The Development of Ethics by Terence Irwin


The Development of Ethics is a three volume set written by Terence Irwin. The books are a selective historical and critical study of moral philosophy in the Socratic tradition with special attention paid to Aristotelian naturalism, its formation, elaboration, criticism and defense.

The author begins by describing his criteria and how he chose the people and ideas he wrote about. This description really helps when you look at the rest of the volumes since the people he wrote about aren’t always the ones we are used to reading about in that time period.

The books are not comprehensive by any means and they do not look for a causal explanation at all to the theories put forward. They were not written only for people who are familiar with the texts talked about so beginners in philosophy will have no trouble following along. However, I think that if a person has a working knowledge of the works involved, it will help a lot. The books are a little dense but then they are a critical history of philosophy…

The books are in chronological order but the author did not divide them in the usual manor of ancient, medieval, and modern periods but rather by people. The first volume starts with Socrates and ends with the Reformation, volume two begins with Suarez and ends with Rousseau, and volume three begins with Kant and ends with Rawls.

The books were a treasure trove of information, but I needed to stop every now and then to breath a little and check out a little more about the people and works involved. The volumes are really long but are very informative and the way the author is not afraid to share his views is very refreshing. Some times in a history presentation the authors can seem unengaged and that makes the work pretty dry especially if it is a history of philosophy. The author is very knowledgable of his material and obviously loves it, it shines right through in his writings. The volumes are very much worth having if you want to study philosophy and ethics.

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