Most anthologies in philosophy are clones of one another, whether they are arranged thematically or historically. So this anthology by David Boonin and Graham Oddie is refreshingly brilliant. The theme of What’s Wrong ? is simple: identify an article on a controversial moral issue, then offer some replies. The late James Rachels’s “Active and passive euthanasia” is a classic in debates on this topic, and the editors have included four responses.
In the first part of the book, called “What’s wrong with killing?”, there are sections on both sides of the abortion issue. One features Don Marquis’s “Why abortion is immoral”, with three responses. The other has Judith Jarvis Thomson’s “A defence of abortion” with two responses. Other topics include animal rights, homosexuality, adultery and prostitution, affirmative action, capital punishment, cloning and many others.
The final article, “Is copying this book wrong?”, is a clever final entry. The overall tone of the book is a bit right of centre. For example, Rachels’s rather liberal piece with four responses should be compared with Michael Levin’s pieces defending racial profiling and the immorality of homosexuality. These articles have fewer, and weaker, critics.
There are two sections devoted to topics not usually addressed in an applied ethics anthology: commerce and government. The commerce section devotes a chapter to the sale of human organs, a topic much in the news.
Louis Pojman is a master of the philosophy anthology. In How Should We Live? he provides a monograph on ethical theory. The beginnings of the book are quite moving. The dedication states: “This book is dedicated to the young people of the world: May you be up to the challenge of building a better world.” This is followed by a preface, a “Word to students” and a first chapter titled “Why do we need morality?”, which tries to motivate the study of ethics.
Less impressive are the chapters that follow. I have no complaints about theoretical accuracy. Chapters cover the standard utilitarian, deontological, natural law and virtue-based theories. Egoism, evolution and altruism, and moral relativism are also covered adequately. But I worry about how the level of detail in these chapters will motivate students to take applied ethics seriously. Pojman argues that to apply ethics to life we need to learn ethical theory. But just as I am not convinced that we need to learn the advanced physics of gravity to know that we should not jump from tall buildings, I am not convinced that we need ethical theory to help students be ethical citizens.
There is a companion website: http:///philosophy.wadsworth.com .
Paul Thomson is assistant professor of philosophy, John Carroll University, Cleveland, US.
What’s Wrong? Applied Ethicists and Their Critics. First edition
Author - David Boonin and Graham Oddie
Publisher - Oxford University Press
Pages - 746
Price - £30.99
ISBN - 0 19 516761 9