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Twelve Lectures on the Philosophy of Morality

David Wiggins

ISBN 9780674034983

Publication date: 09/30/2009

Almost every thoughtful person wonders at some time why morality says what it says and how, if at all, it speaks to us. David Wiggins surveys the answers most commonly proposed for such questions--and does so in a way that the thinking reader, increasingly perplexed by the everyday problem of moral philosophy, can follow. His work is thus an introduction to ethics that presupposes nothing more than the reader's willingness to read philosophical proposals closely and literally.

Gathering insights from Hume, Kant, the utilitarians, and a twentieth-century assortment of post-utilitarian thinkers, and drawing on sources as diverse as Aristotle, Simone Weil, and Philippa Foot, Wiggins points to the special role of the sentiments of solidarity and reciprocity that human beings will find within themselves. After examining the part such sentiments play in sustaining our ordinary ideas of agency and responsibility, he searches the political sphere for a neo-Aristotelian account of justice that will cohere with such an account of morality. Finally, Wiggins turns to the standing of morality and the question of the objectivity or reality of ethical demands. As the need arises at various points in the book, he pursues a variety of related issues and engages additional thinkers--Plato, C. S. Peirce, Darwin, Schopenhauer, Leibniz, John Rawls, Montaigne and others--always emphasizing the words of the philosophers under discussion, and giving readers the resources to arrive at their own viewpoint of why and how ethics matters.


  • This is an unusually pleasing introductory (but neither elementary nor trite) work in ethics. Time spent in David Wiggins's company is time well and pleasantly spent. This book is accessible to educated and thoughtful readers of all sorts. In a time when much work in ethics is so laden with one (usually unattractive) philosophical theory or another, it is refreshing to find a work by a major philosopher who wishes his audience to rely only on a grasp of moral notions 'preferably undisturbed by theory.' I know of no other recent (or nonrecent) book that occupies quite the philosophical territory that this one does, and certainly none that does so with such quiet effectiveness and graciousness.

    —C. D. C. Reeve, Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and author of Love's Confusions


  • David Wiggins retired in 2000 from the Wykeham Chair of Logic at the University of Oxford after 40 years teaching philosophy in the universities of Oxford and London.

Book Details

  • 408 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press