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Conversations on Ethics

Edited by Alex Voorhoeve

Publication Date - June 2011

ISBN: 9780199602940

272 pages
8.5 x 5.4 inches

Retail Price to Students: $39.99

Eleven outstanding contemporary thinkers discuss fascinating moral questions in accessible informal conversations


Can we trust our intuitive judgments of right and wrong? Are moral judgments objective? What reason do we have to do what is right and avoid what is wrong? In Conversations on Ethics, Alex Voorhoeve elicits answers to these questions from eleven outstanding philosophers and social scientists:

Ken Binmore
Philippa Foot
Harry Frankfurt
Allan Gibbard
Daniel Kahneman
Frances Kamm
Alasdair MacIntyre
T. M. Scanlon
Peter Singer
David Velleman
Bernard Williams

The exchanges are direct, open, and sharp, and give a clear account of these thinkers' core ideas about ethics. They also provide unique insights into their intellectual development--how they became interested in ethics and how they conceived the ideas for which they became famous.


  • Brings contemporary moral philosophy to life in insightful exchanges
  • Organized to productively contrast competing answers to the big moral questions
  • Discusses key challenges to the views of major thinkers like Philippa Foot, Alasdair MacIntyre, Peter Singer, and Bernard Williams
  • Many of the interviews are published here for the first time
  • Accompanied by previously unpublished portraits by Steve Pyke, one of the world's leading portrait photographers

About the Author(s)

Alex Voorhoeve is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the London School of Economics. In 2008-09 he was a Fellow at Harvard University's Center for Ethics. He has written on ideals of equality and responsibility, on well-being, and o the theory of rational choice. His articles have appeared i Philosophy & Public Affairs, Economics and Philosophy, and The Journal of Political Philosophy, among others.


"I have rarely enjoyed a philosophy book as much. Voorhoeve's bold effort really works. He cunningly brings ethical theory to life through insightful conversations with key philosophers and scientists. Not only do the issues come alive, but the participants do as well. Don't miss the chance to eavesdrop on these conversations."--Norman Daniels, Harvard University

"This volume is an extraordinarily rich resource. Alex Voorhoeve has interviewed many of the most interesting and influential recent thinkers on ethical topics, expertly focusing on their core positions and arguments in a series of insightful philosophical dialogues. In doing so he has produced not only a comprehensive introduction to contemporary ethical thought, but also a real sense of the human beings behind the writings."--Jonathan Wolff, University College London

"The book is both richly instructive and delightful to read. Voorhoeve has a sophisticated command of his interlocutors' philosophical views, and his questions often hit the nail on the head. He has the talent to ask difficult questions in a welcoming way, setting the stage for his interviewees to explain their positions as clearly as they can. For the reader interested in moral theory this is a true asset, since Voorhoeve has managed to assemble quite a few of the figures that have shaped the face of moral philosophy in the past generation to discuss fundamentals of their moral views. . . . [The book] provides the most valuable insights on the nature of ethics."--Shlomo Cohen, in Iyyun: The Jerusalem Philosophical Quarterly

"In the introduction to his first interview, Voorhoeve cites Nietzsche's dictum that all great problems demand great love. . . . Nietzsche was a hard man to please. But he would have felt some satisfaction had he encountered Voorhoeve's eleven interviews. His philosophers are passionate devotees of their own moral systems. They fight for their theories, defending them ferociously and lovingly. . . . Each of them argues his or her case convincingly. Almost always, one falls in with their reasoning--at least, this is what happened to me. But, of course, this leads to inconsistency. For the difference in their views is far too great. This is bewildering, and teaches us a good lesson: not to be unmovable in one's attachments to one's moral views. . . . As the book progresses, Voorhoeve shows how difficult moral calculation and justification of one's views to others is. . . Puzzling and fascinating."--Jan Greven, in Trouw

"A superb collection of interviews with leading figures in moral philosophy: Voorhoeve deftly limns the broad outlines of their thought and paints a physical picture of the setting, before interrogating his subjects' theories. . . . There are dramatic moments, too, when an interlocutor turns the tables and begins to question the interviewer, who scrupulously records his own pauses and concessions. . . . An exemplary demonstration of philosophical discussion in action."--Steven Poole's Non-Fiction Choice, The Guardian

"Alex Voorhoeve's intellectually stimulating and highly entertaining collection of interviews serves as a perfect introduction to the thoughts of several important contemporary moral philosophers. Professional philosophers will also find the interviews rewarding, since Voorhoeve has a knack for teasing out revealing answers. His probing questions often bring out the weakest or most revealing parts of the interviewed philosophers' views. Exciting."--Krister Bykvist, in The Philosophers' Magazine

"Voorhoeve succeeds in making the conversations accessible to and even potentially thrilling for the non-specialist. He excels in many conversations at probing the ideas of his interlocutor. All in all, a great contribution to the field, which will not only prove of interest to the student of ethics but also to the novice and the historian."--Francois Claveau, in Ethics & Economics

"Voorhoeve has a real gift for detecting the vulnerable parts in any thinker's argumentation and exposing them in a manner that forces the philosopher to produce a more comprehensive account of her or his views. . . . An excellent illustration of the two desiderata that have inspired philosophical inquiry since the time of Socrates . . . a special ability for critical thinking and a demand for honesty and authenticity."--Cristian Iftode, in Public Reason

"Voorhoeve probes positions in a precise and clear way. The conversational form is refreshing when compared with other textual forms, like the monograph. It provides readers not only with an outline of each interviewee's position, but also offers a personal impression of each thinker. Exciting for anyone who wants to embed questions in applied ethics in a larger anthropological-philosophical context."--Uta Bittner, Zeitschrift fuer medizinische Ethik

Table of Contents

    Part I. Ethics and Intuitions
    1. In Search of the Deep Structure of Morality, Frances Kamm
    2. Each of Us Is Just One Among Others, Peter Singer
    3. Can We Trust Our Intuitions?, Daniel Kahneman
    Part II. Virtue and Flourishing
    4. The Grammar of Goodness, Philippa Foot
    5. The Illusion of Self-Sufficiency, Alasdair MacIntyre
    Part III. Ethics and Evolution
    6. The Origin of Fairness, Ken Binmore
    7. A Pragmatic Justification of Morality, Allan Gibbard
    Part IV. Unity and Dissent
    8. The Kingdom of Ends on the Cheap, T. M. Scanlon
    9. A Mistrustful Animal, Bernard Williams
    Part V. Love and Morality
    10. The Necessity of Love, Harry Frankfurt
    11. Really Seeing Another, David Velleman