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A Guide to Ethics and Moral Philosophy

Brent Adkins

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A student’s guide to ethics and moral philosophy in its historical context

How should we live? How should we act? How might we live? These are the three questions of moral philosophy. Brent Adkins traces the history of ethics and morality by examining six thinkers: Aristotle, Spinoza, Kant, Mill, Nietzsche and Levinas. The book is divided into 3 sections – Ethics, Morality and Beyond. Two thinkers are paired in each section to show you how the important questions of moral philosophy have been answered so that you might better answer them for yourself. You’ll learn what the philosophers actually said about how to live the best kind of life and, more importantly, why.

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Introduction: Three Questions

Part I: Ethics
How Should We Live?
Aristotle and Spinoza

1. Aristotle: Happiness is the Good
2. Aristotle: Virtue and the Highest Happiness
3. Spinoza: The Universe and Power
4. Spinoza: Emotions and Freedom

Part II: Morality
How Should We Act?
Kant and Mill

5. Kant: Happiness is not the Good
6. Kant: The Categorical Imperative
7. Mill: Happiness is Pleasure
8. Mill: The Greatest Happiness for the Greatest Number

Part III: Beyond
How Might We Live?
Nietzsche and Levinas

9. Nietzsche: These are the Wrong Questions
10. Nietzsche: Morality and Power
11. Levinas: Philosophy and Appropriation
12. Levinas: Ethics and the Other

Conclusion: Beyond Beyond

Suggestions for Further Reading

About the Author

Brent Adkins is Professor of Philosophy at Roanoke College.


This textbook will be terrific for undergraduate students of philosophy but also for students from other disciplines where ethics, both from the historical and practical perspective, is taught.

- Fredrika Spindler, Williams College

Brent Adkins has written a really good introductory textbook which includes a more critical approach to ethics.  The 12-chapter structure is perfect for the average semester.

- Stefan Bird-Pollan, University of Kentucky

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