In revising The Elements of Moral Philosophy, I reduced its length and simplified its language.


Shorter is Better


I put the book on a diet. With Heather Elliott's help, I removed about 10,000 words from the text without losing content. I also added new material. All told, the sixth edition is over 8,000 words shorter than the fifth. The chapters on Ethical Egoism, the Social Contract Theory, and Virtue Theory each got reduced by 1,000+ words. The only chapter that grew was "The Utilitarian Approach" because of the new section on marijuana. But aside from that section, the chapter shrunk by 780 words. The "Notes on Sources" in the back also got longer, due to better scholarship.

I got rid of most parenthetical phrases. Here was the dilemma I posed: if it's an aside, get rid of it; if it's part of the main thread, get it out of parentheses.


Easier Words


In the new edition, I've replaced scores of "vocabulary words" with words that all students know. For example, I rewrote or deleted the sentences in the fifth edition in which these words appear:

congenital 1; impasse 10; proscription 14, 194; circumscribed 22; impetus 23; postulate 24; shabby 29; chaste 36; infallible 38, 39; alack 40; latter 41, 107; conflate 47; impeccable 47; to fashion 48; perennial 54; precepts 63; injunctions 63; incurring 69; deflationary 74; pretensions 74; rebuttal 74; augment 90; truism 90; votaries 93; prohibiting 94, 149; cohorts 105; unintelligible 113; vicarious 119; renouncing 121; beneficence 132; recidivism 136; commodious 141; insurrection 143; subjugating 160; subordinating 161; druggist 163; harmonization 171; secular equivalent 174; divine fiat 174; directives 174; inextricably 175; sumptuous 178; nonarbitrary 179; rebuke 181; myriad 182; demurs 185; preceding 186; proceeding 186; jettison 187; admonition 189; precedence 189; impelled 193; coerce 195; native endowments, native talents 202.

I did not do this reluctantly; I did not lament that "if students had better vocabularies, then this wouldn't be necessary." After all, simpler sentences are better. As a reader, I prefer short, crisp, easy prose.

Nor did I accept the lazy--and contemptuous--excuse, "If students want to know what that word means, then they can look it up." After all: (1) Each word the student doesn't know is a barrier to the student's ability to understand the text. (2) Each word the student doesn't know is a reason for the student to stop reading. (3) Students shouldn't have to consult dictionary.com in order to learn about Kantian ethics. (4) And, realistically, they won't--instead, they will try to discern the meaning from context, and they won't always succeed. (5) Unusual words can be distracting to students. Recently, Douglas Husak gave a lecture at my university titled, "Four Points About Drug Decriminalization." After the lecture, a bright student came up to me and said, "It took me half the lecture to realize that 'decriminalization' just means 'legalization!'" This often happens. Words that seem normal to professors seem weird to students, and the students wind up thinking about the words rather than the ideas.

--Stuart Rachels