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Click here to buy the book from Barnes & Noble.[This page contains the table of contents and preface for James Rachels' second book of collected essays.]
The essays in this book span thirty years and cover all the main themes of James Rachels' work: the importance of reason in moral decision-making, the duty to relieve both human and animal suffering, the relevance of evolution to ethics, and a modest view about the value of human life. This book complements Jim's first collection of essays, Can Ethics Provide Answers? It also complements his other books, with two exceptions: "Darwin, Species, and Morality" overlaps with Created from Animals, and most of the material in "Killing and Starving to Death" appears in The End of Life. All of the essays are written with a decent humanity that James Rachels' readers will recognize.
I am reprinting these essays exactly as Jim wrote them. Twice I have restored his work to its rightful form. "The Value of Human Life" was originally published without notes and with defective formatting. And when "Political Assassination" was published, it was changed without Jim's permission; I have changed it back. I did omit the last section of "Movies," about the movie literature, because it now seems dated. That essay, by the way, is my favorite of the bunch. Jim loved all kinds of movies, and those who knew him will hear his voice clearly in that piece.
In "Political Assassination," Jim asks at one point whether it would be wrong to kill a healthy person in order to save five people who need organ transplants. Jim thought up this now-famous example in the 1960s, but I have never seen it attributed to him. It mostly goes unattributed, though I have seen it credited to Judith Jarvis Thomson. When I asked my father if this bothered him, he said it didn't, but I hope philosophers will start attributing the example accurately.
In "Two Arguments Against Ethical Egoism," Jim tries to refute ethical egoism by pointing out its abhorrent implications. Sometime in the 1990s, he told me that he had lost confidence in this argument. In particular, he said he'd changed his mind about the role that intuitions play in assessing moral theories. I wonder if the younger philosopher might have been right about this. At any rate, I include the essay with the caveat that it doesn't match Jim's later view.
Shortly before James Rachels died on September 5, 2003, I told him that I would edit a second volume of his essays. This book fulfills that promise. In compiling this collection, I have hoped that these essays will continue to influence philosophers while inspiring ordinary people to lead better lives.