Ethics: A Very Short Introduction by Simon Blackburn (2nd Ed)

Ethics: A Very Short Introduction cover imageSummary: An introductory, but probably too brief to be helpful, look at Ethics.

I have been working on a reading project to think through the concept of Christian Discernment. One aspect of discernment is ethical behavior. When I saw that Ethics: A Very Short Introduction was free to Audible members, I picked it up for a change in pace and to see what it might communicate about Christian Discernment.

Early in the first section, the author glibly dismissed religious influences on ethics and while I thought that it was poorly reasoned, I thought I might still get some value from the book, after all, it is not a very long book. I do not think I have a very good background in Philosophy or Ethics, although I keep trying to read and catch up. But this introduction, I think, was targeted toward people with less background than I have.

I have found the Very Short Introduction series quite uneven in quality. One of the problems is organization. Some want to primarily talk about the scholarship around an area, not the area itself. Some have a very idiosyncratic approach to the area. And some do a great job giving an overview. I think the problem here was that Ethics is a big area, and the author tried to introduce practical ethical dilemmas and a brief history of ethical thought. I think the practical ethical dilemmas section was broadly helpful in introducing the idea of different ethical approaches, but I think he did not give sufficient weight to various approaches and tended to place his views as the right ones without enough explanation of other views. And I think there probably could have been some explanation of why he chose these areas and others.

I was not surprised that the history section was just too short. This is a very short introduction book without space for more. That being said, even accounting for this being primarily a Western approach to ethics, the fact that he dismissed religious, ethical frameworks at the start meant that he did not really grapple with how Christianity has shaped Western ethics.

This wasn’t a waste of time, but it isn’t a book I would recommend. I find it interesting that Amazon’s average review is about 4.5 stars, Goodreads’ average review is just below 3.4 stars, and Audible’s is 4.3 stars. Generally, I find that most of the time, if there are at least a hundred ratings, the ratings tend to be fairly similar. But the split between 3.4 and 4.5 is pretty wide. And I think Goodreads is more accurate, in my opinion. I think this review hits at what is wrong in more detail than I did, but many reviews on GoodReads raise similar concerns.

Ethics: A Very Short Introduction by Simon Blackburn (2nd Ed) Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audiobook

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