Chapter 7 Euthanasia
- Chapter 8 Business ethics
- Chapter 9 Conscience
- Chapter 10 Sexual ethics
- Chapter 11 Stealing
- Chapter 12 Simulated killing
- Chapter 13 Telling lies
- Chapter 14 Eating animals
About the Book
What does pleasure have to do with morality? What role, if any, should intuition have in the formation of moral theory? If something is ‘simulated’, can it be immoral?
This accessible and wide-ranging textbook explores these questions and many more. Key ideas in the fields of normative ethics, metaethics and applied ethics are explained rigorously and systematically, with a vivid writing style that enlivens the topics with energy and wit. Individual theories are discussed in detail in the first part of the book, before these positions are applied to a wide range of contemporary situations including business ethics, sexual ethics, and the acceptability of eating animals. A wealth of real-life examples, set out with depth and care, illuminate the complexities of different ethical approaches while conveying their modern-day relevance.
This concise and highly engaging resource is tailored to the Ethics components of AQA Philosophy and OCR Religious Studies, with a clear and practical layout that includes end-of-chapter summaries, key terms, and common mistakes to avoid. It should also be of practical use for those teaching Philosophy as part of the International Baccalaureate.
Ethics for A-Level is of particular value to students and teachers, but Fisher and Dimmock’s precise and scholarly approach will appeal to anyone seeking a rigorous and lively introduction to the challenging subject of ethics.
About the Contributors
Mark Dimmock graduated with a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Nottingham, defending the theories of Moral Error Theory and Moral Abolitionism. He now works as a Philosophy Teacher at Torquay Boys' Grammar School.
Andrew Fisher is Associate Professor at the University of Nottingham and has been lecturing philosophy for fifteen years. He has published in metaethics, philosophy of education, philosophy of sport, philosophy of religion, philosophy for children and how to use technology in teaching. He is a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and teaches philosophy to local primary school children.