The Right Thing to Do: Basic Readings in Moral Philosophy by James Rachels

5th edition (2010) by Stuart Rachels


Moral philosophy is the study of how one should live. This anthology is an introduction to that great subject. The readings cover the main moral theories and present a wealth of ideas about various practical matters.

This book is a companion to The Elements of Moral Philosophy, which was also written by James Rachels and revised by Stuart Rachels. These two books complement each another and may be read together. However, nothing in either book presupposes knowledge of the other.

To select the pieces for this volume, I read about 150 essays. I was looking for articles on serious moral topics that are deftly argued; that are pleasant to read; that lend themselves to lively discussion; and that the average college student can grasp. I believe that the selections chosen are not merely good articles on suitable topics; they are first-rate essays on compelling issues. Students who read this book will want to read more, unless the subject is simply not for them.

This edition contains fifteen new essays, and nine were eliminated. So, there is now more material to choose from. Two topics account for most of the expansion: war and sexuality. The morality of war has become increasingly important as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan continue. And I wanted greater coverage of sexual morality because, well, sex is a riveting subject. Thus, there are now essays in the book on prostitution, monogamy, date rape, terrorism, torture, and the atomic bombings of Japan.

Two selections have been retained but improved: I replaced the 1974 version of Peter Singer's "All Animals Are Equal" with the 1990 version, and Michael Huemer was good enough to revise some of the statistics in his essay, "America's Unjust Drug War."

I eliminated some articles because they felt dated. Other articles got cut because they weren't being used enough. Instructors who regret the departure of Hobbes and Hume should consider assigning Jonathan Bennett's "translations" of their work, available for free at Bennett has rewritten many of the philosophical classics in order to make them easier to understand.

For their help, I thank Mahesh Ananth, Samuel Barnett, David Blatty, Nicole Bridge, Phil Butcher, Heather Elliott, Susan Gouijnstook, Dan Haggerty, Michael Huemer, Douglas Husak, Kevin Kukla, Nathan Nobis, Vida Pavesich, Carol Rachels, Shane Schauf, Patricia Steck, and the anonymous reviewers commissioned by McGraw-Hill Publishers.

--Stuart Rachels