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The Best Practical Ethics Books of the Year…

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By the editors of the Practical Ethics blog.

What is the best practical ethics book you read this year, and what is so good about it (in 1-3 sentences)?

We asked this question to our colleagues at the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics. To our surprise, not a single title received multiple votes. This perhaps indicates that so many good books in the field appeared in the last couple of years, or perhaps a different explanation is due. Either way, below is the list of the recent titles we found excellent:

The Ends of Harm: The Moral Foundations of Criminal Law by Victor Tadros

‘In this book, Tadros provides a highly engaging non-consequentialist account of the permissible harming of others. It is an important and illuminating work containing a number of original insights’. – David Birks


The Ethics of Transplants: Why Careless Thought Costs Lives by Janet Radcliffe Richards

‘I give this out to people as a paradigm example of how to do good practical philosophy, especially in medical ethics. Janet dismembers bad arguments, like a pathologist dissecting a corpse riddled with metastatic cancer, and reveals the diagnosis, chapter after chapter. It is a fine example in the now neglected method of giving sound arguments, and exposing invalid ones. It is unabashedly pre-postmodernist and, as such, is intelligible and useful to any thoughtful person, specialist or non-specialist.– Julian Savulescu


Moralizing Technology: Understanding and Designing the Morality of Things by Peter-Paul Verbeek

‘A thought-provoking account of human-technology relation that calls for a new understanding of and method for ethics in our technological age. This book will surely give you some food for thought. Perhaps, it will even change the way you understand the technologies around you’. – Pak-Hang Wong


Philosophy and the Environment ed. by Anthony O’Hear

Philosophy and the Environment contains several excellent papers, including an outstanding piece by David Wiggins, which is both ethical and practical’. – Roger Crisp


The Prison Officer by Alison Liebling, David Price, and Guy Shefer

‘Most of us never face extreme violence, aggression, corruption and despair, let alone need to make good, daily decisions about how to manage it effectively and with moral decency. Prison officers do. This book explores the psychology of prison officers and their relationships with prisoners, revealing what it is to do this demanding job well and carve morality out of the chaos often found within prisons’. – Hannah Pickard


The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt

The Righteous Mind synthesises Haidt’s influential work on different aspects of moral psychology, to create a unified vision of the field, and it is having significant influence accross a variety of academic disciplines’. – Stephen Clark


Skepticism and Freedom: A Modern Case for Classical Liberalism by Richard A. Epstein

‘An interesting consequentialist defence of classical liberalism, limited government and free markets by an eminent academic lawyer. Philosophers may think some of the philosophical arguments go by rather quickly, but this is to miss the peculiar virtue of the book. His knowlege of the way law has worked in practice and the commonalities of law across culture and history fills out the defence with the kind of important and illuminating facts that philosophers rarely know’. – Nicholas Shackel


The Spirit of Compromise: Why Governing Demands It and Campaigning Undermines It by Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson

The Spirit of Compromise skilfully combines normative reasoning with empirical analysis to provide concrete suggestions to correct some of the most serious deficiencies in contemporary democratic politics. It brilliantly shows how the “policy implications” of normative theory can be more than a polite gesture towards funding bodies’. – Kei Hiruta


Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

A nice summary of the evidence he’s compiled during the course of his brilliant career into the scary levels of human irrationality’. – David Edmonds


Why Some Things Should Not Be for Sale: The Moral Limits of Markets by Debra Satz

‘It draws on philosophy, economics, and anthropology to present a sophisticated and nuanced appraisal of the moral consequences of markets in human organs, sex and other actual or potential commodities. In doing so, it moves the debate about markets beyond the standard trite claims about efficiency, equality, or human dignity’. – Simon Rippon


1493: How Europe’s Discovery of the Americas Revolutionized Trade, Ecology and Life on Earth by Charles C. Mann

1493 is a beautifully written and deeply insightful exploration of how hard it is (and has always been) to anticipate the human consequences of globalization’. – Regina Rini


Is your favourite recent title listed above, or do you have other suggestions? Please reply below to share with us the practical ethics book you found most interesting this year!

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