How are the demands of morality related to the needs, interests, and projects of people? Are they a burden, or are they good for us? Are they nothing but arbitrary impositions, or should we expect them to be justified? And will the answers to these questions tell us why and whether we should be moral? In this short, accessible text, William Nelson poses these questions in a form appropriate for beginning students and treats them in a way that both they and their teachers will appreciate. In the company of major figures from the history of ethics, Nelson explores the key issues surrounding topics like egoism, altruism, the good life, and the requirements of morality. A special strength of his presentation is the way he demonstrates how the views of these historical figures prefigure the theories espoused by different schools of contemporary thought. Students get not only the historical positions in terms of which contemporary debates are framed but also up-to-date discussions of utilitarianism, contractualism, problems of collective action, and the relations between virtue and duty-based theories. Nelson’s own view that morality is not a single subject matter enables him to show how each of the historical traditions has a role to play in a coherent and defensible pluralistic account of morality. At the core of this pluralism is a commitment to the democratic view that morality must not merely serve practical human purposes, but it must also be justified to the people it governs. Imaginative and insightful, intelligent and informed, this is an excellent first text for students of ethics and the history of ethics.

chapter |7 pages

Introduction: Why be Moral?

part Part One|27 pages

The Greek Tradition

chapter 1|9 pages

Self-Discipline and Tranquility

Epictetus, A.D. 50-130

chapter 2|15 pages

Happiness and the Virtues

Aristotle, 384-322 B.C.

part Part Two|78 pages

Modern Moral Philosophy

chapter 3|20 pages

The Moral Point of View

Immanuel Kant, 1724-1804

chapter 4|32 pages

Self-Interest, Altruism, and Social Conventions

Thomas Hobbes, 1588-1679 David Hume, 1711-1776 Joseph Butler, 1692-1752

chapter 5|24 pages


Jeremy Bentham, 1748-1832 John Stuart Mill, 1806-1873

part Part Three|36 pages

Contemporary Reflections

chapter 6|34 pages

A Contractualist Framework for Morality