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Anger and Forgiveness"Are You There Alone?"10 Good Questions about Life and DeathA Casebook of Ethical Challenges in NeuropsychologyA Companion to BioethicsA Companion to BioethicsA Companion to GenethicsA Companion to GenethicsA Companion to Muslim EthicsA Cooperative SpeciesA Critique of the Moral Defense of VegetarianismA Delicate BalanceA Fragile LifeA Life for a LifeA Life-Centered Approach to BioethicsA Matter of SecurityA Natural History of Human MoralityA Philosophical DiseaseA Practical Guide to Clinical Ethics ConsultingA Question of TrustA Sentimentalist Theory of the MindA Short Stay in SwitzerlandA Tapestry of ValuesA Very Bad WizardA World Without ValuesAction and ResponsibilityAction Theory, Rationality and CompulsionActs of ConscienceAddiction and ResponsibilityAddiction NeuroethicsAdvance Directives in Mental HealthAfter HarmAftermathAgainst AutonomyAgainst BioethicsAgainst HealthAgainst Moral ResponsibilityAgency and AnswerabilityAgency and ResponsibilityAgency, 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NumbCommonsense RebellionCommunicative Action and Rational ChoiceCompetence, Condemnation, and CommitmentComprehending CareConducting Insanity EvaluationsConfidential RelationshipsConfidentiality and Mental HealthConflict of Interest in the ProfessionsConsuming KidsContemporary Debates In Applied EthicsContemporary Debates in Moral TheoryContemporary Debates in Social PhilosophyContentious IssuesContesting PsychiatryCrazy in AmericaCreating CapabilitiesCreatures Like Us?Crime and CulpabilityCrime, Punishment, and Mental IllnessCritical Perspectives in Public HealthCritical PsychiatryCrueltyCultural Assessment in Clinical PsychiatryCurrent Controversies in Values and ScienceCutting to the CoreCyborg CitizenDamaged IdentitiesDeaf Identities in the MakingDeath Is That Man Taking NamesDebating ProcreationDebating Same-Sex MarriageDecision Making, Personhood and DementiaDecoding the Ethics CodeDefining DifferenceDefining Right and Wrong in Brain ScienceDefining the Beginning and End of 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in PsychotherapyEngendering International HealthEnhancing EvolutionEnhancing Human CapacitiesEnoughEros and the GoodErotic InnocenceErotic MoralityEssays on Derek Parfit's On What MattersEssays on Free Will and Moral ResponsibilityEthical Choices in Contemporary MedicineEthical Conflicts in PsychologyEthical Dilemmas in PediatricsEthical Issues in Behavioral ResearchEthical Issues in Dementia CareEthical Issues in Forensic Mental Health ResearchEthical Issues in the New GeneticsEthical LifeEthical Reasoning for Mental Health ProfessionalsEthical TheoryEthical WillsEthically Challenged ProfessionsEthicsEthicsEthicsEthics and AnimalsEthics and ScienceEthics and the A PrioriEthics and the Discovery of the UnconsciousEthics and the Metaphysics of MedicineEthics at the CinemaEthics Case Book of the American Psychoanalytic AssociationEthics Done RightEthics ExpertiseEthics for EveryoneEthics for PsychologistsEthics for the New MillenniumEthics in CyberspaceEthics in Health CareEthics In Health Services ManagementEthics in Mental Health ResearchEthics in PracticeEthics in PsychiatryEthics in PsychologyEthics in Psychotherapy and CounselingEthics of PsychiatryEthics without OntologyEthics, Culture, and PsychiatryEthics, Sexual Orientation, and Choices about ChildrenEvaluating the Science and Ethics of Research on HumansEvilEvil GenesEvil in Modern ThoughtEvil in Modern ThoughtEvolution, Gender, and RapeEvolutionary Ethics and Contemporary BiologyEvolutionary Psychology and ViolenceEvolved MoralityExperiments in EthicsExploding the Gene MythExploiting ChildhoodFacing Human SufferingFact and ValueFaking ItFalse-Memory Creation in Children and AdultsFat ShameFatal FreedomFellow-Feeling and the Moral LifeFeminism and Its DiscontentsFeminist Ethics and Social and Political PhilosophyFeminist TheoryFinal ExamFirst Do No HarmFirst, Do No HarmFlashpointFlesh WoundsForced to CareForgivenessForgivenessForgiveness and LoveForgiveness and ReconciliationForgiveness and RetributionFoucault and the Government of DisabilityFoundational Issues in Human Brain MappingFoundations of Forensic Mental Health AssessmentFree WillFree Will And Moral ResponsibilityFree Will and Reactive AttitudesFree Will, Agency, and Meaning in LifeFree?Freedom and ValueFreedom vs. InterventionFriendshipFrom Darwin to HitlerFrom Disgust to HumanityFrom Enlightenment to ReceptivityFrom Morality to Mental HealthFrom Silence to VoiceFrom Valuing to ValueFrontiers of JusticeGender in the MirrorGenetic PoliticsGenetic ProspectsGenetic ProspectsGenetics of Original SinGenetics of Original SinGenocide's AftermathGetting RealGluttonyGood WorkGoodness & AdviceGreedGroups in ConflictGrowing Up GirlGut FeminismHabilitation, Health, and AgencyHandbook for Health Care Ethics CommitteesHandbook of BioethicsHandbook of Children's RightsHandbook of PsychopathyHappinessHappiness and the Good LifeHappiness Is OverratedHard FeelingsHard LuckHardwired BehaviorHarmful ThoughtsHeal & ForgiveHealing 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War and LawOn ApologyOn Being AuthenticOn EvilOn Human RightsOn The Stigma Of Mental IllnessOn the TakeOn Virtue EthicsOn What MattersOn What We Owe to Each OtherOne ChildOne Nation Under TherapyOne World NowOne World NowOur Bodies, Whose Property?Our Bodies, Whose Property?Our Daily MedsOur Faithfulness to the PastOur Posthuman FutureOut of EdenOut of Its MindOut of the ShadowsOverdosed AmericaOxford Handbook of Psychiatric EthicsOxford Textbook of Philosophy of PsychiatryPassionate DeliberationPatient Autonomy and the Ethics of ResponsibilityPC, M.D.Perfecting VirtuePersonal AutonomyPersonal Autonomy in SocietyPersonal Identity and EthicsPersonalities on the PlatePersonhood and Health CarePersons, Humanity, and the Definition of DeathPerspectives On Health And Human RightsPharmacracyPharmageddonPhilosophy and This Actual WorldPhilosophy of BiologyPhilosophy of Technology: The Technological ConditionPhysician-Assisted DyingPicturing DisabilityPilgrim at Tinker CreekPlaying God?Playing God?Political EmotionsPornlandPowerful MedicinesPractical Autonomy and BioethicsPractical EthicsPractical Ethics for PsychologistsPractical RulesPragmatic BioethicsPragmatic BioethicsPragmatic NeuroethicsPraise and BlamePreferences and Well-BeingPrimates and PhilosophersPro-Life, Pro-ChoiceProcreation and ParenthoodProfits Before People?Progress in BioethicsProperty in the BodyProzac As a Way of LifeProzac on the CouchPsychiatric Aspects of Justification, Excuse and Mitigation in Anglo-American Criminal Law Psychiatric EthicsPsychiatry and EmpirePsychological Concepts and Biological PsychiatryPsychology and Consumer CulturePsychology and LawPsychotropic Drug Prescriber's Survival GuidePublic Health LawPublic Health Law and EthicsPublic PhilosophyPunishing the Mentally IllPunishmentPursuits of WisdomPutting Morality Back Into PoliticsPutting on VirtueQuality of Life and Human DifferenceRaceRadical HopeRadical VirtuesRape Is RapeRe-creating MedicineRe-Engineering Philosophy for Limited BeingsReason's GriefReasonably ViciousReckoning With HomelessnessReconceiving Medical EthicsRecovery from SchizophreniaRedefining RapeRedesigning HumansReducing the Stigma of Mental IllnessReflections On How We LiveReframing Disease ContextuallyRefusing CareRefuting Peter Singer's Ethical TheoryRelative JusticeRelativism and Human RightsReligion ExplainedReprogeneticsRescuing JeffreyResponsibilityResponsibility and PsychopathyResponsibility and PunishmentResponsibility and PunishmentResponsibility from the MarginsResponsible GeneticsRethinking CommodificationRethinking Informed Consent in BioethicsRethinking Mental Health and DisorderRethinking RapeReturn to ReasonRevolution in PsychologyRightsRights, Democracy, and Fulfillment in the Era of Identity PoliticsRisk and Luck in Medical EthicsRobert NozickRousseau and the Dilemmas of Modernity Rule of Law, Misrule of MenRun, Spot, RunRunning on RitalinSatisficing and MaximizingSchizophrenia, Culture, and SubjectivityScience and 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ScienceUnderstanding AbortionUnderstanding CloningUnderstanding EmotionsUnderstanding EvilUnderstanding Kant's EthicsUnderstanding Moral ObligationUnderstanding Physician-Pharmaceutical Industry InteractionsUnderstanding TerrorismUnderstanding the GenomeUnderstanding the Stigma of Mental IllnessUnderstanding Treatment Without ConsentUnhingedUnprincipled VirtueUnsanctifying Human Life: Essays on EthicsUnspeakable Acts, Ordinary PeopleUp in FlamesUpheavals of ThoughtUsers and Abusers of PsychiatryValue-Free Science?Values and Psychiatric DiagnosisValues in ConflictVegetarianismViolence and Mental DisorderVirtue EthicsVirtue, Rules, and JusticeVirtue, Vice, and PersonalityVirtues and Their VicesVulnerability, Autonomy, and Applied EthicsWar Against the WeakWar, Torture and TerrorismWarrior's DishonourWeaknessWelfare and Rational CareWhat Genes Can't DoWhat Have We DoneWhat Is a Human?What Is Good and WhyWhat Is Good and WhyWhat Is the Good Life?What Price Better Health?What Should I Do?What We Owe to Each OtherWhat Would Aristotle Do?What's Good on TVWhat's Normal?What's Wrong with Children's RightsWhat's Wrong with Homosexuality?What's Wrong With Morality?When Is Discrimination Wrong?Who Holds the Moral High Ground?Who Owns YouWho Qualifies for Rights?Whose America?Whose View of Life?Why Animals MatterWhy Animals MatterWhy I Burned My Book and Other Essays on DisabilityWhy Not Kill Them All?Why Punish? How Much?Why Some Things Should Not Be for SaleWisdom, Intuition and EthicsWithout ConscienceWomen and Borderline Personality DisorderWomen and MadnessWondergenesWould You Kill the Fat Man?Wrestling with Behavioral GeneticsWriting About PatientsYou Must Be DreamingYour Genetic DestinyYour Inner FishYouth Offending and Youth Justice Yuck!
For reasons both good and not so good, the philosophy introduction is a guaranteed money-spinner. The market is awash with Companions, Handbooks, Guidebooks, Anthologies, and Readings. Now we have the Compendium. Its arrival -- whether one is inclined to applaud, or sniff at, such things -- once again highlights the introduction's capacity for endless recycling. As it turns out, Baggini and Fosl have provided an admirably no-nonsense tour through the crowded landscape of contemporary philosophical ethics. Competent and helpful; this little gem will keep the pair in ale for many a year to come.
The book is structured precisely as one would expect a compendium to be structured. It consists of numbered bite-sized abstracts, two to three pages in length, which are followed by a "See Also" section for cross-referencing, and a list of three readings. The abstracts are grouped into five chapters, with each chapter containing roughly twenty entries. The abstracts are alphabetically ordered.
The chapters are entitled: "The Grounds of Ethics", "Frameworks for Ethics", "Central Concepts in Ethics", "Assessment, Judgment, and Critique", and "The Limits of Ethics". So, in the first chapter we find entries such as "Agency" (which is section 1.2) and "Sympathy" (§ 1.20); in chapter two, we are subjected to a barrage of '--isms', from "Consequentialism" (§ 2.1) to "Subjectivism" (§ 2.15); and in chapter three, various binary oppositions -- for example, "Absolute/relative" (§ 3.1), "Public/private" (§ 3.23) -- are outlined. Such is the pattern throughout.
The entries are written in the style of the reference book: uncontroversial, balanced, and on the mark. As a whole, then, they fulfil their brief more than adequately. This happy state of affairs threatens to bring the present discussion to a premature halt. Thankfully, Baggini and Fosl have other ideas! In their introduction -- when they speak in their own collective voice -- they make some weird remarks that demand interrogation.
In order to respond to the "many voices composing the moral discourses of our age", write Baggini and Fosl, "many tools are necessary ... not a single voice or a single tool" (Introduction, xv -- xvii). They continue by outlining the figure of the "competent" moral philosopher, who requires a "well-stocked 'toolkit' containing a host of intellectual instruments for careful, precise, and sophisticated moral thinking". "The Ethics Toolkit", the authors conclude, "aspires to help those engaged in moral inquiry" to become competent moral thinkers by providing the necessary ethical tools.
It is evident that Baggini's and Fosl's "vision of ethics" is "pluralistic". It is also pragmatic, as the constant references to "tools" makes abundantly clear. But there are difficulties with the authors' ethical vision. Firstly, their versions of pluralism and pragmatism, in light of the accounts they give of the two traditions in the main part of the book, turn out not to be pluralistic or pragmatic at all. Secondly, and in part emerging from the first point, their idea of ethical competence is shallow to say the least.
As outlined by Baggini and Fosl, pluralism (§ 5.10) is the doctrine most closely associated with Isaiah Berlin. It may be summarised as follows. There are a plurality of ultimate values, some of which are both incompatible and incommensurable, irresolvable conflicts occur between these values; and when they do occur, sacrifices are necessary, and tragic choices are made. The genuine pluralist, then, is not concerned with acquiring a toolkit that consists of a plurality of moral discourses. The pluralist is primarily concerned with identifying which values are irreconcilable and how best to deal with it. Baggini's and Fosl's pluralism is not pluralism in Berlin's sense, but is simply a statement of the fact that there are a hell of a lot of theories out there about how one should live.
The moral pragmatist, the authors claim, holds that "theorizing about ethics cannot be divorced from actual practices, conditions, and problems"; since, for the pragmatist, "morality is something dynamic and inextricably bound up with actual, concrete social practices" (§ 2.12). Pragmatism, then, involves the denial of the claim that it is possible to reflect on morality in a detached and disembodied way; or as Spinoza would have it, under the view of eternity -- sub specie aeternitatis.
The problem for Baggini and Fosl is that their pragmatism looks suspiciously Spinozistic. On their view, the competent moral thinker responds to the variety of moral discourses by delving into the ethical toolkit, in order to grasp the appropriate intellectual instrument for the appropriate occasion. This clinical approach, however, would appear to presuppose a desire to attain to the condition of standing above, and being divorced from, the array of moral discourses. Baggini and Fosl, in other words, strive to extricate themselves from dirty concrete practices so that they may get to work with their clean and shiny tools. This is not in the spirit of pragmatism.
The foregoing considerations lead us to our final remarks. Baggini and Fosl have attempted to construct an ideal moral thinker that is somehow the red-blooded incarnation of the ethos of their compendium. Perhaps such creatures actually exist. But for the rest of us mere mortals, serious reflection on ethical matters is not about the efficient deployment of appropriate concepts. Much of it is an attempt to develop an image of the bedrock of recalcitrant affects that underlies the dispositions of character in order to put oneself in a position to evaluate the dispositions of character. Needless to say, it's dirty work.
© 2008 Ruben Berrios
Ruben Berrios is a philosopher whose research interests are in ethics and aesthetics. He has taught philosophy at University College Dublin, the University of Ulster, and Queen's University Belfast.