Being Good: A Short Introduction to Ethics

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Writing with wit and elegance, Simon Blackburn tackles the basic questions of ethics in this lively book, highlighting the complications and troubling issues that spring from the very simple question of how we ought to live. Blackburn dissects the many common reasons for why we are skeptical about ethics. Drawing on examples from history, politics, religion and everyday personal experience, he shows how cynicism and self-consciousness can paralyze us into considering ethics a hopeless pursuit. He assures us that ethics is neither futile nor irrelevant, but an intimate part of the most important issues of living-of birth, death, happiness, desire, freedom, pleasure, and justice. Indeed, from moral dilemmas about abortion and euthanasia, to our obsession with personal rights, to our longing for a sense of meaning in life, our everyday struggles are rife with ethical issues. Blackburn distills the arguments of Hume, Kant and Aristotle down to their essences, to underscore the timeless relevance of our voice of conscience, the pitfalls of complacency, and our concerns about truth, knowledge and human progress.

Blackburn's rare combination of depth, rigor, and sparkling prose, along with his distinguished ranking among contemporary philosophers, mark Being Good as an important statement on our current disenchantment with ethics. It challenges us to take a more thoughtful reading of our ethical climate and to ponder more carefully our own standards of behavior.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 172 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 2nd edition (April 17, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192853775
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192853776
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 0.4 x 4.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces

Customer Reviews

Ethics, Short and Clear

54 people found this helpful.
 on August 3, 2001
By Rob Hardy
Philosophy is important. “What is our place in the universe?” is not just a scientific question. What is the meaning of life, how can we be happy, do gods make a difference? All are good philosophical questions, not really to be left just to professional philosophers. It has taken centuries, but philosophers led us into the idea that humans have certain rights, something we take for granted now although we are not always good at ensuring every human gets the rights that are due. We can allow that human well-being is pretty much the gold standard in assessing values, and perhaps we take into account animal well-being, as well as the well-being of the Earth as a biological system. We think we can behave morally, but we have doubts that this can occur without gods of some sort. Gods or not, we sense that there is some larger meaning, and that selfishness just won’t do, but selfishness seems to run a great deal of the world. It wouldn’t be a bad thing if we could think about these ethical, philosophical issues with more clarity.

Good enough

26 people found this helpful.
 on December 2, 2002
By StalkingGhostBear
“Being Good: A Short Introduction to Ethics” is just that, a slim volume about the philosophy of ethics and how philosophers think about this subject. It is an introduction for people who are brave (or fooligh) enough to dare to ask “Why be good?”. Far to few people it seems have bothered to ask this question or assumed there is a patent answer without ever taking that answer out into the daylight to examine it.

If It’s Tuesday This Must Be Hume

6 people found this helpful.
 on June 29, 2008
By not me
“Being Good” is a short, well-written overview of philosophical ethics. The author, Simon Blackburn, starts by defusing skeptical projects such as relativism and evolutionary determinism, whose truth would call into question the whole ethical enterprise. Having neutralized these threats, he proceeds to unpack some concrete issues such as birth, death and human rights. He ends by examining the “foundations” of ethics, asking where binding norms could come from and how they could impose obligations on us. Blackburn comes down (more or less) on the side of David Hume, who located our sense of right and wrong in sympathy for other people reinforced by our practical need to reason to a common point of view in order to achieve social cooperation.

Gets Right to the Point

8 people found this helpful.
 on February 3, 2006
By Joseph G
Blackburn promises a short intro to ethics, and he delivers. This is perfect for someone who wants to get right to what different ethical concepts are without reading a book on each. Perfect for the person who wants to “see it all” in one slim book, then has the opportunity to investigate it more fully to his/her heart’s content. Illustrations, particularly the one of the “Accidental Napalm Attack” in Vietnam, hit home with me, as I have small children.

Being Good: An Introduction to Ethics

3 people found this helpful.
 on March 22, 2013
By DMack
My book review of Being Good: An Introduction to Ethics by Simon Blackburn published by Oxford University Press first published in 2001, ISBN 0-19-210052-1 $8.18. The book is about the beginning of ethics and its foundation.

Sound Reasoning in Clear Language

2 people found this helpful.
 on December 15, 2013
By Editorious
If I want guidance on the kinds of everyday moral quandaries that relationships, jobs, money, etc., present, I like to read Randy Cohen (formerly “The Ethicist” for the NY Times). But this book helps me look at the underpinnings of the discipline of ethics. I particularly found Blackburn’s discussion on subjectivism, on pages 27-28, insightful. He says, in part:

Same content, different title.

3 people found this helpful.
 on June 17, 2010
By Port Bou
It should be noted that Being Good: A Short Introduction to Ethics contains the same content as Ethics: A Very Short Introduction by the same author. New wrapping, that’s all. Other than that, it is an extremely good and concise overview of ethics.

Ethics Dissembled (Not)

6 people found this helpful.
 on December 30, 2004
By David Brockert
This is a very easy to read book of Ethics. I read it in about a week (mysteries or science fiction take two days; constitutional law books take forever), so it is not a long book, but a lot of easy to understand information is packed in it. To anyone who studies Ethics, it may be to simple, but to me, who has barely encountered the notion at all, the ease of understanding was important. There are parts that I read a couple three times to understand, and parts that just went over my head, but these parts are few and far between. For the most part, I could understand the ideas he wrote about. The sad thing was that I have come away with the idea that there is no Ethics but what we bring to it. But then, what good is a man’s grasp if it cannot exceed his reach? No wonder they still study Ethics: they are trying to bring some universal Ethics down to us from on high.

A Great Introduction to Ethics

6 people found this helpful.
 on May 4, 2006
By W. McMillin
Dr. Blackburn has written perhaps one of the best introductions to ethics. It is for people looking for an introduction but do not want the typical fare that you find in a textbook. It is simple and to the point with just enough needed explanation. I do not usally recommend it for my philosophy buddies but I always recommend it for those just beginning to have an interest in philosopy. I like cognitive engineering.

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