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Moral Literacy: Or How to Do the Right Thing [Paperback]

Colin McGinn
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

January 1993 0872201961 978-0872201965 2nd Revised edition
This measured, dispassionate yet provocative new work addresses a range of contemporary moral concerns, including animal rights, abortion, violence, sex, drugs, censorship and virtue. More an invitation to moral dialogue than a theoretical work of moral philosophy, Moral Literacy encourages the reader to reach solidly considered conclusions through the strenuous exercise of reason. The book is short and yet it richly embodies the methods of ethical thinking about practical moral problems that are hard for students to learn unless they see them in action. Colin McGinn perspicuously sets out a small set of basic principles and then attacks the problems of our treatment of animals, abortion, sex, censorship, and so on, with a masterful blend of attention to real-life cases and imaginary thought experiments.

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About the Author

Colin McGinn

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Most helpful customer reviews
I preface all by saying that I enjoyed the book very much. I am not a professional philosopher and my formal study of philosophy has been very limited. To read a summary of some key ethical issues was illuminating and in many respects helpful.

The book, however, did come across as more than a little preachy. Not that I mind this, I often preach myself. The difference is that McGinn the author is not a preacher, but a philosopher, and his role was to facilitate dialogue and not simply assert a position. McGinn the preacher (that's me, and I bear no relationship with the philosopher that I have been able to trace) bases his assertions on an accepted religious text and normally in a context where that text is accepted. All this personal jibberish now expressed, the book has a sermonic feel to it and a very sloppy logic.

For instance, McGinn early on indicates that he is an atheist, yet he refers to a place he reserves in hell for a particular kind of person. The ability to make such allusions is possible because of the ubiquitous nature of basic Christian values in society. McGinn's alludes to them without making any kind of commitment to them, which is fine. However, many of the positions he takes, while clearly at odds with more fundamentalist or conservative Christian ideals, really are dependent upon Christian social values and not any foundation he has demonstrated from a philosophical point of view.

I think in particular of his arguments for sexual deviance. While he admits that the biological purpose for sexual activity is basic to determining what is normative he expands this to allow for sexual expression that is non-reproductive on a basis that is relational.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An adequate introduction to ethical thinking Jan. 1 2003
Dr. McGinn's book is aimed at the philosophical ameature -- he presupposes no familiarity with ethics or philosophical thought beyond that which a normal person picks up in daily life. The book, in its eight chapters, is a quick and easy read. This is a book for the layman who is unaccostomed to thinking as a philosopher; more experienced philosophers will be disappointed by his glossing over of some of the juicier points. "...but that's just philosophy" is a phrase McGinn uses to ignore a question or argument. That's good for keeping focus on real-world applications, but frustrating for someone with more experience.
That's not to say that a philosophically-minded person has no reason to read this book. McGinn's perspectives on abortion, sex, drugs, etc. are certainly worth reading and will stimulate thought in any reader.
McGinn's thinking is heavily influenced by virtue ethics, which disappointed me, but I hear that a lot of people go for that sort of thing.
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5.0 out of 5 stars a great little ethics book! Jan. 13 2003
Short books seem to be a trend these days. This book is good and short, but it's packed full of all sorts of interesting stuff on how to think about morality and reasonably think about important moral issues. The writing style is fun and conversational. Very good!
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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a great little ethics book! Jan. 13 2003
By Nathan Nobis - Published on Amazon.com
Short books seem to be a trend these days. This book is good and short, but it's packed full of all sorts of interesting stuff on how to think about morality and reasonably think about important moral issues. The writing style is fun and conversational. Very good!
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A path to thoughtful and informed moral judgments Oct. 12 2010
By NYVegan - Published on Amazon.com
As Sam Harris recently pointed out, "One of the biggest problems we're facing is in creating a global civilization based on shared values". To face that problem, we need to be giving similar answers to our most pressing problems, not ignore, ridicule, or vilify those who hold different views. Professor McGinn attempts to do that in his easy-to-read but hard-to-dismiss 108-page guide to moral literacy.

As McGinn states in his intro, using informed and thoughtful moral judgments to solve moral problems shouldn't be left to "priests and pundits and politicians." In the best case, these would-be moral guides give people bad reasons to be good when good reasons are actually available. In the worst case, they separate moral thinking from the details of human and animal suffering.

McGinn addresses leading moral issues, including our treatment of nonhuman animals, abortion, violence, sex, non-medical and mind-altering drugs, censorship and virtue. In the rare instances where my knee-jerk biases and vested interests kept me from agreeing with him, I was quickly persuaded of the logic and moral coherence of his argument.

Perhaps the best gem of the book is his shortlist of basic virtues: kindness, honesty, justice and independence, and how they must interact to form a virtuous world. Independence, or the capacity to make up one's own mind and not be swayed by peer pressure or threats, is crucial, but as he notes, "comparatively rare".

While more thorough treatments on the subject exist, you will be hard-pressed to find a more condensed, yet intellectually satisfying approach to moral literacy. I purchased Marvin Brown's The Ethical Process: An Approach to Disagreements and Controversial Issues (3rd Edition) and found it far less satisfying. Brown's work is more of a cookbook approach, while McGinn's work teaches you how to think about solving problems. As McGinn concludes the book, "It is important to be able to read and write. It is also important to have some mathematical proficiency. But more important than either of these is the ability to arrive at informed and thoughtful moral judgments."
An overstatement? Consider this: Founding Father James Madison said, "No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare." In this post-Cold-War era, more than half our federal budget goes to so-called "defense" spending, but we don't allocate a cent to a "Department of Peace". There are no nutrients in animal-based foods that are not better obtained by plant-based foods, yet 50 billion animals live horrific lives until slaughter because they committed the crime of being born nonhuman. The Catholic Church more strongly opposes gay marriage than it does genocide. It is time we all learn to make informed and thoughtful moral judgments.

We can all use this guide to moral literacy.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "A Good Philosophy Textbook" Jan. 7 2009
By Dexter J. Epps - Published on Amazon.com
I really enjoyed reading Colin McGinn's book, "Moral Literacy: Or How to Do the Right Thing ." I actually needed it for an online class that I took. The book was interesting. I gained a better appreciation of others' viewpoints although I did not (do not) always agree with their viewpoints. McGinn's book is also a good reference/resource for anyone who wants to know about issues that people are very passionate about.
5.0 out of 5 stars Thanks Jan. 21 2014
By schuyler - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Great condition. What do you they want a required amout of text. That is really annoying. We should not be forced to do this.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars For ethics class Feb. 12 2012
By Necromooncraft - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I bought this book for my ethics class. The book is easy to understand and loaded with information. The book is condensed which is a good thing. Theres more than a few interesting facts inside.
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