Student Review: Moral Psychology: Historical and Contemporary Readings

May 26, 2011

Editors: Thomas Nadelhoffer, Eddy Nahmias and Shaun Nichols

Edition: First

Publisher: John Wiley & Sons

Pages: 400

Price: £60.00 and £21.99

ISBN 9781405190206 and 0190

In these times of ever-greater knowledge about the once-mysterious workings of the human mind, more and more people are beginning to question the alleged permanence of the fundamental moral debates that underlie theoretical ethics. They are justified in doing so - ignoring or undermining the significance of modern scientific developments in human biology and psychology is starting to look like arrogance on the part of philosophers.

Are moral theories immune to empirical considerations? This is, perhaps, the most important question the editors and authors pose in this volume. And for any ethics student inclined to reply negatively, this book is going to provide an excellent introduction in the exciting interdisciplinary field of moral psychology.

The most immediately apparent virtue of this collection is the clarity of its structure - it is divided into five large parts, the first four of which are based on well-known problems and follow a dialectical method in their exposition. Historical writings establish both thesis and antithesis, which are then developed in detail by contemporary writings in support of each side.

The progress of ideas thus seems to evolve naturally, and finally culminates in the most up-to-date arguments backed up by empirical data from social, psychological and scientific research. This way, a kind of synthesis of the original views is carried out, yielding conclusions perhaps not less contestable, yet decidedly new.

Although easily accessible and even engaging, Moral Psychology will be appreciated most by those who are already familiar with ethics and have established their own standpoint. As the authors are not hesitant to let their personal positions be known, this book will not leave the independent thinker unmoved - it will either challenge or provide valuable support for their views. It will especially delight those with non-cognitivist leanings, but it is not, however, pessimistic about the human condition from a moral perspective. In fact, it eventually manages to inspire quite the contrary feeling, provided it is read with an appropriately open outlook.

Finally, this book serves as a good compilation of key texts in its field, covering philosophers from almost all times and traditions. My personal gain in reading it has been not only the discovery of new approaches and theories, but also a wholly new introduction to virtue ethics - a theory I have hitherto ignored as unappealing. I would gladly attend or even teach a course in moral psychology - it has, as this book shows, much to offer.

Who is it for? Ethics students open to empirical approaches.

Presentation: Excellent.

Would you recommend it? Yes.

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