Cover: The Ethical Project, from Harvard University PressCover: The Ethical Project in PAPERBACK

The Ethical Project

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$32.00 • £27.95 • €29.95

ISBN 9780674284289

Publication Date: 03/31/2014


432 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

2 tables


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[A] valuable contribution to contemporary theological thought. I recommend [it].—James Wood, New Yorker

Though some difficult questions remain, this book is philosophy of science at its most philosophically ambitious, using a broadly scientific worldview to engage big questions as to how we can make sense of moral reality and moral progress against the broad background of things we know about human natural history and human nature. Working through it offers readers an impressive account that is (in its aspirations at least) a refreshing alternative to the recent, seemingly unrelenting linkage of naturalism with varieties of moral skepticism.—Ron Mallon, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

Kitcher elaborates a comprehensive vision of the evolution of human morality… For serious students of ethics, this is the indispensable book.—H. C. Byerly, Choice

Kitcher has created a wonderfully nuanced picture of how ethical standards arise and what they are like in small, stable communities. Taking the best of biology and philosophy, he points to the ways in which, even on a global scale, humans could generate explicit rules to regulate conduct. This is a brilliant and profoundly humane book.—Patrick Bateson, University of Cambridge

Few philosophers bridge the natural sciences and moral philosophy as easily and elegantly as Kitcher, navigating around both the naturalistic fallacy and the ‘norm’ of normative ethics. His account of how and why humans evolved into a moral species is both refreshing and respectful towards other approaches.—Frans de Waal, author of The Age of Empathy and Our Inner Ape

In a stunning synthesis of evolutionary biology, ethical philosophy, and contemporary life, and the histories of each of those domains, Kitcher offers not only an account of how we humans came to be ethical animals, but how the past of the ethical project could help guide the future. Every page is insightful and thought-provoking.—Michael D. Gordin, Princeton University

This magnificent book promises to be a heavyweight contribution to the field of moral philosophy. Kitcher is one of the most elegant writers in the business; his thinking is subtle and profound.—Richard Joyce, Victoria University of Wellington

Morality challenges us with three tasks: setting out the evolutionary genealogy of morals, developing the metaethics of obligation and value, and providing guidance in moral choice. It has become increasingly clear that answering the genealogical question is indispensable to the other two tasks. But it is not sufficient. Metaethics cannot dodge Hume’s problem, and the most powerful solution to it would be one that gives us an accurate moral compass. In The Ethical Project, Kitcher does all three of these things, bringing together the understanding of the relevant science, the analytical rigor required to refute the skeptic, and the humanity needed to deal with the last and hardest of three tasks.—Alex Rosenberg, Duke University

Kitcher offers bold suggestions, with illustrations, for making improvements in the methods we use in moral deliberation and in established morality itself. But, he holds, no final results are possible. We must be falliblists about morality as we are about science. Kitcher’s reading of an evolutionary understanding of morality, far from undercutting it, shows more clearly than any other approach why it has been and remains essential. This is by far the best treatment to date of morality as a product of evolution.—J. B. Schneewind, Johns Hopkins University and New York University

Humans live in a world of norms as well as facts, and most recent attempts to understand why that is so have been deeply skeptical. Kitcher combines a historical, naturalist understanding of the origin and dynamism of norms with the idea that objective improvement of normative thought is possible. Kitcher takes seriously the metaphor that norms are a tool, a collective technology for self-management, and like other technologies, we can have better technologies and worse ones. Whether Kitcher’s ethical project succeeds or not, it is certainly the most challenging, original, and reconstructive attempt of recent years.—Kim Sterelny, Research School of Social Sciences at Australian National University

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