Changes in the new edition, chapters 9-13


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 9, "Are There Absolute Moral Rules?"


I love the Harry Truman-Elizabeth Anscombe story. After reading 3,000 pages of Winston Churchill, I added a quote from him. Churchill said that the decision to use the bomb on Japan was easily made. (6/e, 125)

I replaced the first block quote by Anscombe with a paraphrase. (6/e, 126; compare 5/e, 119) Paraphrasing is usually better than quoting.

I was pleased to discover that Peter Geach (1916-) is still alive. He and J. J. C. Smart (1920-) are the oldest people whose dates we give. (6/e, 127, 119)

Jim wrote, "Much of our conduct is governed by such 'oughts.' The pattern is this: We have a certain desire ...; we recognize that a certain course of action will help us get what we want ...; and so we conclude that we should follow the indicated plan." (5/e, 120) If the point is that "Much of our conduct is governed by such 'oughts,'" then this line of thought should end in action, not in drawing a conclusion. Thus, I now end with: "...and so we follow the indicated plan." (6/e, 127-128)

I changed the name of the third section, from "Absolute Rules and the Duty Not to Lie" to the crisper, "Kant's Arguments on Lying." (5/e, 122; 6/e, 129)

Some of the writing in this chapter was shockingly bad. Perhaps it is an occupational hazard: people who write on Kant unconsciously imitate him. Compare our old explanation of Kant's argument with our new:

"His primary reason for thinking that lying is always wrong was that the prohibition of lying follows straightaway from the Categorical Imperative. We could not will that it be a universal law that we should lie, because it would be self-defeating; people would quickly learn that they could not rely on what other people said, and so the lies would not be believed. Surely there is something to this: In order for lies to be successful, people must generally believe that others tell the truth; so the success of a lie depends on there not being a universal law permitting it." (5/e, 123) "His main argument relies on the Categorical Imperative. We could not will a universal law that allows us to lie, Kant said, because such a law would be self-defeating. As soon as lying became common, people would stop believing each other. Lying would then have no point, and in a sense it would become impossible, because nobody would pay attention to what you say. Therefore, Kant reasoned, lying cannot be allowed. And so, it is forbidden under any circumstances." (6/e, 129)

Hopefully the contrast is clear. I also improved the writing in the criticism of this argument. (6/e, 130; compare 5/e, 123-124)

I replaced the long quote by Kant with a paraphrase which is 90 words shorter. (6/e, 130-131; compare 5/e, 124-125) I couldn't resist saying that Kant sounds like a "stern schoolmaster" when he writes: "To be truthful . . . in all deliberations, therefore, is a sacred and absolutely commanding decree of reason, limited by no expediency." (6/e, 131) I find it irritating that Kant was so sure of himself on this point, when his arguments were so bad and his thesis so counterintuitive.

I end 9.3. with a new paragraph. I wanted to say explicitly how implausible it is to think that lying is absolutely wrong. (6/e, 131-132) I also end 9.4 with a new paragraph. In 5/e, we give the impression that there cannot be absolute moral rules because such rules might come into conflict. (5/e, 127) But this argument, I now say, does not apply if there's only one absolute rule. (6/e, 133)

I changed the name of the last section from "Another Look at Kant's Basic Idea" to "Kant's Insight." (5/e, 127; 6/e, 133) We should not have said, "Another Look ..." because the basic idea had not yet been discussed in the chapter. The idea is that "if you accept any considerations as reasons in one case, you must also accept them as reasons in other cases." (5/e, 128; 6/e, 134)


Chapter 10, "Kant and Respect for Persons"


I rewrote the first section, "Kant's Core Ideas" (previously called "The Idea of Human Dignity"). Several things dissatisfied me about the 5/e version: (1) The reference to the first formulation of the Categorical Imperative was superfluous. (2) Kant's view that nonhuman animals have no desires or goals was presented uncritically. (3) The notion of "being valuable above all price" was mentioned but not explained. (4) The idea that we may treat people as means, but not as "mere means," needed more elucidation. (5) "Treating someone as an end" was explained in terms of just one example: you tell your friend why you need the loan, and so he can decide for himself whether to endorse your end and give you the money. However, there are other examples, with different structures. I added this example:

"Suppose your bathroom sink is stopped up. Would it be okay to call in a plumber--to 'use' the plumber as a means to unclogging the drain? Kant would have no problem with this. The plumber, after all, understands the situation. You are not deceiving or manipulating him. He may freely choose to unclog your drain in exchange for payment. Although you are treating the plumber as a means, you are also treating him with dignity, as an 'end-in-himself.'" (6/e, 138-139)

I also wanted to say more about what respect means. So I added: "We should not force adults to do things against their will; instead, we should let them make their own decisions. We should therefore be wary of laws that aim to protect people from themselves--for example, laws requiring people to wear seat belts or motorcycle helmets. Also, we shouldn't forget that respecting people requires respecting ourselves. I should take good care of myself; I should develop my talents; I should do more than just slide by." (6/e, 139)

And I tightened up the prose. For example, the final paragraph of 10.1. is now 53 words shorter. (6/e, 139; compare 5/e, 133)

Admittedly, all these Kantian ideas go by quickly. Chapter 10 is the shortest chapter in the book; I'll give Kant more space next time.

Retributivism was characterized vaguely in 5/e. Is Retributivism the doctrine that desert is (a) the only justification of punishment; (b) one justification of punishment; or (c) the main justification of punishment? We now go explicitly with (c). (6/e, 139; compare 5/e, 133) Any of (a)-(c) would be acceptable, but a choice must be made.

In 1986, Jim wrote in the first edition, "today the utilitarian theory of punishment is the reigning orthodoxy [in the American prison system]." (1/e, 119) This phrase was still around in 2007, in the fifth edition. (5/e, 135) The idea is that American prisons are (in theory, anyway) places of rehabilitation, not places of punishment.

That claim was probably false in 1986. It was almost laughable in 2007. I now say that, while rehabilitation was the orthodoxy in the 1950s and 1960s, the War on Drugs ushered in an era of Retributivism which began in the 1970s and continues to this day. (6/e, 141) I owe this correction to Heather Elliott. Over the years, I have received many good suggestions about how to improve the book. I'm surprised that nobody ever took issue with this.

In 5/e, we said that Kant's endorsement of the death penalty was "inevitable," given his moral system. (5/e, 137) However, Kant might have opposed the death penalty for fear that it would be used against the innocent. I now mention that, in the U.S., around 130 death row inmates have been released due to innocence. "Thus, in deciding whether to support a policy of capital punishment, Kantians must balance the injustice of the occasional mistake against the injustice of a system that lets convicted killers continue to live." (6/e, 143)

I deleted the paragraph contrasting Kant's principles of justice with Utilitarianism. It was an aside. (Like many asides, it began with the phrase, "It is worth noting that ...") (5/e, 137; compare 6/e, 143)

I rewrote a terrible, meandering paragraph (5/e; 137-138; compare 6/e, 143). I now say that Kant's Retributivism is deeply opposed to the Christian idea of turning the other cheek. (6/e, 143)

I changed our example from "When we scold a dog who has urinated on the rug ..." to "When we scold a dog for eating off the table ..." (5/e, 138; 6/e, 144) Urine is disgusting.

Kant says that we should punish the criminal out of respect for him: in punishing him, we are treating him according to his own principle of action. I now raise a criticism to this argument: why should we take the criminal as our model? Shouldn't we try to be better than he is? (6/e, 145)

In the concluding paragraph, Jim contrasts Kant's view--that criminals are free, responsible agents--with Karl Menninger's belief that lawbreakers are "disorganized personalities" who are "driven to wild and impulsive actions" over which they have no control. This, however, presents a false dichotomy. A non-Kantian might deny the existence of free will, without believing that criminals behave wildly and impulsively. So, I now contrast Kant's belief with the idea that criminals are "victims of circumstance, who do not ultimately control their own actions." (6/e, 145; compare 5/e, 139)


Chapter 11, "Feminism and the Ethics of Care"


I shortened the description of Kohlberg's stages by about 100 words. (6/e, 147; compare 5/e, 161-162) As usual, the shorter version is clearer.

Sometimes mentioning a date makes a passage sound dated. Instead of saying, "In 1990, Virginia Held summed up the central feminist idea ..." (5/e, 164), I now say, "Virginia Held sums up the central idea ..." (6/e, 150)

Our discussion of how women and men think was too a priori in 5/e. I now draw on the psychological literature. (6/e, 150-151; compare 5/e, 164-165) In my copy of the fifth edition, I made a note to myself at the bottom of p. 164: "Add something empirical to this subsection's BS-fest."

Why are women more caring than men? We discuss two possible answers. In 5/e, these answers are introduced with cumbersome phrases. In 6/e, I say that we might look for a "social explanation" or a "genetic explanation." (6/e, 151; compare 5/e, 165-166)

The discussion of natural selection was poorly organized. The last full paragraph on p. 166 really needed to be part of the previous paragraph. I did a lot of rewriting. (6/e, 151-152; compare 5/e, 166-167)

"It explains, notoriously, why men are more promiscuous than women ..." (5/e, 167) Larry James pointed out that men can't be more promiscuous than women, so long as we're talking about heterosexual relationships: men and women must be having an equal amount of sex. So I now say: "It explains, notoriously, why men have a greater sex drive than women." (6/e, 152)

The subsection, "Disadvantaged Children," is now called "Children with HIV." (5/e, 168; 6/e, 153) AIDS was not discussed at all in the fifth edition.


Chapter 12, "The Ethics of Virtue"


This chapter felt wordy. The new version is 1,290 words shorter.

I cleaned up the Anscombe quotation that kicks off the chapter: I deleted an errant comma; I put the source in quotes, not italics, because it is an essay, not a book; and I now say in the "Notes on Sources": "The quotation ... picks up in the middle of one of Anscombe's sentences, and several pages separate the two parts of the quote." These are the kinds of scholarly improvements that nobody notices. (5/e, 173; 6/e, 158, 192)

I made the first paragraph 41 words shorter. (5/e, 173; compare 6/e, 158)

"After the Renaissance, moral philosophy began to be secularized once again ..." (5/e, 174) Since I didn't know when the Renaissance was, I didn't think the average undergraduate would know. "After the Renaissance Period (1400-1650), moral philosophy again became more secular ..." (6/e, 159)

I re-ordered our bullet-point summary (of Ethical Egoism, Utilitarianism, Kant's Theory, and the Social Contract Theory) to match the order in which those theories are discussed in the book. Also, I simplified the explanations. (5/e, 174; 6/e, 159)

I improved the paragraph that explains how virtues differ from vices. (6/e, 160; compare 5/e, 175-176) Jim should not have implied in earlier editions that Pincoffs' suggestion--that virtues are attractive, while vices are repellant--was the right way to distinguish them. As I now say, the short explanation is that virtues are good, while vices are bad. I add that our later discussion will flesh out some of the ways in which the virtues are good (in reference to 6/e, 165-166). I still mention Pincoffs' idea, but it no longer occupies center stage.

The subsection, "4. Loyalty to friends and family" (formerly "4. Loyalty to family and friends") has been reorganized and streamlined. The new version is 194 words shorter. (6/e, 164-165; compare 5/e, 180-181)

The bullet-point explanations of why the virtues are important have been simplified. (6/e, 165-166 and 167; compare 5/e, 182 and 184)

The paragraph that begins "It is tempting to go even further ..." has been mercifully shortened by 56 words. (6/e, 167; compare 5/e, 183) And the paragraph summarizing 12.2 has been reduced by 18 words. (6/e, 167-168; compare 5/e, 184) When I read the longer versions, my mind wanders.

The word "some" suggests more than two, despite the logician's definition of "some" as "at least one." Thus, I renamed Section 12.3--"Some Advantages of Virtue Theory"--as "Two Advantages of Virtue Theory." (5/e, 184; 6/e, 168) When Jim initially wrote this section, he discussed three advantages (2/e, 172-175). Later, it became two (3/e, 187-189). But he never changed the title.

The final section needed serious work. (5/e, 186-190) First, it was poorly organized. In 5/e, it was called "The Problem of Incompleteness," but one of its subsections was also called "The Problem of Incompleteness." Moreover, regular Virtue Theory was distinguished from radical virtue ethics twice, in close succession. (5/e, 186-187 and 187) I organized the material more naturally, without redundancy. (6/e, 169-170; compare 5/e, 186-188)

Second, I wanted to add something. Jim had said, since the second edition, that radical virtue ethics is incomplete in two ways: it cannot explain why any particular virtue is a virtue, and it cannot handle cases in which the virtues conflict. I added a third way: radical virtue ethics cannot tell us when, exactly, a particular virtue applies. (2/e, 177-178; 5/e, 188-189; 6/e, 171)

Third, I wanted to explain why, at bottom, radical virtue ethics is incomplete. "By itself, radical virtue ethics is limited to platitudes: be kind, be honest, be patient, be generous, and so on. Platitudes are vague, and by themselves they give us no guidance about what to do when they conflict with each other." (6/e, 172)

Fourth, I had grave doubts about one of Jim's arguments. Jim wrote,

"Suppose you are a legislator and must decide how to allocate funds for medical research--there isn't enough money for everything, and you must decide whether to invest resources in AIDS research, or the fight against cancer, or some other worthy project. And suppose you decide it is best in these circumstances to do what will benefit the most people. Is there a virtue that matches the disposition to do this? If there is, perhaps it should be called 'acting like a utilitarian.'" (5/e, 189)

But why couldn't the virtue be called "beneficence?" Or "benevolence?" And what exactly would be wrong with calling it "acting like a utilitarian?" These questions come easily to mind, and I'm not sure how to answer them. So, I got rid of this argument. Hence, I eliminated the subsection, "Is There a Virtue That Matches Every Morally Good Reason for Doing Something?" (5/e, 189)


Chapter 13, "What Would a Satisfactory Moral Theory Be Like?"


I made few important changes to this chapter. However, the writing needed work. The new version is 778 words shorter.

I now say that the big bang occurred 13.7 billion, not 15 billion, years ago. Also, I revised the age of the earth from 4.6 to 4.5 billion years. (5/e, 192; 6/e, 173-174)

I corrected a slip: "Psychological Egoism" was not defined. (5/e, 193; 6/e, 175) Psychological Egoism was discussed in an earlier chapter, but the chapters are supposed to be independent of one another (as stated in the Preface: 5/e, ix; 6/e, ix).

Section 13.2, "Treating People As They Deserve and Other Motives" was really about two separate topics: just treatment, and the utility of acting from a variety of motives. (5/e, 194-196) So, I split it into two sections: "13.2 Treating People As They Deserve" and "13.3 A Variety of Motives." (6/e, 175, 176) Indeed, the title, "Treating People As They Deserve and Other Motives" is not even good English; "treating people as they deserve" does not name a motive; it names an action.

We now mention the threat of global warming rather than the destruction of the rain forests, of sea algae, and of the ozone layer. (6/e, 181; compare 5/e, 200) And we now define "sentience." (6/e, 181)

Another slip corrected: I removed the reference to Classical Utilitarianism, because this chapter had only mentioned "Utilitarianism." (5/e, 201; compare 6/e, 181)

Jim wrote, "Often, people think it is right for individuals to be rewarded for physical beauty, superior intelligence, or other native endowments. (In practice, people often get better jobs and a greater share of life's good things just because they were born with greater natural gifts.)" (5/e, 202) However, one's physical appearance and I.Q. are not "native endowments"; they are strongly influenced by one's upbringing and one's environment. So, I now say: "Often, people think it is right for individuals to be rewarded for physical beauty, superior intelligence, and other qualities that are due, in large part, to having the right DNA and the right parents. And in practice, people often have better jobs and more money just because they were born with greater natural gifts into wealthier families." (6/e, 182)

In the conclusion, I thought we should summarize Jim's theory: "According to Multiple-Strategies Utilitarianism, we should maximize the interests of all sentient beings by living according to our best plan." (6/e, 183)

Jim ends the book by saying "... there is reason for optimism. ... moral philosophy, along with all the other human inquiries, may yet have a long way to go." (5/e, 203) However, saying that we have "a long way to go" is not optimistic; it is not the same as saying that we will get there. So, I reworded the finale. (6/e, 183).

Revising this book was a great pleasure. I hope you enjoy reading it.