Great papers in ethics?
August 19, 2008 12:03 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for paradigmatic ethics papers.

Specifically, I'd like papers that are as clear and influential as Singer's "Famine, Affluence, and Morality" and Thomson's "A Defense of Abortion." The papers do not have to be on charity or abortion, in fact, it would be nice to have a paper on some other problem in ethics. Also, I would like the paper to eschew too much theory talk (as the Singer and Thompson papers).

Also, could you offer a brief description and a comment on why you like the paper?
posted by oddman to Religion & Philosophy (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Rawls, John. "Justice as Fairness." The Philosophical Review. 67:2(1958), pp. 164-194.

It's certainly theory-laden, and I don't agree with its conclusions, but you can't get much more paradigmatic than this article.
posted by ewiar at 1:05 PM on August 19, 2008

And, of course, the book which followed
posted by ewiar at 1:06 PM on August 19, 2008

Gianni Vattimo's "Ethics without Transcendence" from his book Nihilism and Emancipation.

This page best describes why. I'm just now reading Vattimo as part of my own study in ethics. I find his views refreshing in a world of dogmatic thinkers.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 2:04 PM on August 19, 2008

Best answer: I realize this is an unsatisfying answer, but it's really worth checking out any of the many intro ethics or contemporary moral issues anthologies. Compare say three to get a sense of which papers are repeatedly anthologized.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:13 PM on August 21, 2008

Best answer: "The Conscience of Huckleberry Finn" (in a journal called just Philosophy, which is a great journal for what you're looking for) by Jonathan Bennett is a very readable classic. I don't agree with the conclusion, but it's great writing about the relationship between reason, emotion, and ethics.

"Preferential Hiring" in Philosophy and Public Affairs is another gem of clarity by Thomson. It comes out in favor of a very curtailed version of affirmative action. Maybe not terribly influential.

If you like Famine, Affluence, and Morality, you'll probably like Singer's book Practical Ethics. It's very well written. Also in the utilitarian vein, the book Utilitarianism: For and Against by Bernard Williams and JJC Smart is good. Both are extremely influential.

Thomas Nagel's paper "Moral Luck" is quite good on the role of chance in moral responsibility. It's basically required reading for ethicists.

The seminal paper on euthanasia is James Rachels' "Active and Passive Euthanasia". His Smith and Jones example is a frequent starting place in the debate.

Two Laura Purdy papers that are influential in bioethics are "Are Pregnant Women Fetal Containers?" and "Genetic Diseases: Can Having Children be Immoral?". The former is about the place of abortion policy in society and the latter is about what it says it is with particular attention to Huntington's Disease.

Speaking of abortion, Don Marquis' "Why abortion is immoral" is almost as famous as Thomson's paper and attacks the problem from a non-religious standpoint. Modern discussions center around the "future like ours" concept he discusses.
posted by ontic at 10:30 PM on August 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yeah, James Rachels on affirmative action is quite good too. And Elizabeth Anderson has a number of papers with lovely examples to try to motivate egalitarian socio-economic policy.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:46 PM on August 23, 2008

Response by poster: Ontic, that's exactly what I was looking for. I think I'll look at the Nagel paper first.

LobsterMitten, that's a great suggestion. I'll keep that in mind when I'm teaching stuff outside my specialty.
posted by oddman at 1:38 PM on August 25, 2008

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