Changes in the new edition, chapters 1-5


Here is a detailed description of changes I made in the sixth edition of The Elements of Moral Philosophy. In what follows, "5/e" = fifth edition; "6/e" = sixth edition; "Jim" = James Rachels; and "we" = Stuart Rachels and James Rachels.


Chapter 1, "What Is Morality?"


I made few substantive changes to this chapter.

At the beginning of section 1.3, we mention the island of Gozo. Jim described it as "near Malta." (4/e, 5) But few students know where Malta is. So, in 5/e, I said that Gozo is "in the Mediterranean Sea." (5/e, 5) This is better, but, again, most students couldn't put the Mediterranean Sea on a map. So, in 6/e, I say that Gozo is "south of Italy." (6/e, 5)

In 5/e, we said that Robert Latimer, who killed his severely handicapped daughter, was given a 25-year prison sentence in Canada. (5/e, 8) However, the sentence was for 10 years. I corrected this error and mention that Latimer was paroled in 2008. (6/e, 8)

I deleted the third paragraph on p. 9 ("At the same time ..."). (5/e, 9; compare 6/e, 9) It was unnecessary and distracting.

My example of a Caucasian actor changed from Tom Cruise to Christian Bale (5/e, 14; 6/e, 13). Sorry, Mr. Cruise. By contrast, the later reference to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie still feels current--it's nice to know that some references are timeless. (5/e, 107; 6/e, 115)


Chapter 2, "The Challenge of Cultural Relativism"


I simplified the names of some subsections (2.1, 2.4, 2.6, 2.9).

In section 2.1, we discuss Eskimo marriage and Eskimo infanticide, as reported by mid-20th-century anthropologists. (5/e, 17; 6/e, 15) This discussion has bothered some readers. Some people believe it fuels stereotypes about Eskimo culture. And some Alaskans have told me that the word 'Eskimo' has pejorative connotations for them.

We certainly haven't meant to criticize the Eskimos harshly--in fact, our discussion in 2.5 vindicates them. (5/e, 24-25; 6/e, 21-22) I regret that the word 'Eskimo' has pejorative connotations for some people, but I still use it because no other word refers to the same group of people. ('Inuit' refers to only some Eskimo-groups.) I have, however, tried to soften the discussion by subtly emphasizing its historical nature. Never do we suggest that the Eskimos still kill their babies and share their wives.

In 2.3, I now explain what soundness is, and I say that the Cultural Differences Argument is "invalid." I dislike throwing out technical terms, but "soundness" and "validity" are indispensable in philosophy. (6/e, 18)

In 2.4, I now give the right emphasis to the second implication of Cultural Relativism. 5/e states: "2. We could decide whether actions are right or wrong just by consulting the standards of our society." (22) 6/e states: "We could no longer criticize the code of our own society." (19) That was always the point: Cultural Relativism insulates our own culture's values from criticism. It also implies that we cannot learn from the moral codes of other cultures. Thus, the theory is chauvinistic in a way that might repel its supporters. (6/e, 20; I thank Michael Cholbi for this insight.)

In defense of Eskimo infanticide, I added that the Eskimos lacked birth control, so unwanted pregnancies were common. (6/e, 22; Thanks again to Michael Cholbi.)

I revised the figures about female genital mutilation. (5/e, 27; 6/e, 24)

I changed the terminology from "culture-neutral" to "culture-independent." (5/e, 28; 6/e, 25)

In 5/e, we mentioned some arguments for female genital mutilation, ending with these: "Men will not want unexcised women, as they are unclean and immature. Above all, excision has been done since antiquity, and we may not change the ancient ways." (5/e, 28) I've deleted those sentences, because they don't match what follows: "[These arguments] try to justify excision by showing that excision is beneficial--men, women, and their families are said to be better off when women are excised." (6/e, 25) But saying that unexcised women are "unclean and immature" and that "we may not change the ancient ways" are not ways of showing that female mutilation is beneficial. The "unclean" and "ancient ways" arguments are not utilitarian.

I've switched the order of the last two sections: 2.8 is now "Back to the Five Claims," and 2.9 is "What We Can Learn from Cultural Relativism." (6/e, 27-31) Thus, we now conclude by noting what the theory can teach us. This is how Jim left the book when he died; I now think it was unwise of me to put "Back to the Five Claims" at the end of the chapter in 5/e.

In 5/e, I discussed the harsh sentencing of both a woman in Indonesia and a woman in Nigeria, in order to illustrate the idea that societies can err. (5/e, 32-33). I've bullet-pointed those examples and added a third. All three examples, I now say, involve the mistreatment of women. (6/e, 27-28)

In 5/e, I discussed "modesty of dress" as a morally arbitrary practice that our culture strongly enforces. Some readers suggested that I add more such examples. So, I now discuss polyamory--openly having multiple romantic partners--as a morally viable but frowned-upon alternative to monogamy. (6/e, 30)


Chapter 3, "Subjectivism in Ethics"


I expanded our discussion of people's attitudes toward homosexuality. In the past, we only reported whether people feel that homosexuality is an acceptable alternative lifestyle. (In 2008, 57% said it is.) Now I point out that the public is divided 48%-48% on whether homosexuality is morally acceptable or morally wrong. (6/e, 32; compare 5/e, 35)

We quote Jerry Falwell as saying, "Homosexuality is immoral. The so-called 'gay rights' are not rights at all, because immorality is not right." (5/e, 35-36; 6/e, 33) Falwell died in 2007, so I wanted to find a replacement quote by someone like Pat Robertson or James Dobson. However, I struck out. Right-wing Christian leaders often assume that homosexuality is immoral (when talking about gay marriage, child-rearing, pedophilia, and God knows what else), but they rarely state their belief outright, as Falwell did.

In 5/e, we gave the following example of conflicting desires: I want gun control legislation to pass, while you want it to fail. (5/e, 41) However, it is distracting to the example that gun control is a moral issue. So, I now say: I want the Atlanta Braves to win, while you want them to lose (which you probably do). (6/e, 38)

I deleted the last paragraph in 3.4, which summarizes the last few pages. (5/e, 43) If the writing is clear, then this summary is unneeded.

I rewrote the first three paragraphs of 3.5. (5/e, 43-44; compare 6/e, 39-40) That section is now called "The Role of Reason in Ethics" rather than "Are There Any Moral Facts?" The new title is more accurate.

In section 3.4, we say that emotivist moral judgments have both a command function and an expressive function. However, in 3.5, we forgot about the expressive function--we argue that the command function cannot accommodate good moral reasoning and that therefore Emotivism fails. (5/e, 43-44) I filled in the gap in the reasoning. (6/e, 40)

I've changed the example of prejudice from "Zia, you know, is Muslim" (5/e, 44) to "Obama, you know, is a Muslim." (6/e, 40) It is good for examples to be real; 'Zia' was just a made-up name. The argument that Obama shouldn't be elected president because he's a Muslim is the perfect marriage of bigotry and ignorance. In October of 2008, my brother was wearing an Obama button in a Waffle House restaurant in Charlottesville, Virginia. His waitress said to him: "I agree with you. I have an Obama sticker on my car, and my friends are really mad at me. But I like Obama, and I'm going to vote for him. I don't care that he's a Muslim!" The waitress had conquered the groom but not the bride.

"The idea that homosexuals are dangerous proves to be a myth similar to the myth that black people are lazy or that Jews are greedy." (5/e, 48) In 6/e, I changed "... or that Jews are greedy" to "... or that Muslims are terrorists." (6/e, 44) Anti-Semitism still exists, but discrimination against Muslims must be more common among English-speakers now.

Some people say that gay sex is wrong because it cannot lead to pregnancy. In response, we list other (presumably acceptable) sex acts which cannot result in pregnancy: masturbation, oral sex, and sex by women after menopause. (5/e, 49) In 6/e, I added two items to this list: sex using condoms, and sex by pregnant women. (6/e, 45)

I now quote James Dobson as saying that homosexuals have been trying to destroy the family for over 40 years. I also added a paragraph about gay marriage and "family values." It's a hot topic. (45-46)


Chapter 4, "Does Morality Depend on Religion?"


I revised the paragraph that says: Americans are religious, and Americans assume that ministers are moral experts. (5/e, 53; 6/e, 49) This paragraph contained some distractions: it is irrelevant to this line of thought how religious America is compared to other countries, nor does it matter who sits on hospitals boards aside from the clergy. After seeing the documentary, This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006), I also wrote, "The clergy even help decide whether movies will be rated 'G,' 'PG,' 'PG-13' 'R' or 'NC-17.'" (6/e, 49)

I deleted the last sentence of the Bertrand Russell passage. (5/e, 53-54; compare 6/e, 49) Quotations should be as brief as possible.

In the Antony Flew quote, it was unclear what "it" refers to ("one good test of a person's aptitude for philosophy is to discover whether he can grasp its force and point"), so I did a little rewriting. (5/e, 55; 6/e, 50-51) Also, I added Flew's dates: (1923-). This convention of giving dates may look strange to students, but they need some frame of reference to the people mentioned. When I was an undergraduate, I read Thomas Reid's name in an article, and I had no idea who he was. A few paragraphs later, Sydney Shoemaker was mentioned. I circled Shoemaker's name and wrote in the margin: "Is this Reid's roommate?"

The next two paragraphs have been modestly improved. (5/e, 55; compare 6/e, 51)

The paragraph under "2. This conception of morality makes God's commands arbitrary" was a disaster. (5/e, 56) The new version is 33 words shorter and much clearer. (6/e, 52) By the way, I think that brevity in writing should be measured in terms of syllables, not words--but my computer only counts words, so I use that as an imperfect indicator.

I deleted the paragraph that begins, "Let's review what we've said so far." (5/e, 57; compare, 6/e, 53) That paragraph summarized five pages. If those pages are well written, then the summary is unnecessary.

We introduced Aristotle's block quote by saying, "In Aristotle's words ..." (5/e, 59) You can see the problem, just from those three words. The quotation merely repeats what we just said. So, I got rid of it. (6/e, 54)

In 5/e, I said, "Modern psychology calls [people who do not care at all about others] psychopaths or sociopaths." (60) But this is false; the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) does not use those terms. So, I now say: "Modern psychiatry says that such people suffer from antisocial personality disorder, and such people are commonly called psychopaths or sociopaths." (6/e, 55)

In 5/e, we said that Natural-Law Theory confuses "is" and "ought." Also, we said that it conflicts with modern science. (5/e, 60-61) I added a third criticism, that there are counterexamples to the claim that what's natural is good. (6/e, 55) This material was implicit in 5/e (p. 61, lines 6-10) but was poorly organized.

I combined the last two paragraphs of 4.3 and deleted an awkward sentence: "They function as moral agents in the same way, even though the nonbelievers' lack of faith prevents them from realizing that God is the author of the rational order in which they participate and which their moral judgments express." (5/e, 62; compare 6/e, 57) Did James Rachels write that sentence, or did Immanuel Kant? (Sorry, Dad.)

Are there distinctively religious positions on major moral issues? We say, "there are several reasons to think [not]." (5/e, 62) Several reasons? We give only two: it is hard to find specific moral guidance in the Bible, and the Bible / church tradition are often ambiguous or contradictory. (5/e, 62-63; 6/e 57) This tallying error persisted over several editions because the material was not perspicuously organized.

"Religious conservatives hold that the fetus is a human being from the moment of conception, an so aborting the fetus is really a form of murder." (5/e, 63) But the statement, "the fetus is a human being from the moment of conception," is trivial; of course the fetus is a human being (it certainly isn't a cow or a pig!). Nothing follows from this about abortion. The question is not whether the fetus is a human, but whether it has a right to life. To express this idea succinctly, I used the word "person," as Judith Jarvis Thomson does in her famous essay. Thus, I replaced "human being" with "person" in the discussion. (6/e, 58-60)

We say that the Bible does not treat abortion as murder: Exodus 21 says that the punishment for abortion is only a fine. (5/e, 65; 6/e, 60) I now refer to three more biblical passages which support the same conclusion: three times the death penalty is recommended for women who have had sex out of wedlock, even though killing the woman would also kill any fetus she might be carrying. (Genesis 38:24; Leviticus 21:9; Deuteronomy 22:20-21; see 6/e, 59-60)

The paragraph explaining Aquinas's position on abortion was poorly organized, so I rewrote it. (5/e, 65-66; 6/e, 60) Also, we said that Aquinas's (liberal) position was accepted by the Church in 1312 and has "never been officially repudiated." (5/e, 66) This claim employs a bizarre view of "official repudiation." A long line of popes has condemned abortion throughout pregnancy, and today Catholic officials care passionately about stopping abortion. To me, this is official repudiation, so I deleted the phrase. (6/e, 60)

I deleted the paragraph about the legal history of abortion. (5/e, 66, last full paragraph) It was out of place; the argument being made was about the history of Church opinion, not about the history of the law.


Chapter 5, "Ethical Egoism"


This chapter felt wordy. The new version is 1,129 words shorter.

In the first paragraph, I updated the figures about preventable childhood death. In doing so, I wrote "1,900,000" and "9,700,000" rather than "1.9 million" and "9.7 million." I did so with mixed feelings. Some students may have trouble reading "9,700,000" as "9.7 million." However, writing out the numbers underscores how big they are and thus how horrific the poverty crisis is. (6/e, 62)

Our examples of luxuries have changed from "nice cars, expensive clothes, CD players, [and] movie tickets" to "DVDs, jewelry, concert tickets, [and] iPods." (5/e, 68; 62) The first list could be from 1985, whereas iPods came out this century. Also, in 5/e my examples of crises were the tsunami in Indonesia (2004) and Hurricane Katrina (2005). (5/e, 69) My new example is the earthquake in China (2008). (6/e, 63) As books try to compete with websites, it is especially important not to sound too dated.

I dropped the terminology of "natural duties," which was pedantically introduced on p. 69 and never mentioned again. (5/e, 69; 6/e, 63)

I sharpened the paragraph introducing Ethical Egoism, adding: "This is the morality of selfishness." (6/e, 63) Selfishness should be mentioned, because it is closely related to Ethical Egoism, and students already know what it is.

I deleted the last paragraph of 5.1, which had no pedagogical content. (5/e, 69; compare 6/e, 63)

I made some minor corrections to the story of Raoul Wallenberg: (i) Wallenberg saved Jews from death camps, not from concentration camps. Concentration camps were slave labor camps, which some prisoners survived; death camps were human slaughterhouses. (ii) Wallenberg should be credited with saving 15,000 lives, not 100,000. (iii) We don't know how Wallenberg died, but he probably wasn't killed by "Soviet occupation forces" in Hungary. Most likely, he was deported to the Soviet Union and murdered there. (5/e, 70-71; 6/e, 64)

The Israeli government now recognizes over 22,000 Gentiles who tried to save Jewish lives during the Holocaust. (6/e, 65; compare 5/e, 71) As I now say, the Israeli government calls these heroes, "The Righteous Among the Nations." (6/e, 65)

I added two examples of generosity, by Warren Buffett and Oseola McCarty. (6/e, 65) I removed the outdated David Allsop example. (5/e, 71, 73)

"There are things that we do, not because we want to, but because we feel that we ought to." (5/e, 72; 6/e, ) This seemed abstract, so I added: "For example, I may write my grandmother a letter because I promised my mother I would, even though I don't want to do it." (6/e, 66)

In summarizing our critique of "The Argument That We Always Do What We Most Want to Do," we said in 5/e: "Therefore, this argument goes wrong in just about every way that an argument can go wrong: The premise is not true, and even if it were, the conclusion would not follow from it." (5/e, 72) But the word 'premise' had not been used in connection with the argument. It was a blunder to assume (i) that the average student would know what a premise is; and (ii) that she would follow the argument so well as to know what the premise was. So, I now state the premise. (6/e, 66)

I added an amazing example of altruism, in which a man named Wesley Autrey threw himself under a moving train to save a stranger's life. This examples illustrates the idea that people can act altruistically without having any self-interested motives at all. (6/e, 68)

Why have people been attracted to Psychological Egoism? I said, "Part of the attraction is the theory's hardheaded, deflationary attitude toward human pretensions. Psychological Egoism provides a theoretical rebuttal to human vanity." (5/e, 74) This was too complicated. I now say: "Some people like the theory's cynical view of human nature; Psychological Egoism provides a response to human vanity." (6/e, 68-69)

I removed a lot of verbiage from the first paragraph of 5.3. (5/e, 75; 6/e, 69) In the second paragraph, I added an example to illustrate the idea that an action might help both oneself and others. And I shortened the fourth paragraph. (6/e, 69)

I removed the ornate Alexander Pope couplet: "Thus God and nature link'd the general frame / And bade self-love and social be the same." (5/e, 76; compare 6/e, 70)

I made things less abstract in explaining why Ethical Egoism conflicts with commonsense morality: "A situation might arise in which you could profit from doing something horrible, like killing someone. In such a case, Ethical Egoism cannot explain why you shouldn't do the horrible thing." (6/e, 74)

I eliminated the ornamental paragraph kicking off Section 5.4. (5/e, 81; 6/e, 74) I also removed Kurt Baier's "Argument that Ethical Egoism Cannot Handle Conflicts of Interest." One professor told me, "Students don't understand this argument, and when they do understand it, they don't care." I know how they feel. I don't care either. Baier's argument relies on an abstract meta-ethical claim, which clearly begs the question.

So, one of the three arguments in 5.4 is now gone. However, that section is still called "Three Arguments against Ethical Egoism" because the argument about wickedness--discussed briefly in 5/e--now gets its own billing. In explaining that argument, I give a new, horrifying example: "A 73-year-old man kept his daughter locked in a cellar for 24 years and fathered seven children with her, against her will." (6/e, 75)

I eliminated the unexplained technical term, "begs the question." (5/e, 82; compare 6/e, 75) Philosophers forget how technical it is: to understand question-begging one must understand the structure of arguments plus a point about epistemic justification. In common parlance, "begs the question" just means "invites the question," and this is how students might hear the phrase.

Rather than quoting Kurt Baier, I now put his "logical" argument in my own words. (5/e, 84; 6/e, 75) Baier used the word "liquidating" to mean "killing," but that's Cold War slang. Also, Baier refers to the two warring presidential candidates as "B" and "K," but those letters are mnemonically unhelpful. In 5/e, I joked that they might stand for "Bush" and "Kerry" (though Baier was writing in the 1950s!), but that joke is now outdated. So, I've switched the letters to "D" and "R," to stand for "Democrat" and "Republican." (6/e, 75-76)

I made minor changes to the standard-form version of Baier's argument. The only substantive revision is that I changed "murder" to "kill" so the egoist won't have a quibbling objection to the second premise. The premise was: "It is in B's best interest to murder K." (5/e, 84; compare 6/e, 76) But the egoist would not agree that such a killing is murder, because the egoist approves of the killing. Thus, the egoist would deny (2) in that form. However, the egoist would agree that it is in B's best interest to kill K.

I changed "avoid the draft" to "avoid getting drafted into the armed services." (5/e, 86; 6/e, 77) Students may not know what "the draft" is. No American has been conscripted for 35 years.