Gordon Graham’s Eight Theories of Ethics provides an introduction to those ethical theories that, historically, comprise the core of Western ethical thought. These are egoism, hedonism, naturalism (“virtue theory”), existentialism, Kantianism, utilitarianism, contractualism and religion. Graham’s discussion unfolds conceptually, so that, for instance, the chapter on egoism paves the
way for hedonism and so on. Attention is also paid to chronology, as the topic permits, and the major figures (Kant, Mill, Sartre and so on) receive special discussion.
Graham’s opening chapter contains brief discussions of relativism, moral realism, moral rationalism and objectivism. Brief lists of further reading appear at the end of each chapter, and there is a substantial bibliography and index at the end of the volume. The book aims to introduce ethical theory to students first studying the topic.
Its chief merit is the unusual precision and clarity of the writing. This will prove especially welcome for those more subtle aspects of Kantianism and existentialism that first-timers typically find exceptionally difficult. Also notable is how Graham presents the history of ethical thought as a series of views that grow out of and respond to one another, as opposed to presenting them as disparate, unrelated theories the student should
Roger Trigg’s Morality Matters is aimed at readers studying social and political philosophy, law or politics. The point of the book seems to be to explain how morality is relevant to those studies and the activities associated with them, in case they may be thought moral-free zones. It would be suitable as a second text for such courses. But Trigg’s larger professional project involves “taking a stand against various forms of relativism”, and so it may suit advanced theory courses focusing on, say, objections to moral realism.
The book includes chapters on naturalism, natural law, public law, rights and patriotism and nationalism, to name a few. Trigg explains in each chapter how the student or professional is required to answer specific moral questions and to adopt a realist stance simply in order to talk about rights, race, global politics and so on, thus rendering relativist positions unsustainable.
The writing is pitched at a more abstract level than an introductory text. For example we get “agreed biological needs” rather than, as I expect, “things that we agree are needed biologically”. There is a glossary of terms, though it is less carefully prepared than it might be. “Utilitarianism” is identified with “consequentialism”, making no mention of goodness or happiness as the summum bonum.
Patrick Mooney is assistant professor of philosophy, John Carroll University, Cleveland, US.
Eight Theories of Ethics. First edition
Author - Gordon Graham
Publisher - Routledge
Pages - 221
Price - £55.00 and £14.99
ISBN - 0 415 31588 3 and 31589 1