Ethical Considerations. Basic Issues in Moral Philosophy

Author: Rescher, Nicholas
The present book is a further contribution to the ageless and ongoing discussion about basic philosophical problems such as the nature of ethical standards, and grounds of moral objectivity, and prospects of moral progress from eminent philosopher and well-known author, Nicholas Rescher. He examines a group of classic philosophical issues, relevant to this present age of moral ambiguity, and shares his reflections and opinions with his usual captivating analysis.


“Rescher has done it again! He provides a clear, insightful, and fascinating introduction and analysis of important philosophical issues, this time in ethics. Ranging from questions of collective responsibility to those of moral progress, his book is an eminently readable must-read for anyone interested in questions of ethics.”
-Dr. Kristin Shrader-Frechette,
O’Neill Family Endowed Professor,
University of Notre Dame

“Nicholas Rescher is a philosopher of profound independence of mind, penetrating intellectual integrity and legendary fecundity of interests and ideas. In this welcome addition to his wide ranging oeuvre Rescher argues with compelling candor and in highly accessible language that to set all moral differences on a par makes about as much sense as claiming that any way of dealing with numbers or other mathematical notions is as good as any other. Morals, Rescher argues, must be distinguished from the mores that give expression to the more basic values bodied forth in varying norms and customs. At the heart of all moral claims, he argues, are the real interests of conscious subjects. Addressing crucial and timely topics like the hope of moral progress and the betterment of life, the idea of ‘moral luck’, the meaning of shared responsibility, and the means we have of drawing a line where morals seem to depend on quantities and differences of degree. Not neglecting the moral dynamics of giving (and taking) advice and the morals of gratitude – in this case, for life itself, Rescher gives us here a rich harvest of lifetime’s philosophical inquiry and exploration.”
-Dr. Lenn E. Goodman,
Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Humanities,
Vanderbilt University

“With characteristic clarity, striking scope, and unfailing relevance, Rescher discusses some of the most important and neglected moral problems. The book is a feast of reason.”
-Dr. John Lachs,
Centennial Professor of Philosophy,
Vanderbilt University

Table of Contents

1. The Complexity of Ethical Norms
On Rules, Regulations, and Principles
The Case of Ethics
From Rules to Regulations
The Problem of Regulative Ethics
2. Moral Objectivity
Moral Equivalency
Morality in Functional Perspective:
Morality vs. Mores
Uniformity Despite Diversity
The Hierarchy of Principles
Against indifferentist Relativism
The Claims of our Own Community
The Role of Self Interest
Moral Objectivity
3. Moral Progress?
The Question of Moral Progress
Bleak Prospects
4. Moral Luck
Luck’s Partners: Fate and Future
Luck is Statistical in its Dependence on the Prevailing Context
Is Luck Objective or Subjective?
Can One Control Luck?
How Luck is to be Measured
Concluding Worries
Moral Luck
5. The Pragmatics of Betterment
Potential Impediments
Free Will Issues
Imponderability The Butterfly Effect as a Substantive Obstacle of Tinkering
The Package-Deal Predicament: The Teeter-Totter Effect
An Open Opinion: Nothing to Lose
A Practical Policy
The Moral Dimension
The Irony of Inevitable Success
6. Collective Responsibility
The Issue
Problems of Group Agency
Problems of Group Intentions
Consequences for Collective Responsibility
The Legal Aspect: Moral vs. Legal Responsibility
Some Lessons
A Review of the Argument
Appendix: Collective Credit
7. Ethical Quantities
Quantity in Ethics
Quantifications Problems in Ethics
8. The Ethics of Advice
The Need for Advice
Features of Good Advice
9. By the Standards of Their Day
Retrospective Condemnation
Norms and Beliefs: The Analogy of Cognition
Who appointed us as Arbiter?
The Agent, the Act, and the Action
What can Reasonably be Expected?
A Kantian Perspective
The Role of our Standards
On Rendering Justice
A Key Objection
Relativism Rejected
Hoisted by One’s Own Petard?
The Demands of Rationality and Justice
10. God and the Grounding of Morality
The Best-interest Theory of Morality
The Divine-Command Theory of Morality
A Difference Turning: The Duty-of-Gratitude Theory of Morality
But are these Opportunities for the Good Real?
A Postscript on the Insufficiency of Divine Command Theory
11. What Makes Immorality Immoral?
(On the Metaphysical Rationale of Moral Duty: From Ethics to Metaphysics)
12. The Problem of Belief Ethics
Name Index