on January 26, 2004
Read this one. It's strong on foundational theory and on practical applications, an unusual combo for philosphers. Berumen's justification of capitalism is simply the best I have ever read, including anything done by Nozick, Friedman, Hayek, or Rand. Justifying capitalism as the default position of ethical principles, he also shows how those same rules serve to limit capitalist behavior. His section on the nature of competition and its ethical limits is excellent.
on August 5, 2003
This excellent volume sets Kant's rationalism on its head and considers the importance of irrationality and the rules rational beings follow in relation to themselves, namely, avoiding death, pain, disability, deception, theft, and violated obligations to oneself. Rational beings (when they are acting rationally) never desire these things for their own sake without a reason. Berumen says universal moral princples can only be based on these rules when we marry them with impartiality, thereby extending them to others. Unlike Kant, he provides concrete rules rather than an empty formula, and, unlike Kant, he does not treat them as absolutes. Rather, it is the exception to them which becomes an absolute, for it must be universalized given the specific universal properties of the relevant facts. Thus, the general moral rules are only tentatively universal insofar as a specific exception cannot be willed. Berumen's chapter on evil, which he defines as death and suffering, is one of the best analyses of the nature of evil I've read. Unlike most proponents of capitalism, Berumen does not justify it on utilitarian grounds, but on the basis that it is wrong to steal or disable another. His chapters on business are interesting and useful, especially the one dealing with the ends or mission of a business. He does not let a business off the moral hook when it is a contributory factor in causing evil, death or suffering, notwithstanding the fact people freely coose to buy its products or work there. With this said, he cautions against using the law as a means of correcting this except in the most greivous cases, for sometimes that causes an even greater moral problem. Berumen's writing is clear and elegant, and his analysis keen. The book is useful for a general audience wanting to know more about ethics and for those who are more philosophically minded. There are typos here and there, but not so many that they get in the way.
on August 4, 2003
This is a great book in need of more copyediting with some annoying but minor errors in spelling and such. However, the philosphy is superb... it's an excellent survey of ethics in general and, in particular,it puts forth a sound and useful theory, namely, that moral rules are the impartial extensions of our rational requirements, and that exceptions are prescriptions a la Hare...universal formulations that are logical and take into account the specific facts. The moral rules are built on the prohibitions against death, pain, disability, deception, loss of property, and violation of obligations, and, in general, their importance follows this order, though there are exceptions. Rational beings do not want death or pain for its own sake, without some justification. Morality is the impartial extension of this principle to others, but not just rational beings... to those that can suffer.
I liked his stuff on economics, especially on competetion. Among other things, he shows that competition is not antithetical to cooperation, and that many activities necessarily involve competetion, such that society without it is unthinkable.
The only time competition becomes a moral issue is when competitive behavior violates one of the fundamental moral princples.
The section on business has much to recommend it, particularly the section on the nature of a business, where Berumen shows tht a business is someone's property, not a democratic institution brought by the participants.
on July 31, 2003
This is perhaps the clearest book on ethics I have ever read. Berumen's writing is reminiscent of Bertie Russell's pellucid style, a philosopher whom he obviously admires, notwithstanding Russell's doubts about ethics as a legitimate philsophical pursuit. But more than that, his analysis of the basis for ethical judgments is simply outstanding. Basically, he says that the only means of coming up with a universal set of rules is to combine our rational requirements and impartiality, a concept he borrows from Bernard Gert. Like Gert, he rejects the idea that there can be general maxims that are absolute. But unlike Gert, who uses a publicity requirement to make exceptions to general principles, or Kant's general maxims in the categorical imperative, Berumen believes we can come up with very specific absolutes by using R.M. Hare's method of prescriptive universality. He says some very interesting things about who ought to be included as an object of morality... and, like Jeremy Bentham, he bases it on their capacity to suffer, not whether or not they are rational. This has many implications for animals. Berumen's justification of property is perhaps the best I have ever read, even better than Nozick's. One of the most interesting chapters deals with the nature of a business, which many think of as a kind of social association for the purpose of distributing justice as opposed to what it really is: someone's property. The book is also full of practical principles concerning business, and, unlike so many texts in applied ethics, Berumen spends a lot of time on philosophical justification of rules rather than simply a rehash of sensational cases.
on July 31, 2003
This book is densely packed with information about the great ideas of ethics. More importantly, the author demonstrates that moral relativism and emotivism cannot be logically justified. Michael Berumen presents a uniquely common-sensical approach to moral reasoning, and he shows both why and how moral principles apply to the world of commerce. As he observes, business people have a significant impact on our daily lives, and they therefore have a special obligation to make sure they have the necessary tools to make ethical judgments. This is a very clear and well written book, though there are some occasional typos... but not enough to be a distraction. This is a great book for philsophers and non-philsophers, alike.
on August 25, 2003
The author is definitely an apostle of Kantianism. He also knows his history of philosophy. This is an excellent survey of ethics, generally, and it presents a cogent, logical approach to conduct. He gets rid of moral relativism and subjectivism early on in the discussion, and proceeds to outline a basis of universal rules based on what all rational creatures seek to avoid: death, disability, etc. He says that rationality does not require us to want to avoid these things for others, and that we must add the princple of impartiality for this. Berumen's section on fiduciary responsibility is very good, and while it is directed towards business issues, it has broader application. This book is well written.
on August 6, 2003
This book says a great many interesting things about ethics. The most important one, however, is that evil is given short shrift compared to good. The author shows that the only legitimate basis for general rules that apply to everyone, everywhere, all of the time... something that all rational people underestand and can act upon... is not causing evil. So many theories focus on what we should be doing for the benefit of others. But people differ widely on what that is. In contrast, rational people do not differ on avoiding death and suffering, which is the crux of Berumen's theory. He presents a spare and workable moral theory. This is a very good read.
on September 6, 2003
A great many modern ethics books are useless because they are too theoretical and don't say anything about what we should do, or, at the other extreme, they laden with hoary case studies with no philsophical justification of rules. Do No Evil strikes the right balance between theory and practice. The author writes clearly and humorously. He trashes moral relativism and the idea that religious belief and morality are the same thing. His treatment of both Hume and Kant is excellent, and he is both critical and respectful of them.
on August 5, 2003
I really don't know if this should be a textbook for an economics, ethics or philosophy class; or if it should be a book read specifically to make one think about the rights and wrongs of life and how to make adjustments so that one can be a better person with decisions that effect daily life. A friend of mine bought it when we were on vacation, but I picked it up when he wasn't reading it and I became quickly absorbed. It's a big book, but it isn't hard to understand, which makes it more valuable to me.
on October 23, 2003
Do No Evil is written clearly and logically. A lot of philsophy is either too ethereal or too technical. Berumen starts by laying out the nature of ethics, then proceeds to show what we can and cannot justify as universal princples, and applies these ideas to economics and business. Along the way he shows that capitalism is by default the most moral system, but not something whose princples are invioble, for certain macro moral rules have precedence. Longish, but very good.