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The Fundamentals of Ethics

Fourth Edition

Russ Shafer-Landau

Publication Date - June 2017

ISBN: 9780190631390

400 pages
5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches

Retail Price to Students: $44.95

An exceptionally clear, compact, and affordable introduction to a broad range of ethical theories


In The Fundamentals of Ethics, Fourth Edition, author Russ Shafer-Landau employs a uniquely engaging writing style to introduce students to the essential ideas of moral philosophy. Offering more comprehensive coverage of the good life, normative ethics, and metaethics than any other text of its kind, this book also addresses issues that are often omitted from other texts, such as the doctrine of doing and allowing, the doctrine of double effect, ethical particularism, the desire-satisfaction theory of well-being, moral error theory, and Ross's theory of prima facie duties. Shafer-Landau carefully reconstructs and analyzes dozens of arguments in depth, at a level that is understandable to students with no prior philosophical background.

Ideal for courses in introductory ethics and contemporary moral problems, this book can be used as a stand-alone text or with the author's companion reader, The Ethical Life: Fundamental Readings in Ethics and Moral Problems, Fourth Edition.

New to this Edition

  • Revised discussions of Desire Theory in Chapters 3 and 4, reflecting clearer distinctions between the intrinsic and instrumental values of desire satisfaction
  • A new discussion of the empirical literature on altruism in Chapter 7, Psychological Egoism
  • A new discussion of the attractions of ethical subjectivism and relativism in Chapter 19, Ethical Relativism
  • Substantive improvements to sections throughout the text, including: Happiness and Intrinsic Value in Chapter 1; The Paradox of Hedonism in Chapter 2; Two Popular Arguments for Ethical Egoism in Chapter 8; The Structure of Consequentialism in Chapter 9; Slippery Slope Arguments in Chapter 9; Measuring Well-Being in Chapter 10; and Ideal Observers in Chapter 19


  • Written in a lively, engaging style that keeps students interested and reinforces the importance of studying ethics
  • Offers more comprehensive coverage of the good life (Chs. 1-4), normative ethics (Chs. 5-18), and metaethics (Chs. 19-21) than any other text of its kind, giving students more opportunities to critically engage with moral issues
  • Reconstructs and analyzes fifty arguments, which helps students develop critical thinking skills
  • Covers a broader range of topics than competing books, offering instructors more choices and giving students a better understanding of the range of interesting issues in ethics
  • Includes an extensive glossary and bolded key terms throughout the text to help students keep track of new terminology
  • Designed to be used as a stand-alone text or in conjunction with Shafer-Landau's The Ethical Life, Fourth Edition, a companion reader specially designed to complement The Fundamentals of Ethics
  • Supported by a free, open-access Companion Website and a wealth of instructor materials--including a detailed Instructor's Manual--on Oxford's online Ancillary Resource Center

About the Author(s)

Russ Shafer-Landau is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author, editor, or coeditor of several books including Living Ethics (OUP, 2018) and The Ethical Life, Fourth Edition (OUP, 2017). He is also the editor of Oxford Studies in Metaethics.


"The Fundamentals of Ethics is quite simply the best introductory ethics book out there."--Philip Robbins, University of Missouri

"The writing style is perfectly pitched, the examples are vivid and memorable, and the concepts are thoroughly discussed."--Scott James, University of North Carolina Wilmington

"The clarity of Shafer-Landau's writing is almost unparalleled, and the examples that he uses (both real and imagined) are pedagogical treasures. He does a remarkable job of explaining very complex philosophical theories in a thoroughly engaging yet eminently clear fashion."--Aleksander Pjevalica, University of Texas at El Paso

"The Fundamentals of Ethics is an outstanding introductory text. It does an excellent job of presenting complex ideas at an introductory level, while deftly helping students understand the practical import of ethical theory. Its analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of each of the normative theories is cogently presented. Perhaps its most salient feature is its handling of metaethical issues, which speaks directly to the presuppositions students often have about ethical reasoning. Shafer-Landau's approach clearly shows the experience of someone who has taught this material in the classroom and understands common student assumptions and concerns. This is a very impressive introduction. And the price is substantially lower than that of the Rachels text."--Matthew J. Fitzsimmons, University of North Alabama

Table of Contents

    New to the Fourth Edition
    Instructor's Manual and Companion Website
    A Note on the Companion Volume
    The Lay of the Land
    Skepticism about Ethics
    Ethical Starting Points
    What Is Morality?
    Moral Reasoning
    The Role of Moral Theory
    Looking Ahead
    1. Hedonism: Its Powerful Appeal
    Happiness and Intrinsic Value
    The Attractions of Hedonism
    There Are Many Models of a Good Life
    Personal Authority and Well-Being
    Misery Clearly Hampers a Good Life; Happiness Clearly Improves It
    The Limits of Explanation
    Rules of the Good Life--and Their Exceptions
    Happiness Is What We Want for Our Loved Ones
    2. Is Happiness All That Matters?
    The Paradox of Hedonism
    Evil Pleasures
    The Two Worlds
    False Happiness
    The Importance of Autonomy
    Life's Trajectory
    Unhappiness as a Symptom of Harm
    3. Getting What You Want
    A Variety of Good Lives
    Personal Authority
    Avoiding Objective Values
    Justifying the Pursuit of Self-Interest
    Knowledge of the Good
    4. Problems for the Desire Theory
    Getting What You Want May Not Be Necessary for Promoting Your Good
    Getting What You Want May Not Be Sufficient for Promoting Your Good
    Desires Based on False Beliefs
    Disinterested and Other-Regarding Desires
    Ignorance of Desire Satisfaction
    Impoverished Desires
    The Paradox of Self-Harm and Self-Sacrifice
    The Fallibility of Our Deepest Desires
    5. Morality and Religion
    Three Assumptions about Morality and Religion
    First Assumption: Religious Belief Is Needed for Moral Motivation
    Second Assumption: God Is the Creator of Morality
    Third Assumption: Religion Is an Essential Source of Moral Guidance
    6. Natural Law
    The Theory and Its Attractions
    Three Conceptions of Human Nature
    Human Nature as Animal Nature
    Human Nature Is What Is Innate
    Human Nature Is What All Humans Have in Common
    Natural Purposes
    The Argument from Humanity
    7. Psychological Egoism
    Egoism and Altruism
    Does It Matter Whether Psychological Egoism Is True?
    The Argument from Our Strongest Desires
    The Argument from Expected Benefit
    Two Egoistic Strategies
    Appealing to the Guilty Conscience
    Expanding the Realm of Self-Interest
    Letting the Evidence Decide
    8. Ethical Egoism
    Why Be Moral?
    Two Popular Arguments for Ethical Egoism
    The Self-Reliance Argument
    The Libertarian Argument
    The Best Argument for Ethical Egoism
    Three Problems for Ethical Egoism
    Egoism Violates Core Moral Beliefs
    Egoism Cannot Allow for the Existence of Moral Rights
    Egoism Arbitrarily Makes My Interests All-Important
    9. Consequentialism: Its Nature and Attractions
    The Nature of Consequentialism
    Maximizing Goodness
    Moral Knowledge
    Actual Versus Expected Results
    Assessing Actions and Intentions
    The Attractions of Utilitarianism
    The Ability to Justify Conventional Moral Wisdom
    Conflict Resolution
    Moral Flexibility
    The Scope of the Moral Community
    Slippery Slope Arguments
    10. Consequentialism: Its Difficulties
    Measuring Well-Being
    Utilitarianism Is Very Demanding
    No Intrinsic Wrongness (or Rightness)
    The Problem of Injustice
    Potential Solutions to the Problem of Injustice
    Justice Is Also Intrinsically Valuable
    Injustice Is Never Optimific
    Justice Must Sometimes Be Sacrificed
    Rule Consequentialism
    11. The Kantian Perspective: Fairness and Justice
    Consistency and Fairness
    The Principle of Universalizability
    Morality and Rationality
    Assessing the Principle of Universalizability
    Kant on Absolute Moral Duties
    12. The Kantian Perspective: Autonomy and Respect
    The Principle of Humanity
    The Importance of Rationality and Autonomy
    The Good Will and Moral Worth
    Five Problems with the Principle of Humanity
    Determining Just Deserts
    Are We Autonomous?
    Moral Luck
    The Scope of the Moral Community
    13. The Social Contract Tradition: The Theory and Its Attractions
    The Lure of Proceduralism
    The Background of the Social Contract Theory
    The Prisoner's Dilemma
    Cooperation and the State of Nature
    The Advantages of Contractarianism
    Morality Is Essentially a Social Phenomenon
    Contractarianism Explains and Justifies the Content of the Basic Moral Rules
    Contractarianism Offers a Method for Justifying Every Moral Rule
    Contractarianism Explains the Objectivity of Morality
    Contractarianism Explains Why It Is Sometimes Acceptable to Break the Moral Rules
    More Advantages: Morality and the Law
    Contractarianism Justifies a Basic Moral Duty to Obey the Law
    The Contractarian Justification of Legal Punishment
    Contractarianism Justifies the State's Role in Criminal Law
    Contractarianism and Civil Disobedience
    14. The Social Contract Tradition: Problems and Prospects
    Why Be Moral?
    The Role of Consent
    Disagreement among the Contractors
    The Scope of the Moral Community
    15. Ethical Pluralism and Absolute Moral Rules
    The Structure of Moral Theories
    Is Torture Always Immoral?
    Preventing Catastrophes
    The Doctrine of Double Effect
    A Reply to the Argument from Disaster Prevention
    How the DDE Threatens Act Consequentialism
    Distinguishing Intention from Foresight
    Moral Conflict and Contradiction
    Is Moral Absolutism Irrational?
    The Doctrine of Doing and Allowing
    16. Ethical Pluralism: Prima Facie Duties and Ethical Particularism
    Ross's Ethic of Prima Facie Duties
    The Advantages of Ross's View
    We Are Sometimes Permitted to Break the Moral Rules
    Moral Conflict
    Moral Regret
    Addressing the Anti-absolutist Arguments
    A Problem for Ross's View
    Knowing the Fundamental Moral Rules
    Self-Evidence and the Testing of Moral Theories
    Knowing the Right Thing to Do
    Ethical Particularism
    Three Problems for Ethical Particularism
    Its Lack of Unity
    Accounting for Moral Knowledge
    Some Things Possess Permanent Moral Importance
    17. Virtue Ethics
    The Standard of Right Action
    Moral Complexity
    Moral Understanding
    Moral Education
    The Nature of Virtue
    Virtue and the Good Life
    Tragic Dilemmas
    Does Virtue Ethics Offer Adequate Moral Guidance?
    Is Virtue Ethics Too Demanding?
    Who Are the Moral Role Models?
    Conflict and Contradiction
    The Priority Problem
    18. Feminist Ethics
    The Elements of Feminist Ethics
    Moral Development
    Women's Experience
    The Ethics of Care
    The Importance of Emotions
    Against Unification
    Against Impartiality and Abstraction
    Against Competition
    Downplaying Rights
    Challenges for Feminist Ethics
    19. Ethical Relativism
    Moral Skepticism
    Two Kinds of Ethical Relativism
    Some Implications of Ethical Subjectivism and Cultural Relativism
    Moral Infallibility
    Moral Equivalence
    Questioning Our Own Commitments
    Moral Progress
    Ethical Subjectivism and the Problem of Contradiction
    Cultural Relativism and the Problem of Contradiction
    Ideal Observers
    20. Moral Nihilism
    Error Theory
    How Is It Possible to Argue Logically about Morality?
    Expressivism and Amoralists
    The Nature of Moral Judgment
    21. Eleven Arguments Against Moral Objectivity
    1. Objectivity Requires Absolutism
    2. All Truth Is Subjective
    3. Equal Rights Imply Equal Plausibility
    4. Moral Objectivity Supports Dogmatism
    5. Moral Objectivity Supports Intolerance
    6. Moral Objectivity Cannot Allow for Legitimate Cultural Variation
    7. Moral Disagreement Undermines Moral Objectivity
    8. Atheism Undermines Moral Objectivity
    9. The Absence of Categorical Reasons Undermines Moral Objectivity
    10. Moral Motivation Undermines Moral Objectivity
    11. Values Have No Place in a Scientific World
    Suggestions for Further Reading