Ethics (1912)

Note on Books

If the reader wishes to form an impartial judgment as to what the fundamental problems of Ethics really are, and what is the true answer to them, it is of the first importance that he should not confine himself to reading works of any one single type, but should realise what extremely different sorts of things have seemed to different writers, of acknowledged reputation, to be the most important things to be said about the subject. For this purpose he should, I think, read, if possible, and compare with one another, all of the following works:—(Note ¶ 1)

  1. Some of the dialogues of Plato (translated by Jowett). Among the shorter dialogues the Protagoras, the Gorgias, and the Philebus deal almost exclusively with fundamental ethical questions, and may be taken as typical examples of Plato’s method of dealing with Ethics; but the reader should, if possible, read also the whole of the Republic, because, though, in the main, it is concerned with points of comparative detail, it contains, in various places, discussions which are of great importance for understanding Plato’s general view.(Note ¶ 2)

  2. Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. (There are several English translations.)(Note ¶ 3)

  3. Hume’s Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals.(Note ¶ 4)

  4. Kant’s Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals. (Translated, along with other works, under the title Kant’s Theory of Ethics, by T. K. Abbott: Longmans, Green & Co.)(Note ¶ 5)

  5. John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism.(Note ¶ 6)

  6. Henry Sidgwick’s Methods of Ethics (Macmillan & Co.).(Note ¶ 7)

  7. Herbert Spencer’s Data of Ethics (forming the first part of his two volumes on The Principles of Ethics, but also published separately).(Note ¶ 8)

  8. T. H. Green’s Prolegomena to Ethics (Clarendon Press).(Note ¶ 9)

I have selected these works as being enough, but not more than enough, to give a sufficient idea of the extremely different way in which writers, who are still considered by many people to be among the best worth reading on the subject, have dealt with it. No doubt, in some cases, other works, equally well worth reading, and equally typical of the sort of differences I want to emphasise, might be substituted for some of those I have mentioned; but these are, I think as good as any for the purposes of illustration, and hardly one of them could be omitted without serious loss, unless some other work, typical of the same method of treatment, were substituted for it.(Note ¶ 10)

For guidance in his further reading, so far as writers no longer living are concerned, the reader may be referred to Sidgwick’s Outlines of the History of Ethics (Macmillan & Co.), from which he will be able to judge what other writers it is likely to be most profitable for him to study, and which is also well worth reading on its own account. And, if he wishes to become acquainted with the principal works on Ethics, which have been written by writers still living, I think I can hardly do better than recommend him to read, first of all, Dr. Hastings Rashdall’s Theory of Good and Evil (Clarendon Press, 1907). This book will, I think, give a fair idea of the sort of questions which are still being discussed at the present day, and it also contains references to the most important works of other living writers, sufficient to enable the reader to make his own choice of further reading.(Note ¶ 11)

For further explanation of the views advocated in the present work the reader may be referred to the author’s Principia Ethica (Cambridge University Press, 1903), which presents the same general view in a rather different form, and which also contains discussions on various points entirely omitted here from lack of space.(Note ¶ 12)