Ethics: A Very Short Introduction

Simon Blackburn
Pub date
May 2003
Very Short Introductions
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  • Written by Simon Blackburn, author of the best-selling Think
  • Short, lively, humorous, and accessible
  • Unique combination of depth, rigor and sparkling prose
  • Ethics is the area of philosophy which touches most on everyday life - its central theme is how we ought to live
  • Discusses topics such as birth, death, desire,and the meaning of life

Our self-image as moral, well-behaved creatures is dogged by scepticism, relativism, hypocrisy, and nihilism, by the fear that in a Godless world science has unmasked us as creatures fated by our genes to be selfish and tribalistic, or competitive and aggressive. In this 'sparklingly clear' (Guardian) introduction to ethics Simon Blackburn tackles the major moral questions surrounding birth, death, happiness, desire and freedom, showing us how we should think about the meaning of life, and how we should mistrust the soundbite-sized absolutes that often dominate moral debates.


List of Illustrations

Seven Threats to Ethics
1: The Threat of the Death of God
2: The Threat of Relativism
3: The Threat of Egoism
4: The Threat from Evolutionary Theory
5: The Threat of Determinism and Futility
6: The Threat of Unreasonable Demands
7: The Threat of False Consciousness

Some Ethical Ideas
8: Birth
9: Death
10: Desire and the Meaning of Life
11: Pleasure
12: The Greatest Happiness of the Greatest Number
13: Freedom from the Bad
14: Freedom and Paternalism
15: Rights and Natural Rights

16: Reasons and Foundations
17: Living Well and Doing Good
18: The Categorical Imperative
19: Contracts and Discourse
20: The Common Point of View
21: Confidence Restored

Further Reading

About the author: 

Simon Blackburn is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge. Until recently he was Edna J. Doury Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina, and from 1969 to 1999 a Fellow and Tutor at Pembroke College, Oxford. His books include Spreading the Word (1984), Essays in Quasi-Realism (1993), The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy (1994), Ruling Passions (1998), and Truth (co-edited with Keith Simmons, 1999), and the best-selling Think (1999). He edited the journal Mind from 1984 to 1990.

Review from previous edition Simon Blackburn's short book takes the big moral questions head on and does so brilliantly. . . a witty, vivid writer with an enviable popular touch . . . this is a wonderfully enlightening book. - Ben Rogers, Sunday Telegraph

full of good sense - Sunday Times

But for anyone wondering how big questions have bothered us over the years, this witty, rigorous book fills in the gaps. - PLAY, The Times

always lively and never simplistic - Waterstone's Quarterly January 2002

Good clearheaded stuff - Ted Honderich, The Times

enjoyable and extremely readable . . . Blackburn . . . is breezy, helpful, reassuring - The Philosopher's Magazine

sparklingly clear - Guardian

a first rate and accessible guide which tackles the huge, perpetual questions - Nottingham Evaning Post

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