The Elements of Moral Philosophy

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Firmly established as the standard text for undergraduate courses in ethics, this concise, lively book combines clear explanations of the main theories of ethics with discussions of interesting examples. Topics covered include famine relief, euthanasia, homosexuality, and the treatment of animals. The text's versatility allows it to be widely used not only in ethical theory courses, but also in applied ethics courses of all kinds. .

Product Details

  • Paperback: 210 pages
  • Publisher: McGraw-Hill; 5th edition (April 24, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0073125474
  • ISBN-13: 978-0073125473
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.4 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces

Customer Reviews

A great text for intro level ethics courses

68 people found this helpful.
 on March 17, 2000
By Robert Lane
I use this book (in conjunction with _The Right Thing to Do_, edited by Rachels) as a text for an intro-level ethics course that I teach. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Rachels is a sharp philosopher, as well as an interesting and lucid writer. In this book he covers all the basics (Divine Command Theory, Cultural Relativism, Subjectivism, Utilitarianism, Kant…), and does a fine job of drawing examples from applied ethics (gay rights, euthanasia, animal rights…) to illustrate the theories he discusses. This is not to suggest that you will find no fault with any of Rachels’ arguments. I myself am less than satisfied with his criticisms of emotivism and Kantianism — but all things considered, this a minor complaint. The book still deserves five stars. If you are teaching ethics at the college level and are looking for an introductory level text, suitable for students with no previous exposure to philosophy, this is the one — I know of none better.

I Don’t See the Difference Between the 6th and 7th Edition

6 people found this helpful.
 on February 3, 2013
By LyssaToldMe
Honestly the changes between the 6th and 7th edition must be extremely minor. So far there have been no differences between the books in class. It gets the job done and is still up-to-date and accurate.

Asking All The Right Questions

7 people found this helpful.
 on February 9, 2008
By not me
“The Elements of Moral Philosophy” is a fabulous, non-technical introduction to ethics. The writing is clear and historically informed, the main schools of thought are covered, and Rachels doesn’t pretend that he’s found all the answers to very difficult questions. I can’t think of a better book for a college student who is new to philosophical ethics and wants to get a feel for how philosophers approach these issues.

Perhaps the most sensible introduction to ethics

3 people found this helpful.
 on October 24, 2011
By Boris Yakubchik
A lucid, beautifully written overview of the theories historically proposed as “the right moral theory”. The author gives generous renditions to all the theories he presents, and proceeds to describe their weaknesses with equal clarity.

Recommended as introductory read on ethics

 on October 19, 2016
By Jim
I became interested in Western philosophy when I was about 50 (nearly 15 years ago). At first I read up on informal logic and argumentation, then I studied the history of philosophy, and then I focused on philosophy of mind and metaphysics. And I decided that eventually I would focus on ethics. I took a course in ethics (a MOOC, i.e., one of those free, “massively open online courses”), and then I tried to read some denser philosophical writings on ethics, but I kept running into concepts and terms that, although some had been introduced in the course I took, I didn’t grasp. So I looked for introductory books on ethics and read a couple and tried a few others before giving up on them, when I came across a good copy of the third edition of The Elements of Moral Philosophy in a local thrift store for a quarter. It sat on my shelf for maybe a year before I finally decided to read it, and I am so glad I did, because reading it helped me finally feel somewhat grounded in the basic concepts and terminology of the field.


3 people found this helpful.
 on August 4, 2012
By Ann
Very interesting textbook and well-written. This book kept me engaged for the entire semester. I truly recommend this book for not only philosophy classes but also for your personal pleasure.

Text for college course, named Contemporary Moral Problems

9 people found this helpful.
 on October 29, 1999
I used this book as text for a college course at The University of Central Oklahoma. I found it an easy-read. The author is very good at taking ethical systems, and looking at them from both sides. I also believe that Mr. Rachels does quite a good job of proving that it is impossible to be completely objective. Overall, it is a great book, and I believe that anyone who is interested in Morals and Ethics will enjoy it.

Don’t Let The Title Scare You Away

8 people found this helpful.
 on March 18, 2002
By Bucherwurm
This slim volume is an excellent introduction to ethics. It is geared to the layman, and is an eminently readable exposition of all the main schools of moral thought. Author Rachels presents each ethical theory, and then presents arguments favoring and opposing the concept. He also applies ethical theories to such concrete problems as abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia, and civil disobedience. If you like mind challenging ideas than you will enjoy this book. At the least you will find that all is not as it seems in the world of moral behavior.

Continues to be fulfilling

One person found this helpful.
 on March 19, 2014
By Ellyn Ritterskamp
I have used this textbook in my classes for about eight years. It is easy to read and provides multiple sides to each topic. My only complaint is how much a new edition costs and how little was changed in the most recent edition for the cost. I encourage my students to find used copies, which is common in college today, because the updates to the 7th edition were minimal.

Great book. Needed it for my Ethics class

 on October 11, 2016
By Zachary
Great book. Needed it for my Ethics class. I’m using it to study for my midterm and it has been a huge help. It’s a little out of date, but the material hasn’t changed in years. So you can save yourself some money and get and interesting read, as well as a source of good information.

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