Saturday, September 15, 2012

Against Rachels' Elements of morality


I greatly dislike James and Stuart Rachels’ The Elements of Morality. It introduces contemporary ethical theories to beginning students, and I am required to use it in my ethics course this semester. My dislike stems from its approach, which I call the “logical problem” approach to subjects that is typical in analytic philosophy. The ideals, motivations, contexts, etc. are sublimated to the logical adequacy of the argument, and the author heavily interprets historic arguments to present them as logically adequate. The author attempts to be accessible, and much of the text is fantastic in this regard, but forgets that the beginning student is completely unmoved by notions of (abstract) reason, logical adequacy, validity, etc. These concerns only make sense to a specialized audience, and in my verb may be beside the point.

The poor treatment of David Hume motivates my criticism. The text presents Hume as kin of “subjectivism” and “emotivism,” yet the connection misrepresents his position so badly that I am shocked to read it in print.

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