Ethics - Inventing Right and Wrong
Mackie (J.L.)
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Cover Blurb

  1. John Mackie's-stimulating book is a complete and clear treatise on moral theory. His writings on normative ethics — the moral principles he recommends — offer a fresh approach on a much neglected subject, and the work as a whole is undoubtedly a major contribution to modern philosophy.
  2. The author deals first with the status of ethics, arguing that there are no objective values, that morality cannot be discovered but must be made. He examines next the content of ethics, seeing morality as a functional device, basically the same at all times but changing significantly in response to changes in the human condition. He sketches a practical moral system, criticizing but also borrowing from both utilitarian and absolutist views. Thirdly, the frontiers of ethics, areas of contact with psychology, metaphysics, theology, law and politics, are explored.
  3. Throughout, his aim is to discuss a wide range of questions that are both philosophical and practical, working within a distinctive version of subjectivism — an `error' theory of the apparent objectivity of values. John Mackie has drawn on the contributions of such classic thinkers as Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Hume, Kant and Sidgwick, and on more recent discussions, to produce a thought-provoking account that will inspire both the general reader and the student of philosophy.

  1. A moral or ethical statement may assert that some particular action is right or wrong; or that actions of certain kinds are so; it may offer a distinction between good and bad characters or dispositions; or it may propound some broad principle from which many more detailed judgments of these sorts might be inferred — for example, that we ought always to aim at the greatest general happiness, or try to minimize the total suffering of all sentient beings, or devote ourselves wholly to the service of God, or that it is right and proper for everyone to look after himself. All such statements express first order ethical judgments of different degrees of generality. By contrast with all these, a second order statement would say what is going on when someone makes a first order statement, in particular, whether such a statement expresses a discovery or a decision, or it may make some point about how we think and reason about moral matters, or put forward a view about the meanings of various ethical terms.
  2. I am concerned in this book with both first and second order topics, with both the content and the status of ethics. In our ordinary experience we first encounter first order statements about particular actions; in discussing these, we may go on to frame, or dispute, more general first order principles; and only after that are we likely to reflect on second order issues. But in putting forward my opinions in a fairly systematic way I have had to reverse this order, to try to settle what is going on in first order ethical discussion before making my own contribution to it. The natural order of exposition is the opposite of the natural order of acquaintance. Part I, therefore, is about the status of ethics; Part II is mainly about. its content, though Chapter 5 is really transitional between the two. Part III deals, only briefly, with what I call the frontiers of ethics, that is, with various ways in which psychology and metaphysics and theology and law and political theory bear upon ethics, or in which ethics bears upon one or other of these.
  3. An unavoidable consequence of this order of treatment is that the driest and most difficult and abstract discussions come first: someone who has not read much philosophical ethics may find Chapter 1 hard going. My advice to such a reader is not, indeed, to skip Chapter 1 or the rest of Part I, but to be content with a fairly superficial first reading of it, to try to pick up the main ideas of Part I but not to worry about obscure details or difficult arguments. He may be able to make more of these if he comes back to them after seeing the use that I make in Parts II and III of the conclusions reached and defended in Part I.
  4. Among colleagues whose comments have helped me I would particularly like to thank Derek Parfit1, who read the whole of the first version of Parts I and II and suggested a great many improvements and corrections.

    Preface – 9
  1. The Subjectivity of Values – 15
  2. The Meaning of ‘Good' – 50
  3. Obligations and Reasons – 64
  4. Universalization – 83
  5. The Object of Morality – 105
  6. Utilitarianism – 125
  7. Consequentialism and Deontology – 149
  8. Elements of a Practical Morality – 169
  9. Determinism, Responsibility, and Choice – 203
  10. Religion, Law, and Politics – 227
    Notes and References – 241
    Index – 247


Penguin Books, London, 1990

"Mackie (J.L.) - The Subjectivity of Values"

Source: Mackie - Ethics - Inventing Right and Wrong
Write-up Note1

  1. Moral scepticism – 15
  2. Subjectivism – 17
  3. The multiplicity of second order questions – 19
  4. Is objectivity a real issue? – 20
  5. Standards of evaluation – 25
  6. Hypothetical and categorical imperatives – 27
  7. The claim to objectivity – 30
  8. The argument from relativity – 36
  9. The argument from queerness – 38
  10. Patterns of objectification – 42
  11. The general goal of human life – 46
  12. Conclusion – 48


"Mackie (J.L.) - The Meaning of 'Good'"

Source: Mackie - Ethics - Inventing Right and Wrong

  1. The general meaning of ‘good' – 50
  2. ‘Good' in moral contexts – 59

"Mackie (J.L.) - Obligations and Reasons"

Source: Mackie - Ethics - Inventing Right and Wrong

  1. ‘Is' and `ought' – 64
  2. The meaning of ‘ought' – 73
  3. Varieties of reason – 77
  4. Institutions – 80

"Mackie (J.L.) - Universalization"

Source: Mackie - Ethics - Inventing Right and Wrong

  1. The first stage of universalization: the irrelevance of numerical differences – 83
  2. The second stage of universalization: putting oneself in the other person's place – 90
  3. The third stage of universalization: taking account of different tastes and rival ideals – 92
  4. Subjective elements In universalization – 97

"Mackie (J.L.) - The Object of Morality"

Source: Mackie - Ethics - Inventing Right and Wrong

  1. Consequences of moral scepticism – 105
  2. A device for counteracting limited sympathies – 107
  3. The form of the device – 111
  4. Game theory analysis – 115
  5. The content of the device: conservatism or reform? – 120

"Mackie (J.L.) - Utilitarianism"

Source: Mackie - Ethics - Inventing Right and Wrong

  1. Act utilitarianism – 125
  2. The ethics of fantasy – 129
  3. Morality in the narrow sense – 134
  4. Rule utilitarianism – 136
  5. The ‘proof' of utility – 140
  6. Utility as desire-satisfaction – 145
  7. The malleability of morality – 146

"Mackie (J.L.) - Consequentialism and Deontology"

Source: Mackie - Ethics - Inventing Right and Wrong

  1. Conceptions of the good – 149
  2. The rationale of universalization – 151
  3. The need for secondary principles – 154
  4. Special relationships and the form of moral principles – 157
  5. Ends and means – 159
  6. Absolutism and the principle of double effect – 160

"Mackie (J.L.) - Elements of a Practical Morality"

Source: Mackie - Ethics - Inventing Right and Wrong

  1. The good for man – 169
  2. Egoism, rights, and property – 172
  3. Liberty – 180
  4. Truth-telling, lies, and agreements – 182
  5. How princes should keep faith – 184
  6. Virtue – 186
  7. The motive for morality – 189
  8. Extensions of morality – 193
  9. The right to life – 195
  10. Conclusion – 199

"Mackie (J.L.) - Determinism, Responsibility, and Choice"

Source: Mackie - Ethics - Inventing Right and Wrong

  1. Voluntary or intentional actions – 203
  2. The straight rule of responsibility – 208
  3. Causal determinism and human action – 215
  4. Hard and soft determinism – 220

"Mackie (J.L.) - Religion, Law, and Politics"

Source: Mackie - Ethics - Inventing Right and Wrong

  1. The theological frontier of ethics – 227
  2. Contacts and overlaps between morality and law – 232
  3. Political applications and extensions of morality – 235

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