George W. Matthews, Plymouth State University
Copyright Year: 2020
Publisher: George W. Matthews
Conditions of Use
The text covers the main areas of Ethics beginning with a useful discussion of logic and critical reasoning. The author discusses how arguments are analyzed and evaluated and then points out the most common types of fallacious reasoning... read more
The text covers the main areas of Ethics beginning with a useful discussion of logic and critical reasoning. The author discusses how arguments are analyzed and evaluated and then points out the most common types of fallacious reasoning encountered in moral debates. This introduction is then followed by an examination of the problems associated with Ethical Relativism and Ethics and Religion. After the weaknesses of these approaches to morality are pointed out Prof. Matthews then unpacks four of the most common Ethical Theories: Egoism, Social Contract Theory, Utilitarianism, and Kantian Ethics. These theories are then applied in an examination of several hot button issues that we struggle with today. The various chapters would have benefited from a variety of pedagogical devices such as review questions, moral dilemmas, etc. that would be useful in stimulating student discussion. The text does not have an index or glossary.
The various positions and theories were presented in a clear and accurate way. The text is not meant to be an exhaustive account of these ideas. Any instructor who adopts this text will wish the author had expanded on this or that theme, but in the end attentive students will have a good understanding of usefulness of Philosophical Ethics and how it can be used to improve their lives through better decision making.
In his discussion of applied ethics the author elaborates upon five issues: Euthanasia, Liberty and its Limits, Crime and Punishment, Animals and Ethics, and Environmental Ethics. I would hope that a contemporary ethics text would address the issues of race and racism, feminism, as well as controversies surrounding gender identity.
I felt Prof. Matthew's conversational tone and humorous remarks would be very appealing to high school early college students as well as undergraduates who are being exposed to a philosophy course for the first time. The jargon of the profession is avoided where possible, leaving students with an accessible text that still deals with complex issues. Often, arguments are broken down into their simple premises and conclusion making is easy for students to identify their weaknesses.
The text follows the traditional pattern of well designed ethics courses, beginning with an overview. This one is presented with the help of Socrates. Students can follow the progression of how philosophers think as they search for viable moral theories that can be effectively used to make better decisions when confronted with difficult moral dilemmas.
Each unit of the text is no more than two or three pages long. These pages are broken up into clearly defined paragraphs allowing students to easily follow the topics without being overwhelmed. Instructors will no doubt want to expand upon certain topics that are of greater interest to them. The format of the text would easily allow them to do so.
In the initial discussion of Utilitarianism as an ethical theory there was no mention of the well known distinction between act and rule utilitarianism. I was pleased to see this come up later in the examination and critique of the death penalty, but students might be better served if this were made part of the original treatment of the theory.
The text works much better on a desktop or laptop where the table of contents located in the left margin is visible. One can easily click their way through the various topics and always know where they are in the overall text. When I attempted to read this work on a tablet that feature wasn't as readily available, so it took more effort to scroll back and forth through the text.
The text needs a thorough proofing. There are far too many typos to the point where they become distracting. I noticed them first appearing in chapter 4 on Relativism. Section 4.1, last paragraph: It also seems, at first glance at least, to be a theory with nothing but positive implications – it seems to encourage of diversity and lets everyone do their own thing. Section 4.3, fourth paragraph: If this view were correct we would expect to find that the variation of moral ideas among is humans is less pronounced than relativism claims. Section 4.4, second paragraph: And, furthermore, if we are to learn how to get along with each other and tolerate other ways if life, this would also seem to entail tolerating entire value systems that might be very different than our own. 4.7, Slide show summary, Find out More: Crash Course video on Meta-ethics: A great short video reviewing the core concepts and debates in meat-ethics espcially the question of whether ethical principles are relative. Minor typos similar to these can be found throughout the text.
The text is certainly Eurocentric in its perspective. If one wished to take a multicultural approach to the study of ethics this would not be the best choice. The author is sensitive in his use of gender neutral language but there is no discussion of the important contributions make by women in contemporary ethics. In fairness, the author does note that in the future he does hope to expand this work making it more inclusive: Over time I will also try to expand on and/or make room for approaches I haven’t yet had time to integrate into my overall scheme, such as virtue ethics, Buddhist ethics (and non-Western approaches more broadly) and feminist approaches to ethics. I do welcome suggestions about how to extend and revise this text to make it more inclusive.
Generally, I think the text would work well in an introductory ethics course, but it would have to be supplemented by the instructor. Students would benefit from exposure to longer excerpts from primary sources and review and discussion questions would also be useful as an addendum to the various chapters. I appreciate the hard work and dedication that Prof. Matthews has done in preparing this work and I am sure my future students will appreciate it even more when they find out how much money they will be saving by using an open source text.
Table of Contents
- I Some Preliminaries
- 1 The Examined Life
- 2 A Little Bit of Logic
- 3 Fallacies and Biases
- II Ethics Culture and Religion
- 4 Relativism
- 5 Religion and Ethics
- III Reconstructing Norms
- 6 Egoism
- 7 Social Contract Theory
- 8 Utilitarianism
- 9 Kant and the ethics of duty
- IV Applied Ethics
- 10 Theory in Practice
- 11 Euthanasia
- 12 Liberty and its Limits
- 13 Crime and Punishment
- 14 Animals and Ethics
- 15 Ethics and the Environment
About the Book
This book is an introduction to philosophical ethics intended for use in introductory college or high school level courses. It has grown out of lecture notes I shared with the first students who took my online Ethics course at the Pennsylvania College of Technology almost 20 years ago. Since then it has seen more development in a variety of forms – starting out as a pdf document, and then evolving into a static set of WordPress pages and finally now as a book written in bookdown and hosted at GitHub. This text represents my attempt to scratch a couple of itches. The first is my wanting a presentation of the major philosophical approaches to ethics that I can actually agree with and that is integrated into my overall teaching method. I tend to teach philosophy to beginners and so there is a fair amount of discussion of the tools used by philosophers and of the ways in which their approach differs from that of their colleagues in other disciplines.
There are of course many good quality ethics textbooks out there, and yet none has exactly matched my way of wanting to present the material. Teaching ethics over the years has been a process of active exploration and constant revision of my approach as I have come to a more nuanced and richer appreciation of what ethical thinking and theorizing is all about, as well as some ideas about how I think the main strands of argument relate to each other. Yes this is a partisan effort, but it’s all subject to revision and refinement based on, I hope at least, the better argument. That’s what I am trying to get across here.
The second itch I am trying to scratch has to do with initiatives in open education, and I’d like this text to contribute in its own small way to the much larger and more influential open source movement and philosophy of which I consider it a part. Knowledge is only ours to share. Yes of course writers, developers and publishers do hard work that deserves compensation. But intellectual property, it seems to me, is a false idol that deserves to be smashed. So here is my effort to chip away at it – knowledge should free us and and not sink us into both literal and figurative debt.
About the Contributors
George Matthews is a philosophy professor who has always loved messing around with computers.