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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ethics: A Very Short Introduction
This is a good book if you need an overview of the main theories within ethics, but does not go into much depth, as the name might suggest. A note though, this is the same book as Simon Blackburns 'Being Good' just in a different cover!
Published on 15 Feb 2007 by A. Renda

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More the author's own opinions than a genuine overview of the subject
These very short introductions are usually longer versions of a wikipedia article on a particular subject - giving the reader a good overview of the subject, often with a general history of the subject, the main theories and thinkers and the state of the subject today.

The Very Short Introduction to Ethics is a narrower version of this. It jumps straight in and...
Published 16 months ago by J. Mann


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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ethics: A Very Short Introduction, 15 Feb 2007
This is a good book if you need an overview of the main theories within ethics, but does not go into much depth, as the name might suggest. A note though, this is the same book as Simon Blackburns 'Being Good' just in a different cover!
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth reading more than once, 30 July 2008
By 
Joanne Brown (Belfast, Northern Ireland) - See all my reviews
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I greatly enjoy Oxford's Very Short Introduction series. I work with some very able pupils who are studying Critical Thinking and in the process of applying for courses in medicine and law at highly competitive universities, and I chose this book to help me engage with them. I also wanted to learn more about the field for myself. As the author, a Cambridge professor, says in the introduction, this book was previously published as 'Being Good'. It begins by addressing seven perceived threats to mature ethical thinking, the first of which is religion. For Blackburn, this seems chiefly to mean the Bible: a few pages are spent on Jesus' 'moral quirks' and the old internet chestnut 'Dr Laura', and Nietzsche who is quoted 'in full flow'. The book is premised on an argument that ethical living need take no account of God/a god/gods. Throughout, by examining specific areas of difficulty and the history of ethical thought, Blackburn exposes difficulties with relativism, utilitarianism and other views. He writes elegantly, using helpful illustrations and thought-provoking images, and with some humour. If I found some parts hard to follow because of the necessary compression of explanation, it only prompted me to re-read those parts and explore the works of ethical philosophers for myself. For these reasons I would recommend this book as an excellent starting point. Readers may also wish to visit Blackburn's witty website, easily reached by searching under his name.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More the author's own opinions than a genuine overview of the subject, 2 Dec 2012
By 
J. Mann - See all my reviews
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These very short introductions are usually longer versions of a wikipedia article on a particular subject - giving the reader a good overview of the subject, often with a general history of the subject, the main theories and thinkers and the state of the subject today.

The Very Short Introduction to Ethics is a narrower version of this. It jumps straight in and says `there is no God, how can we make sense of ethics?' and then spends the rest of the book responding to this question.

The author starts with negative theories that claim there is are no ethical values, or we can never know them, or no one ever really does a good act, it is all self-interest really - he covers whether evolution means we are naturally selfish ("it's in our genes") and whether the power of our unconscious means we can really choose to do good of it is isn't really some deeper, darker desire that is motivating us.

He looks at various attempts to link ethics to reason or knowledge (Kant and Plato) and whether being good is the same as enlightened pleasure seeking or willing the general, optimal happiness (Utilitarianism), finally he looks at more recent attempts to define doing good, such as Rawls' theory of justice.

His conclusion is that it is possible to discuss ethics rationally, we can give an account of why we think something is good or bad, but that ultimately we can't simply equate goodness with any one theory, although each theory is often able to shed light on what we mean by ethics.

I found the book enjoyable, although it seemed somewhat limiting to shut down the spiritual/religious side so early on. After all most philosophers of ethics (Plato, Aristotle, Hume, Kant etc) have believed in a God or Gods and used our spiritual experience to shed light on our ethical experience.

Blackburn's arguments against religion are feeble - he gives a list of bad things about religion and that's QED - it is like someone telling you Britain is a terribly bad country because of the support for piracy in the seventeenth century, the opium wars, slavery and concentration camps - you want to say - hang on there's more to it than that, but he doesn't seem to be aware or even care that this is the case.

In addition at various points through the book we get various comments deriding religion and Christianity in particular. I think this is disappointing as this is supposed to be a general introduction to ethics, not someone banging their particular drum on why they don't like religion.

Ethics is really about a whole worldview, it is about politics - what is wrong with the world, how do people live together, what do we do about it, what is our vision for the future? There is a nice line in the book when Anatole France talks ironically of the majestic equality of the laws which forbid rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread (p.46).

There is also an astonishing statistic from Amartya Sen that there are 100 million "missing women" - birth rate statistics across the world show that there are slightly more women born than men, but the actual number of women is significantly less - which Sen explains is due to inequalities in medical care and sustenance as well as deliberate infanticide - this reflects a huge world-wide challenge in justice for women (p.50).

There is also a perceptive observation about the nature of desire. Often philosophers will talk about how we desire something only for it to soon be over. We are hungry and look forward to dinner, but soon dinner is over and we will be hungry again - the conclusion is that it is the nature of desire to be the source of unhappiness, we can never really achieve happiness through the pursuit of desire, but is this really the case? Would we actually want to have a single dinner that would ensure we would never be hungry again? Or to be able to continue eating our dinner without end? It is actually the cycle of desire and satisfaction that makes it enjoyable (p.66).

One last example I enjoyed - if someone has a piano on their foot and you don't, it really doesn't help for you to say to them that you share their pain - don't tell them you share the pain, just help them get the piano off their foot (p. 113).

So to conclude the book is a reasonable attempt by Blackburn to answer the question he has set himself as to whether ethics can exist without the support of religion, but by narrowing the subject in this way he hasn't provided the broad review of ethics that might be expected in a series like this.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars OK, but not a true 'introduction', 17 Feb 2010
By 
BG123 "bgy7" (London, England) - See all my reviews
The 'Very Short Introduction' series by OUP are, in general, perfect for their market - insightful, unbiased and simply-set out introductions.

I felt that this effort felt somewhat short of these measures. While the author is clearly knowledgeable and highly intelligent, in his writing he comes across as rather arrogant and opinionated. The book comes across at times as simply a stream of Blackburn's consciousness (appropriately!). This would, of course, not be a problem if this was a thesis or his own view on a certain theory of ethics, however for an introduction, was not perhaps pitched correctly.

On the other hand, the book gives a flavour of the difficult subject of 'Ethics', and it did lead to some further reading. So on this count, then, it did 'introduce' me to Ethics, although it could certainly have done so with slightly more delicacy.
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5.0 out of 5 stars straightforward, 2 Dec 2013
By 
smask "smask" (Crewe, Cheshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This is excellent, it does what it says. The book is divided into sections and is easy to read, a good introduction to ethics for any student or beginner with philosophy.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Disapointed, 2 July 2013
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I did not like the format in which this book is written. For a introduction to ethics is way too confusing. It is more like a summary of ethics but it is not useful for someone who is looking for an introduction to the subject.
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6 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Biased & charged; not an introduction, 18 May 2011
From another amazon review on this book:
"...his writing he comes across as rather arrogant and opinionated. [...] This would, of course, not be a problem if this was a thesis or his own view on a certain theory of ethics, however for an introduction, was not perhaps pitched correctly."

I wholeheartedly agree with this summary of the writers style. In several places in the book, he keeps refuting ethical criticisms (from e.g. Nietzsche) with one-liners and false/biased logic.

It annoyed me that the author kept moving through so much valid criticism, and he keeps on brushing it off like none of it has any validity at all.
E.G. he states that unifying theories are too simple, therefore not valid at all. He goes on to call them unifying pessimisms...

However, the book can be considered a semi-introduction, so I'll give it 2 stars. Just beware of the erroneous logic and one-liners, in which the author tries to persuade you.

How this book could have been better:
- Neutral approach to the subject
- Better organization of the subject matter (build up/introduction)
- Several authors writing together
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3 of 48 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Traces of Complacency?, 1 Feb 2008
This book has pictures, but not one of the hungry not being fed because
we give what should go to them to the philosophy professor so he can provide well-fed us with assurances about our increased moral sensitivity
together with uselessly sketchy sketches of ethical theory.
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