This is a book primarily for the general reader without a background in the study of philosophy who would like to assess their way of life and make better moral decisions. It is not designed as a textbook for students on a formal course in Philosophy.
The two stages of life
at which people are particularly likely to wish to review their way
of life are early on when career choices have to be made, and on
retirement. This book has been written particularly with these
younger and older groups in mind. I hope that young people setting
out in life and considering what they should do with it will find
this book useful. Retirement is a great opportunity not only to
evaluate what has gone before, but to look forward to new activities
and adopt new perspectives.
However, in a rapidly changing economy,
redundancies and bankruptcies increasingly often force us to review
choices we have made and to make some changes to priorities in the
light of experience. Return to the labour market after a full or
partial withdrawal to care for children or other relatives is another
point at which such a review might be required. In all these cases, I hope this book will be useful
The assumption is that readers are open-minded, lack any firm religious commitment, and wish to work issues out for themselves, rather than be given cut and dried answers.
The subject of the book is to consider what it means to behave ethically, whether and why we should do so, how best to make moral decisions, and the implications of this for personal and political life.
The object of this book is to help ordinary people to assess their way of life and their relationships with the social and political world. Accordingly it advances an argument about the role of ethical thinking in contemporary democratic, capitalist and secular society rather than surveying, in a neutral fashion, everything that has been written on the subject. Although this book covers much ground which has been staple fare for philosophy and politics courses for over two thousand years it is not intended to directly introduce the literature of ethics and political philosophy, but to introduce some ideas which may help the reader to answer for themselves some practical questions about how we should live.
In conventional texts on ethics there is a tendency to present moral theories as a series of competing and incompatible perspectives (utilitarian, Kantian, virtue-based, contractual etc.). There is a danger this leads to a feeling of helpless confusion on the part of the reader. Instead I have looked for positive ideas from different schools of thought and sought to integrate them in a usable synthesis and, in the later chapters, apply them to specific moral problems of direct interest to the reader.
As an academic, the author was usually careful to present a balanced argument and leave students and readers to draw their own conclusions. In this book I have tried to come 'off the fence' and make up my own mind on these ethical issues, whilst encouraging readers to consider for themselves whether they agree. The book retraces an intellectual journey which the author has taken in retirement with the hope that it will be helpful not only to other old fogies, but also to younger people who perhaps have more scope to change the direction of their lives.
Part 1 looks at the foundations of individual moral action.
Part 2 applies moral ideas to the choices we make in our private lives, as consumers and in our leisure time.
Part 3 considers the choices we make about the way we earn a living.
Part 4 is concerned with the morality of political action and briefly considers the interaction between morals and politics.
Part 5, in conclusion, asks how far life styles may legitimately reflect subjective preferences and be made more satisfying for individuals.
Case studies are to be found in boxes throughout the text. They should be found useful to clarify individual thought or for group discussion. Further comments on these may be found on my website www.stansey.com.
In other boxes throughout the text will be found quotations, mainly from classic philosophical works which encapsulate some helpful insights of their authors.
For those who would like to do some further, more academic reading, I have included references to the sources I have used and an appendix with recommendations for further reading and study.
Part I The Basis of Ethics
Chapter 1 Introduction
The Relevance of Ethics
What is an Ethical Problem?
A Secular Approach
The Role of Logic, Science and Common Sense
Chapter 2 What is the Good?
The Good Life or Being Good?
The Meaning of Happiness
Why Should We Be Good?
What Is The Good Life?
My Good Life versus Yours?
Chapter 3 Basic Ethical Concepts
Purposes in Life
Self Development: Virtues
Relationships with People
Relationships with Animals and the Planet
Part 1 Summary & Conclusion
Part II Private Life
Chapter 4 The Cycle of Life and Death
Loving / Sex
Illness & Disability
Death & Dying
Chapter 5 Living in the Twenty-first Century
Where To Live
Saving and Investment
Part III Working Life
Chapter 6 Making A Living
The Choice of Work
Ethics and the Choice of Work
Ethics in Organisations
Business Practices versus Private Values [Bankers' Bonuses, Green v. Capitalist etc.]
Chapter 7 Work / Life Balance
Work / Life Balance
Part IV Public Life
Chapter 8 Ethics & Democracy
What is Politics?
Ethics, Interests and Politics
Democracy and Compromise
Localism, Nationalism, Cosmopolitanism
Democratic Rights and Duties
Chapter 9 Public Policies
Freedom and Equality
Chapter 10 Ethics for Politicians
Part V Ethics and Lifestyle Choices
Chapter 11 How Many Kinds of Good Life Are There?
Schools of Ethical Thinking