Ethics for Beginners

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Ethics for Beginners

52 "Big Ideas" from 32 Great Minds

Kreeft, Peter

This is not a typical ethics textbook.

Most ethics textbooks are anthologies of articles by contemporary philosophers, or a whole book by one contemporary philosopher, about ethical puzzles to be solved by logical analysis. This is good mental exercise but it will not change your life, and you will not remember it ten years from now. You will not remember a hundred bright little ideas, you will remember only a few Big Ideas, the ones that changed your life. This book is about 52 of them..

And it is by 32 great philosophers. They are all dead. (Philosophers die, but phi­losophy does not; it buries all its undertakers.) Living philosophers who write ethics textbooks are usually very bright, but they do not include any name we know will live for centuries. Why apprentice yourself to second rate scribblers like me when you can apprentice yourself to the greatest minds in history? Why not learn from Socrates, Buddha, Confucius, Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche? Why prefer little minds to big ones?

They disagree with each other, to be sure, but all of them will help you, not least those who contradict you and challenge you, and stretch you by forcing you to reply to them, and fight with them. I am appalled by the fact that 90% of the best philosophy students at the best universities, which say they cultivate "diversity," have exactly the same politically correct opinons, whether of the Left or the Right.

When you were a child your mother probably reminded you before you went out not to forget something like your lunch box or your umbrella. Ethics today is usually treated that way: as an afterthought: check with an ethicist before doing the really important things like business or law or medicine or diplomacy. But ethics is not a P.S. to life. It is about the most fundamental things in life: values, good and evil. Socrates said that a good person does not worry much about little things like whether he lives or dies, but only about big things like whether he is a good person or a bad one.