The Fundamentals of Ethics

Edition: 5th
Format: Paperback
Pub. Date: 2020-07-24
Publisher(s): Oxford University Press
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In The Fundamentals of Ethics, Fifth Edition, author Russ Shafer-Landau employs a uniquely engaging writing style to introduce students to the essential ideas of moral philosophy. Offering more comprehensive coverage of the good life, normative ethics, and metaethics than any other text of its kind, this book also addresses issues that are often omitted from other texts, such as the doctrine of doing and allowing, the doctrine of double effect, ethical particularism, the desire-satisfaction theory of well-being, moral error theory, and Ross's theory of prima facie duties. Shafer-Landau carefully reconstructs and analyzes dozens of arguments in depth, at a level that is understandable to students with no prior philosophical background.

Author Biography

Russ Shafer-Landau is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author, editor, or coeditor of several books including Living Ethics (OUP, 2018) and The Ethical Life, Fourth Edition (OUP, 2017). He is also the editor of Oxford Studies in Metaethics.

Table of Contents

New to the Fifth Edition
Instructor's Manual and Companion Website
A Note on the Companion Volume


A. The Lay of the Land
B. Doubts about Ethics
C. Ethical Starting Points
D. What Is Morality?
E. Moral Reasoning
F. The Role of Moral Theory
G. Looking Ahead


Chapter 1. Hedonism: Its Powerful Appeal
A. Happiness and Intrinsic Value
B. The Attractions of Hedonism
1. There Are Many Models of a Good Life
2. Personal Authority and Well-Being
3. Misery Clearly Hampers a Good Life; Happiness Clearly Improves It
4. The Limits of Explanation
5. Rules of the Good Life-and Their Exceptions
6. Happiness Is What We Want for Our Loved Ones

Chapter 2. Is Happiness All That Matters?
A. The Paradox of Hedonism
B. Evil Pleasures
C. False Happiness
D. The Importance of Autonomy
E. Life's Trajectory
F. Unhappiness as a Symptom of Harm
G. Conclusion

Chapter 3. Getting What You Want
A. A Variety of Good Lives
B. Personal Authority
C. Avoiding Objective Values
D. Motivation
E. Justifying the Pursuit of Self-Interest
F. Knowledge of the Good

Chapter 4. Problems for the Desire Theory
A. Getting What You Want May Not Be Necessary for Promoting Your Good
B. Getting What You Want May Not Be Sufficient for Promoting Your Good
1. Desires Based on False Beliefs
2. Disinterested and Other-Regarding Desires
3. Disappointment
4. Ignorance of Desire Satisfaction
5. Impoverished Desires
6. The Paradox of Self-Harm and Self-Sacrifice
7. The Fallibility of Our Deepest Desires
C. Conclusion
Cases for Critical Reflection


Chapter 5. Morality and Religion
A. First Assumption: Religious Belief Is Needed for Moral Motivation
B. Second Assumption: God Is the Creator of Morality
C. Third Assumption: Religion Is an Essential Source of Moral Guidance
D. Conclusion

Chapter 6. Natural Law
A. The Theory and Its Attractions
B. Three Conceptions of Human Nature
1. Human Nature as Animal Nature
2. Human Nature Is What Is Innate
3. Human Nature Is What All Humans Have in Common
C. Natural Purposes
D. The Argument from Humanity
E. Conclusion
Cases for Critical Reflection

Chapter 7. Psychological Egoism
A. Egoism and Altruism
B. Does It Matter whether Psychological Egoism Is True?
C. The Argument from Our Strongest Desires
D. The Argument from Expected Benefit
E. Two Egoistic Strategies
1. Appealing to the Guilty Conscience
2. Expanding the Realm of Self-Interest
F. Letting the Evidence Decide
G. Conclusion

Chapter 8. Ethical Egoism
A. Why Be Moral?
B. Two Popular Arguments for Ethical Egoism
1. The Self-Reliance Argument
2. The Libertarian Argument
C. The Best Argument for Ethical Egoism
D. Three Problems for Ethical Egoism
1. Egoism Violates Core Moral Beliefs
2. Egoism Cannot Allow for the Existence of Moral Rights
3. Egoism Arbitrarily Makes My Interests All-Important
E. Conclusion
Cases for Critical Reflection

Chapter 9. Consequentialism: Its Nature and Attractions
A. The Nature of Consequentialism
1. Its Structure
2. Maximizing Goodness
3. Moral Knowledge
4. Actual Versus Expected Results
5. Assessing Actions and Intentions
B. The Attractions of Utilitarianism
1. Impartiality
2. The Ability to Justify Conventional Moral Wisdom
3. Conflict Resolution
4. Moral Flexibility
C. The Scope of the Moral Community
D. Slippery Slope Arguments

Chapter 10. Consequentialism: Its Difficulties
A. Measuring Well-Being
B. Utilitarianism Is Very Demanding
1. Deliberation
2. Motivation
3. Action
C. Impartiality
D. No Intrinsic Wrongness (or Rightness)
E. The Problem of Injustice
F. Potential Solutions to the Problem of Injustice
1. Justice Is Also Intrinsically Valuable
2. Injustice Is Never Optimific
3. Justice Must Sometimes Be Sacrificed
G. Rule Consequentialism
H. Conclusion
Cases for Critical Reflection

Chapter 11. The Kantian Perspective: Fairness and Justice
A. Consistency and Fairness
B. The Principle of Universalizability
C. Morality and Rationality
D. Assessing the Principle of Universalizability
E. Integrity
F. Kant on Absolute Moral Duties

Chapter 12. The Kantian Perspective: Autonomy, Free Will, and Respect
A. The Principle of Humanity
B. The Importance of Rationality and Autonomy
C. The Problem of Free Will
D. Four Problems with the Principle of Humanity
1. Vagueness
2. Determining Just Deserts
3. Moral Luck
4. The Scope of the Moral Community
E. The Good Will and Moral Worth
F. Conclusion
Cases for Critical Reflection

Chapter 13. The Social Contract Tradition: The Theory and Its Attractions
A. The Lure of Proceduralism
B. The Background of the Social Contract Theory
C. The Prisoner's Dilemma
D. Cooperation and the State of Nature
E. The Advantages of Contractarianism
1. Morality Is Essentially a Social Phenomenon
2. Contractarianism Explains and Justifies the Content of the Basic Moral Rules
3. Contractarianism Offers a Method for Justifying Every Moral Rule
4. Contractarianism Explains the Objectivity of Morality
5. Contractarianism Explains Why It Is Sometimes Acceptable to Break the Moral Rules
F. More Advantages: Morality and the Law
1. Contractarianism Justifies a Basic Moral Duty to Obey the Law
2. The Contractarian Justification of Legal Punishment
3. Contractarianism Justifies the State's Role in Criminal Law
G. Contractarianism and Civil Disobedience

Chapter 14. The Social Contract Tradition: Problems and Prospects
A. Why Be Moral?
B. The Role of Consent
C. Disagreement among the Contractors
D. The Scope of the Moral Community
E. Conclusion
Cases for Critical Reflection

Chapter 15. Ethical Pluralism and Absolute Moral Rules
A. The Structure of Moral Theories
B. Is Torture Always Immoral?
C. Preventing Catastrophes
D. The Doctrine of Double Effect
1. A Reply to the Argument from Disaster Prevention
2. How the DDE Threatens Act Consequentialism
3. Distinguishing Intention from Foresight
E. Moral Conflict and Contradiction
F. Is Moral Absolutism Irrational?
G. The Doctrine of Doing and Allowing
H. Conclusion
Cases for Critical Reflection

Chapter 16. Ethical Pluralism: Prima Facie Duties and Ethical Particularism
A. Ross's Ethic of Prima Facie Duties
B. The Advantages of Ross's View
1. Pluralism
2. We Are Sometimes Permitted to Break the Moral Rules
3. Moral Conflict
4. Moral Regret?
5. Addressing the Antiabsolutist Arguments
C. A Problem for Ross's View
D. Knowing the Fundamental Moral Rules
E. Self-Evidence and the Testing of Moral Theories
F. Knowing the Right Thing to Do
G. Ethical Particularism
H. Three Problems for Ethical Particularism
1. Its Lack of Unity
2. Accounting for Moral Knowledge
3. Some Things Possess Permanent Moral Importance
I. Conclusion
Cases for Critical Reflection

Chapter 17. Virtue Ethics
A. The Standard of Right Action
B. Moral Complexity
C. Moral Understanding
D. Moral Education
E. The Nature of Virtue
F. Virtue and the Good Life
G. Objections
1. Tragic Dilemmas
2. Does Virtue Ethics Offer Adequate Moral Guidance?
3. Is Virtue Ethics Too Demanding?
4. Who Are the Moral Role Models?
5. Conflict and Contradiction
6. The Priority Problem
H. Conclusion
Cases for Critical Reflection

Chapter 18. Feminist Ethics
A. The Elements of Feminist Ethics
B. Moral Development
C. Women's Experience
D. The Ethics of Care
1. The Importance of Emotions
2. Against Unification
3. Against Impartiality and Abstraction
4. Against Competition
5. Downplaying Rights
E. Challenges for Feminist Ethics
F. Conclusion
Cases for Critical Reflection


Chapter 19. Ethical Relativism
A. Doubts about Objective Morality
B. Two Kinds of Ethical Relativism
C. Some Implications of Ethical Subjectivism and Cultural Relativism
1. Moral Infallibility
2. Moral Equivalence
3. Questioning Our Own Commitments
4. Moral Progress
5. Ethical Subjectivism and the Problem of Contradiction
6. Cultural Relativism and the Problem of Contradiction
D. Ideal Observers
E. Conclusion

Chapter 20. Moral Nihilism
A. Error Theory
B. Expressivism
1. How Is It Possible to Argue Logically about Morality?
2. Expressivism and Amoralists
3. The Nature of Moral Judgment
C. Conclusion

Chapter 21. Eleven Arguments against Moral Objectivity
A. Objectivity Requires Absolutism
B. All Truth Is Subjective
C. Equal Rights Imply Equal Plausibility
D. Moral Objectivity Supports Dogmatism
E. Moral Objectivity Supports Intolerance
F. Moral Objectivity Cannot Allow for Legitimate Cultural Variation
G. Moral Disagreement Undermines Moral Objectivity
H. Atheism Undermines Moral Objectivity
I. The Absence of Categorical Reasons Undermines Moral Objectivity
J. Moral Motivation Undermines Moral Objectivity
K. Values Have No Place in a Scientific World
L. Conclusion

Chapter 22. Is Moral Knowledge Possible? Five Skeptical Arguments
A. The Skeptical Argument from Disagreement
B. Certainty
C. Who's To Say?
D. Irrelevant Influences
E. Hume's Argument
F. Conclusion

Suggestions for Further Reading

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