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Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong Paperback – 30 Aug 1990


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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (30 Aug. 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140135588
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140135589
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 1.6 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 91,325 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

John Leslie Mackie (1917-1981) was a philosopher who made significant contributions to the fields of ethics, metaphysics, and the philosophy of religion. A professor of philosophy at the universities of Sydney, Otago, New Zealand, and York, he was elected a fellow of the University of Oxford in 1967 and to the British Academy in 1974.

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Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Gareth Greenwood on 23 Jun. 2009
Format: Paperback
I picked this book up in Waterstones as an adjunct to another book on professional ethics in my field (software engineering). Once I had started to read it I just kept going, ever more engaged, to the end.

Skepticism has its limits and wielded by less than agile minds can be a very blunt tool. Here, however, Mackie presents a convincing (at least to me) argument against the entire fabric of moral precepts by elucidating not so much their contradictions as their incoherence from a philosophical viewpoint.

Yet this is not a crude argument for moral relativism. Rather, Mackie simply argues that if moral precepts won't do, we need to replace them with something that will. To fill this gap he proposes an ethics based on individual rights and obligations. There is nothing new in this idea for it goes back to the eighteenth century. Nevertheless, Mackie offers it in a clear form without arbitrary prescriptions for the societies in which moral actors live. Thereby he avoids the absurdities propounded by various American thinkers (notably the psychotic-libertarian school represented by Nozick) and that is this book's great strength.

Mackie left me admiring him for having the guts not to be radical but simply to admit that practical ethics does not work unless it has the pragmatism to make frequent sanity checks upon itself.

For its plain words and good sense I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Liam on 20 Jan. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Given the great acclaim and importance of this book, which is thought to have been of great importance in the development of the anti-realist moral position, I had high hopes when purchasing it.
Fortunately, these were ntirely justified; Mackie, as ever, presents well-balanced arguments and produces his own views with a degree of clarity and style which makes him stand out amongst the writers of philosophy. His Ethics is no different, presenting a clear refutation of objective morality and any view other than his own, Mackie demonstrates those same qualities which have made him so well renowned amongst modern readers. Whilst disagreeing with some of the points, mainly his principle point, that there can be no objective morality, the force and coherence of the views he espouses are stunning and a good read for those who agree as well as those who disagree. The objectivist will find reason to question their views and the subjectivist will find a wealth of opinions and arguments like their own to think on.
There is one major problem with this product, however, and that is the frankly shoddy printing. Whilst it is clearly a cheaper version, the penguin print is poor quality. The paper is of an unusual off-white hue and the typeset is unappealing. Furthermore, there are many faded areas and the text is oftentimes illegible due to the failure of the printing. It is possible that this fading is rare and that I have simply been unlucky, but even if this is the case the paper quality and typeset are still detrimental to what would otherwise be an incredibly impressive book.
Overall, therefore, the condition of the book is hardly justified, despite the quality of the work inside. I would still recommend picking up a copy, though the best option would be a second-hand copy; little would be lost.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Ben Saunders VINE VOICE on 10 April 2002
Format: Paperback
Mackie is ever-provocative, just see his 'Miracle of Theism' for proof, and here he attacks morality. Our every-day moral codes, he argues, are an 'error theory' based on the presumption of moral facts which, he persuasively argues, don't exist. His refutation of such facts is based on their metaphysical 'queerness' and the observation of cultural relativity. I can't say whether he's 'right', but if you're interested in the objectivity (or otherwise) of moral standards, this is a recommended read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Cai Pearce on 4 Feb. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you are studying or have an interest in philosophy this is a really interesting read and solid insight into contemporary meta-ethics. Worth buying for the open question argument alone
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Format: Paperback
Mackie's book provides some interesting arguments for the overall thesis that there are no objective values in Ethics, but that we can and should invent a consistent and commonly shared set of ethical principles (hence the sub-title inventing right and wrong) - ie this shared basis has no objective truth outside of the minds of human beings, but that does not mean we cannot have a common approach.

This is not always the easiest of reads - not really for the philosophical content, but more because of MacKie's writing style.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Mr. M. S. Howey on 22 May 2010
Format: Paperback
A little disappointed. I find it interesting that a previous review says that the second part of the book stands in a somewhat awkward relation to the first. I would put this a bit more strongly - it seems to me that the second part is in danger of contradicting the first. I'm actually a bit confused as to what this book is offering. In the first part of the book he argues the radical thesis that there are "no objective values" - a position he calls 'moral scepticism'. Yet in the second part of the book he seems to assume that there are objective moral values, but we need to reason very carefully about how they can practicably be applied or turned into concrete principles. I fully agree with this second less radical thesis, but I'm rather concerned about how he confuses it with the more radical thesis that there are 'no objective moral values'. Perhaps I have missed something.
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