We’re coming up on a semester break, at which point I always try to read a good recent moral philosophy book, just to keep up with the kids, and perhaps to spur a new research project. Toward that end, and also to help keep others apprised, I’d enjoy people chiming in with their picks for a book or two published in that last several years (up to 5) that they think is worth reading and why. Stick to our general category (moral philosophy, broadly construed to include political philosophy, agency & responsibility, and moral psychology).

I’ll start: Jonathan Glover, Alien Landscapes? (OUP, 2014). I read this last Xmas break. Includes detailed discussion of various mental disorders and what they might mean for people’s responsibility status. Also aims to identify ways of “bridging the gulf between us.” Sensitive and very insightful, partially drawn from many interviews with patients at Broadmoor with Anti-Social Personality Disorder.

4 Replies to “Excellent Moral Philosophy Books of Last 5 Years?

  1. Jonathan Lear’s *Radical Hope* is brilliant, deep, sensitive monograph on the clash between Crow Indians and white settlers that raises questions about how to think about nonshared values, different emotional economies, and incompatible action descriptions when cultures clash. A short book that really makes one think.

  2. I’ve been recommending Alien Landscapes to everyone (did I push it on you, I wonder?)! I’ll put a plug in for Owen Flanagan’s The Geography of Morals, which has much to recommend it, including a fascinating discussion of Mengzi’s “moral sprout” theory in light of contemporary work in cognitive science, and an entertaining and moving chapter on anger.

  3. Owen, that sounds really good, and seemingly right in your wheelhouse. I second Olivia’s thoughts about your book as well. And Olivia, I think we were mind-meld reading Glover simultaneously before we’d even met.

  4. “Varieties of Values” by Susan Wolf (12/2014) and “Moral Aims” by Cheshire Calhoun (12/2015). I was lucky to read these both in the same term.

    Each explores the nature and importance of morality understood as a social practice. Calhoun raises questions about how to improve morality as a social practice, how to relate to defective moral practices, and how personal moral ideals (and philosophical reflection) can help us answer those questions and live good moral lives. Wolf raises questions about how to improve morality as a social practice and about the authority of social morality, even in its more perfect forms. Reading Wolf’s essays together helps one see how her stuff on meaning connects with her views on the (limited) authority of social morality and it is also interesting to see her, in effect, pushing back against virtue ethicists in papers on partiality, moral saints, moral rules, etc.

    Both collections provide reasons for doubting that prominent normative theories provide adequate resources for understanding and improving social moralities or for supporting claims about the authority of moral reasons. Together they raise fascinating and insightful questions about how to fruitfully pursue normative ethical theory. And, while tastes differ, I like the way their essays encourage me to slow down and think through interesting problems.

    And after reading those I naturally picked up and learned a lot from Dale Dorsey’s “The Limits of Moral Authority” (06/2016). Come to think of it, those three might make for a really good seminar. Ok, guess that is three books. Sorry!

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