Friday, May 27, 2011

Book: Being Good by Simon Blackburn

I know some of you have heard me talk about Being Good: A Introduction to Ethics by British philosopher Simon Blackburn before, but that's because it is a really introduction to ethics.  Being Good is a short (with the main part of the book being 135 pages) but comprehensive book about ethics and morality.  It covers many of the major topics in ethics in a very clear and informative way.  If I were going to teach an Introduction to Ethics class, I might consider using this book.

Being Good is separated into three parts.  The first part is "Seven Threats to Ethics" where Blackburn discussion at seven ideas that "destabilize us when we think about standards of choice and conduct" (p. 9).  This included in this part are ideas such as morality without god, relativism, determinism, and evolutionary theory.  These seven threats are clearly and fairly discussed for the most part.  The main issue I have with this is that Blackburn misrepresents Richard Dawkins' position in The Selfish Gene.  But it doesn't detract that much from the part as a whole.

The second part is called "Some Ethical Ideas." In this part, Blackburn discusses some ideas that are very important to ethics such as birth, death, desire, utilitarianism, and so on.  Blackburn discusses these ideas and brings up different arguments and objections to these arguments.  Blackburn addresses these ideas well.

Being Good's third part is called "Foundations."  Blackburn tackles various foundations for ethics such as the Categorical Imperative and their relationship to reason.  Once again, this section is handled well and Blackburn closes up the book on a positive note.

Sorry I didn't cover the last two sections in as much detail as I did the first one.  I read the book over the course of about four months, so my memory of  the entire book isn't as clear as I would like.  I do know that this is a book that I would recommend to everyone regardless of whether they are interested in philosophy or not.  I think books such as this are important and very accessible to people not involved in academics.  Books like this also challenge our ideas about morality and ethics which I think is very important.  Personally, I would require every high school student to read this book.

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