Sunday, July 19, 2009

Next Up: Human Society in Ethics and Politics

The original Reading Russell plan, sanctified by tradition and popular apathy, called for an idiosyncratic summary/commentary (henceforth, “summentary”) of A History of Western Philosophy to fill this space in our virtual noteworld. The call was made with trepidation, however, due to an inchoate suspicion that A History of Western Philosophy might not submit readily to the Reading Bertrand Russell, er, method. The suspicion has now become more substantial, so we offer what we hope is a serviceable substitute, a summentary of Human Society in Ethics and Politics. [Update: A quick web search indicates that I am not the only person to ever employ the term "summentary."]

Human Society in Ethics and Politics
first was published in 1954. Reading Bertrand Russell is using the Routledge paperback edition of 1992, which opens with an introduction by John G. Slater. (Russell offers his own introduction, too.) Slater recounts the influence of G.E. Moore on Russell’s early ethical thinking, and Russell’s subsequent change of views circa World War I. Ethics, for Russell, came to be closely associated with argument and persuasion, explaining to those with different desires why your own preferences are better – an explanation that generally takes the form of comparing the probable consequences of the alternative worldviews. Slater provides more detail concerning Russell’s published thoughts on ethics prior to Human Society in Ethics and Politics, noting the many decades of substantial consistency in Russell’s ideas.

Following the Slater Introduction is a Preface by Russell, the Table of Contents, and then Russell’s Introduction. The 23 chapters are divided into two parts: Part One is entitled “Ethics” and Part Two is “The Conflict of Passions.” Here is a list of the chapter titles:

Part One: Ethics
I. Sources of Ethical Beliefs and Feelings
II. Moral Codes
III. Morality as a Means
IV. Good and Bad
V. Partial and General Goods
VI. Moral Obligation
VII. Sin
VIII. Ethical Controversy
IX. Is there Ethical Knowledge?
X. Authority in Ethics
XI. Production and Distribution
XII. Superstitious Ethics
XIII. Ethical Sanctions

Part Two: The Conflict of Passions
I. From Ethics to Politics
II. Politically Important Desires
III. Forethought and Skill
IV. Myth and Magic
V. Cohesion and Rivalry
VI. Scientific Technique and the Future
VII. Will Religious Faith Cure Our Troubles?
VIII. Conquest?
IX. Steps Towards a Stable Peace
X. Prologue or Epilogue?

Onward then, not to A History of Western Philosophy, but to Human Society in Ethics and Politics.

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