Ethics [part ed: George Matthews]

  • @clhendricksbc Agreed - I think this level of structuring makes perfect sense

  • @clhendricksbc I think I share your concerns. Isn’t there a kind of prior framing needed which is a bit more general? What is ethics? What do we mean by right and wrong? What kind of ethical systems are out there, and how do these relate to philosophical ethics? Maybe it is assumed these kinds of questions would be dealt with in a brief intro or something…

    I would always (like you, I think) introduce the three main ethical theories (deontological, consequentialist, virtue) so they can be used as prisms through which to examine ethical problems. I also think it is useful to explain the meta-ethical and normative differences between them (in broad strokes). The proposed structure reads more like a taught course to me - which is fine if you’re teaching it and you know how you want to present it, but I’m less sure this is the way to go in a textbook.

    We used Hospers when I was an undergrad ( One thing that makes this book really accessible is that there are hypothetical dialogues between persons A & B which offer a kind of dialectical introduction to the lines of argument. Maybe it’s worth incorporating something similar.

  • @drrobertfarrow Thanks for the suggestions! I agree that the more “neutral” (for lack of a better term) we can make the chapter in terms of how people teach, the better. Though then again I guess there isn’t any such thing as neutral to that…maybe we can aim for what is most popular in the ways people teach ethics instead. And having the three main types of ethical theories, as they are understood in the English speaking world at the moment (deontology, consequentialism, virtue ethics) is pretty common in my experience.

    If we go too far into a specific way of teaching the course, even though people could pick and choose and move stuff around, the reality likely is that many won’t take the time and they’ll just say, well, I’ll use this other, commercial textbook because it’s organized the way I teach the course. So many university faculty are so busy they don’t have the time or the energy to mess around with changing up the textbook very much. Some will, of course, but I fear that would be the minority.

    So maybe if we go for a more “traditional” organization that would be better. I’m starting to lean more and more this way.

    We could think about something like introducing the parts of the chapter with dialogues, though that would mean either asking each author to write one (would be different styles) or finding someone to write all of them. I think let’s start with getting the content in there first and then maybe someone will be willing to write dialogues for each section after they’re written?

  • I am posting here simply to introduce myself. My name is Joseph, and I have a philosophy PhD and teach philosophy at a community college in Chicago. I mostly teach ethics and would be happy to have an open source text for use my classes. I signed up for the first chapter.

    Looking at the description, I’m not entirely sure what you’re looking for in that first section of the chapter, the “overview of ethics as a discipline.” Some things I had in mind were to talk about (1) different tools for defending ethical positions (argument, thought experiment, moral intuition), (2) domains of ethical assessment (action, intention, consequences, and character) and then (3) an overview of key deontic categories (such as right, wrong, obligatory, optional, supererogatory). Possibly, if those aren’t already too much, I could include an introduction to the problem of definition, namely that key moral terms (like murder, theft, torture, just, etc.) can be and are defined in different ways.

    Some feedback might be helpful. And note that I’m talking about the first section of the first chapter. The second section, on relativism and subjectivism, I think is a bit more clear-cut.

  • Hello,

    I’m also writing to introduce myself. I’m a PhD student and teaching assistant in philosophy at Florida State University. I specialize in ethics. I work mainly on metaethics and evolutionary debunking arguments against moral/value realism, although I also have strong interests in moral cognition, neuroethics, moral responsibility, philosophy of action, and philosophy of religion. I’m also interested in philosophy pedagogical methodology and specifically how best to introduce students to philosophy. I hope I can be of service for this open access textbook!

    I noticed that the relativism and ethics/religion chapters were already claimed. Those would have been best suited to my expertise. I did notice that chapter 7 might include a discussion on evolution and ethics. That would also be a good one for me as that’s the area of my dissertation. However, I wouldn’t be the best person to write about feminist ethics and Foucault, as I’m not well-read in those areas. I saw that Christina commented about possibly having a separate chapter on feminist ethics. If the feminist and evolutionary ethics end up being split into their own, separate chapters, then I’d be happy to do the evolution one!

  • @paul.rezkalla I had signed up for Chapter 1, but if you specialize in that, I think it would be better if you take it. I put your username on the spreadsheet, and I switched to Chapter 6. I think I could do a better job with Chapter 4 on egoism and the social contract, but I can handle Ch 6.

  • ​Hi all,

    Another introductory post. My name is Steven, I’m a PhD student at Notre Dame Australia, and I teach at the University of Sydney. My areas of expertise are virtue ethics and feminist ethics of care. I’m also fairly confident when it comes to military ethics, ethics of emotion, deontology, and consequentialism. I’d love to write/help out with the chapter on virtue ethics, or with the feminist one if feminism ends up getting its own chapter.

    Just a suggestion. I see that non-Western ethics might be getting a chapter to itself too. If that’s the case, then Hutcheson, Hume, and/or Smith could provide the contrast that Buddhist virtue ethics would have. Enlightenment virtue ethics would also provide some continuity with the chapter on feminist ethics, if there’s going to be one.

  • @jakranak
    Hi Joseph!
    Glad you are interested in helping out! All of what you mention as part of the “overview of ethics as a discipline” is material that would most likely go into a kind of preface to this whole part of the book, rather than as a a section within the first chapter, like so:



    Introduction: what is philosophical ethics?

    Chapter 1: Relativism and Subjectivism

    • section 1: The case for cultural relativism
    • section 2: Is anything just plain wrong (these are just examples!)

    Chapter 2: Ethics and Religion …

    It seems to me that rather than include the more general definitions and basic concepts within the first chapter it should all go in a separate intro. ( @clhendricksbc That will be the case for the whole book, right? Each Part has its own “here’s the gist of what’s included in this Part” bit along with basic vocabulary and concepts. ) Of course when some relevant detail about a definition, some technical term or the like comes up in each chapter it could be briefly reiterated or the reader could be referred back to the introduction.

    It also seems to me that what exactly will be included in such an introductory part will depend on the final form that the chapters themselves take, although your suggestions make good general guidelines.

  • Here is how things stand so far for the ethics part of the book.

    I’ll be writing a general introduction to this part of the text.

    Below is a list of people who have signed up so far. Those who have taken on chapters who are not yet active here on this forum will hopefully be here soon. I’d like to try using this site as the main means of communication just to keep things somewhat centralized. There has been some talk of shifting over to some other project management system, but so far at least, here we are.

    A note to those who have signed up for more than one chapter: in the interests of including as many people as we can in this project, would you please respond with your number one choice of a single chapter. There are a few people who would like to sign on.

    We also need someone for chapter 7 which is a portmanteau kind of chapter covering some recent developments in ethics, so if anybody knows anybody interested in that area, or even a part of it, please respond here as well.

    Chapter 1 On relativism and subjectivism
    Paul Rezkalla

    Chapter 2 Ethics and Religion
    Douglas Giles

    Chapter 3 Virtue Ethics
    Douglas Giles

    Chapter 4 Egoism and Social Contract Theory
    Dr Frank Aragbonfoh Abumere

    Chapter 5 Utilitarianism
    Dr Frank Aragbonfoh Abumere

    Chapter 6 Deontology
    Joseph Kranak

    Chapter 7 Contemporary developments including feminist ethics, new naturalism in ethics, ethics in recent continental philosophy

    Here is a link to the spreadsheet with more detailed chapter information.

    Also if you do not have your email listed here (most people do) please send me an IM with your address since at times email seems a better way to talk.


    George Matthews

  • @stevensteyl Thanks for the offer to contribute. We should be sorting out the chapters soon and will find a place where your expertise fits I am sure! See my post below for a link to the table of contents as it stands so far.

  • Hello Everyone!
    I am Frank (Frank Aragbonfoh Abumere) - a postdoc fellow at the Department of Philosophy, The Arctic University of Norway. I signed up for Chapter 4 (Egoism and Social Contract Theory) and Chapter 5 (Utilitarianism), but my preference is the latter (Chapter 5 - Utilitarianism). Apparently, it seems it is only possible to contribute one chapter, so I will concentrate on Chapter 5 (Utilitarianism).

    George, you advised that it is preferable to contribute one chapter, but if nobody eventually signs up for Chapter 4 - Egoism and Social Contract (which is highly unlikely), please notify me so that I will add it to my contribution.


  • Hi everyone,

    My name’s Eric, and I’m something of an autodidact in philosophy. I don’t have an academic degree in philosophy, but I have a general knowledge of ethical theories and I have one main area of specialization: Ayn Rand’s philosophy, including her egoist ethics.

    Since I’m not an expert in social contract theories (Hobbes, Locke, Gauthier, etc.) I wouldn’t be the best person to author Chapter 4. But if you plan to cover Rand at all, I think I can be quite helpful there as a consultant. Her egoist ethics is much more than her arguments against altruism, and it’s a theory quite unfamiliar to most academic philosophers.

    I think an example of how I might be helpful is provided in my comment on the framing of egoism in the Ethics Section Outline.

  • @geoslack In answer to your question about whether general definitions and basic concepts will go in a separate intro…I think yes, that was the idea for the whole book!

  • @farafranki Hi Frank,
    Thanks for signing on here. We may have more self-interested rational agents out there than you imagine! For now a chapter on utilitarianism would be great starting point.


  • @Eric-M. I like the idea of making the intro section more collaborative. As you all start to submit chapter material I can create a Google doc with my version of the intro and everyone involved can add or subtract from there.

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