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Understanding Ethics

Torbjörn Tännsjö

Edition: 3

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An introduction to moral theory for new students of ethics

New for the 3rd edition

  • A new section on population ethics has been added to the chapter on utilitarianism
  • Discusses the impact of recent findings in social psychology on virtue ethics
  • New, clearer applications of the trolley problem

How can we find true or reasonable moral principles to live our everyday lives by? Torbjörn Tännsjö presents 7 radically different moral theories, each of which attempts to provide the ultimate answer to the question of what we ought to do and why. He carefully describes each theory, showing how it works in practice, critically assessing it and putting it into its historical perspective.

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1. Practical and normative ethics
2. Utilitarianism
3. Egoism and contractualism
4. Deontological ethics
5. Moral rights
6. Virtue ethics
7. Feminist ethics
8. Environmental ethics
9. What are we to believe?

About the Author

Torbjörn Tännsjö is Kristian Claëson Professor of Practical Philosophy at Stockholm University. He is author of several books including Global Democracy (EUP, 2008), Conservatism for Our Time (1990), Populist Democracy (1993), Hedonistic Utilitarianism (1998) and Understanding Ethics (2002).


With its readable style, broad coverage of different views, and well-integrated mix of ethical theory and practical ethical dilemmas, Understanding Ethics provides an ideal introduction to ethics for students everywhere. The revised edition makes an already excellent book even better.

- Peter Singer, Princeton University

(Praise for the first edition)

An excellent book: it leads people into quite sophisticated issues with such clarity, and such good real-world cases, that it doesn't seem at all dry or "academic".

- Jonathan Glover, King's College, London

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