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The Questions of Moral Philosophy [Hardcover]

By Michael Shenefelt (Author)
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Item description for The Questions of Moral Philosophy by Michael Shenefelt...

In this appreciation of philosophy's most engaging features, Professor Michael Shenefelt takes the reader, in his own words, on a "stroll through the gardens of the discipline, where I hope to point out some of the more interesting sights." Drawing on his nineteen years' experience in teaching intellectual history, Shenefelt discusses in a conversational tone most of the authors typically assigned in a Western Civilization course. He covers not only epistemology and metaphysics, but morality and politics as well.
Shenefelt writes for those with no formal training in philosophy, discussing many of the perennial questions. Among other things he explains how Plato and Kant dealt with the question: Why be moral?; how Aristotle and the Stoics answered the question: What is the good life?; how Jeremy Bentham (who provided in his will for his own mummification) tried to reduce all moral questions to a mathematical calculus of pleasure and pain. He also considers such timely issues as: Are some races intellectually superior?, Is democracy a blessing?, Is Marxism still tenable?, and Why does God permit evil?
Stating that his only purpose is to entertain by walking his readers down philosophy's royal road, Shenefelt dedicates his excursion especially to the young, who may find philosophy both pleasing and inspiring.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Humanity Books
Pages   165
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.27" Width: 6.19" Height: 0.76"
Weight:   0.87 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   May 1, 1999
Publisher   Humanity Books
ISBN  1573926388  
ISBN13  9781573926386  

Availability  0 units.

More About Michael Shenefelt

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Michael Shenefelt taught the well-known "Contemporary Civilization" course at Columbia University for many years. He is now a Master Teacher at New York University's General Studies Program.

Michael Shenefelt currently resides in New York, in the state of New York. Michael Shenefelt was born in 1953.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Philosophy > Ethics & Morality
2Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Philosophy > General

Reviews - What do customers think about The Questions of Moral Philosophy?

Half a good book  Feb 10, 2007
I got into moral philosophy a few years ago when I was working on my master's thesis, but I've been off it since then. I bought this short book partly as a low-intensity refresher for myself, and partly to loan to a friend looking for an introduction to the field.

The first half of the book fills the bill perfectly. Shenefelt has the kind of confident familiarity with his topic that allows him to outline basic moral philosophical ideas in a conversational and informal tone, without sacrificing substance. The first few chapters were a pleasure to read, and I picked up some new angles on some central topics that I had thought I had already figured out. What makes his introduction so effective is his targeting of the "ethics 101" ruts that often lead beginning students to either dismiss the entire field offhand or--worse--arrive at a half-cocked moral relativism that many novices (and a lot of very learned people, for that matter) mistake for sophistication. In a sense, these basic what-is-morality?-type questions are the essence of the field. But Shenefelt does a good job leading readers past them far enough to get a glimpse how rewarding systematic moral reasoning can be, once you choose a few assumptions.

But the second half of the book was a real disappointment. Shenefelt's topics--democracy, the "Bell Curve" idea of IQ and race, obeying the law, Marxism, how God can permit evil--are interesting... He just neglects to relate them to moral philosophy! For example, instead of discussing the ethical pros and cons of socialism, as we might expect from the chapter on Marxism, Shenefelt gives us a rather mundane historical and social analysis of it. A moral philosopher should be interested in the ethics of imposing a Marxist system upon individuals and a nation... but Shenefelt is interested only in chatting about Marxism's validity in terms of historical determinism. The IQ/race chapter reads like Jared Diamond: Its entirely about geography. All these later chapters aren't bad general reading for someone interested in a brief survey of the Western classics, but Shenefelt never applies a moral theory to the questions at hand to shed light on how we should answer them. In fact, he doesn't even identify what the ethical questions ARE.

If you think, as I do, that moral philosophy should eventually tell us something about making choices, you'll be left wondering what the second half of the book is doing here. It's almost as if Shenefelt is demonstrating his contempt for the usefulness of moral philosophy by refusing to apply it to the topics in his own book!

With that, I'm going to keep looking for a good introduction to moral philosophy for my friend. It wouldn't be a terrible mistake to spend the money for this book. Just don't spend any time past chapter 5.
A definite read for seeing society and history more clearly.  Jan 1, 2000
Michael Shenefelt leads the reader on a delightful walk through the ideas of many influential thinkers, from Plato to Martin Luther King Jr. The author presents the concept of morality and its development from many points of view, inviting you to examine your own morality system, as well as your perception of history.

This book is peppered with interesting stories that illustrate the ideas. For example, the author uses a personal experience during jury duty, where he sees a morality issue that we probably would not have noticed, and resolves the conundrum in an honorable way. After reading this book, your eyes will be open a little wider.

Accessible, entertaining and thought-provoking.  Oct 17, 1999
Having no background in philosophy, I found the book to be a fantastic introduction to many concepts and philosophers that had previously intimidated me.

Now I can carry on a cocktail party conversation about philosophy!


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