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Being Good: A Short Introduction to Ethics [Paperback]

Simon Blackburn
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
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Book Description

17 April 2003
It is not only in our dark hours that scepticism, relativism, hypocrisy, and nihilism dog ethics. Whether it is a matter of giving to charity, or sticking to duty, or insisting on our rights, we can be confused, or be paralysed by the fear that our principles are groundless. Many are afraid that in a Godless world science has unmasked us as creatures fated by our genes to be selfish and tribalistic, or competitive and aggressive. Simon Blackburn, author of the best-selling Think, structures this short introduction around these and other threats to ethics. Confronting seven different objections to our self-image as moral, well-behaved creatures, he charts a course through the philosophical quicksands that often engulf us. Then, turning to problems of life and death, he shows how we should think about the meaning of life, and how we should mistrust the sound-bite sized absolutes that often dominate moral debates. Finally he offers a critical tour of the ways the philosophical tradition has tried to provide foundations for ethics, from Plato and Aristotle through to contemporary debates.

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Being Good: A Short Introduction to Ethics + Think: A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy + What Does It All Mean?: A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy
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Product details

  • Paperback: 172 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford Paperbacks; 2Rev Ed edition (17 April 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192853775
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192853776
  • Product Dimensions: 17.1 x 14.3 x 1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 22,741 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Amazon Review

Being Good is not your typical ethics book: its sleek physical dimensions mirror Simon Blackburn's intelligent but unencumbered treatment of the main threats and origins of ethics. Blackburn addresses the fear that "ethical claims are a kind of sham" before sketching a roadmap of the history of ethics, its practical consequences, and ultimate foundations. All this is an ambitious task for such a diminutive volume.

Simon Blackburn, a professor of philosophy at the University of Cambridge, is one of the giants of contemporary moral theory and a trustworthy guide through its labyrinth. He prefers parsimony to complexity--helpful for readers with only a casual acquaintance with philosophy--and yet he manages to avoid trivialising his subject matter. Moreover, Being Good is wonderfully enlivened by illustrations by Paul Klee, William Blake, Eugene Delacroix, Francisco de Goya, and even Vietnam war photography and cartoons. Blackburn concludes on a promising note: "If we are careful, and mature, and imaginative, and fair, and nice, and lucky, the moral mirror in which we gaze at ourselves may not show us saints. But it need not show us monsters, either." --Eric de Place --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Simon Blackburn's short book takes the big moral questions head on and does so brilliantly. . . a witty, vivid writer with an enviable popular touch . . . this is a wonderfully enlightening book. (Ben Rogers, Sunday Telegraph, March 25 2001)

full of good sense (Sunday Times 21/04/2002)

But for anyone wondering how big questions have bothered us over the years, this witty, rigorous book fills in the gaps. (PLAY, The Times, 02/03/2002)

always lively and never simplistic (Waterstone's Quarterly January 2002)

Good clearheaded stuff (Ted Honderich Times 21/03/01)

'enjoyable and extremely readable . . . Blackburn . . . is breezy, helpful, reassuring' (The Philosopher's Magazine)

'sparklingly clear' (Guardian)

'a first rate and accessible guide which tackles the huge, perpetual questions' (Nottingham Evaning Post)

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
By AndyB
If, like me, you're a general reader with an interest in broadening your understanding of the way we think about the world, this book is indispensable.
I found the subject matter covered in 'Being Good' to be more practical than in 'Think', Blackburn's excellent introduction to Philosophy. Everyday ethical issues such as tolerance, faith, elitism, abortion and euthanasia demand more attention than questions on, say, the existence of gods or the nature of the self.
Blackburn writes with astonishing balance, subtlety and poise. He draws together, in a coherent, distilled structure, a variety of treatments and viewpoints: he necessarily sketches a wide overview, yet he also manages to include rigorous detail and historical context by quoting directly from sources. At times, he adds modern context by venturing his own original views, but always in a way that gives the reader space to draw her own conclusions. Rarely does an accomplished academic have such an ability to teach and popularize his subject.
The power of the book lies in its brevity. Frequent review of the main arguments results in the gaining of a set of invaluable contemporary thinking tools. So the next time someone says to me: 'That's just your opinion', I'll have a fully developed line of argument against that pernicious conversation stopper, 'relativism'. And for busy people who don't have time to plough through all the literature, 'Being Good' could be the only ethical guidebook they ever need.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An elegantly written short introduction to ethics. 14 April 2001
This is a concise, elegant little book written in a fluent, almost conversational style. It is also a scholarly book: the author wears his learning lightly.
The book contains 12 unusual and apposite illustrations, and contains as Appendix the United Nations' Declaration of Human Rights. Part I of this short book is called Seven Threats to Ethics, Part II is called Some Ethical Ideas, Part III is called Foundations.
I enjoyed this book. The book is written concisely, and the author makes his points clearly and vividly. His remarks on the meaning of life (p.80) I found life-enhancing.
The book covers a lot of ground in a short space, and I am tempted to make comparisons with Principia Ethica by G E Moore, Ethics by Nowell-Smith, and the section on Ethics in Language, Truth & Logic by A J Ayer. Simon Blackburn's book compares very well with these three classics. His book is far more readable and contains a number of astute observations. The overall tone of the book is sane and cautiously up-beat.
Strongly recommended !
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mostly Excellent 26 Sep 2001
By A Customer
Blackburn manages to cover a lot of a ground in a short time, and is scholarly without being heavy. However, this book is often unevenly-paced, and leaves some important questions unanswered. I got most satisfaction from this book by reading it once, putting it aside for a while and then returning to it later.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A readable introduction to Ethics 21 Nov 2001
By A Customer
Blackburn has managed to create an intelligent introduction to the main questions without forgetting that his core readers are beginners.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Something different 20 July 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I found this fascinating. Very well written, full of ideas, particularly relevant today. Clearly explains all kinds of concepts and ethical ideas which I hadn't really understood before.
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