The Seven Best Books on Applied Ethics

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This page contains a list of the seven best books on applied ethics. Finding good introductory philosophy books can be difficult for two reasons. First, searching google for recommendations usually doesn’t bring up anything useful. Second, phrases like “best books on applied ethics” are ambiguous. One person may be looking for a short, beginner friendly introduction, someone else may want a comprehensive academic overview, a third person may be looking for classic works on applied ethics. This list tries to account for this ambiguity by recommending different types of books on applied ethics. Here are the best books on applied ethics in no particular order:

Ethics in the Real World: 82 Brief Essays on Things That Matter – Peter Singer

Category: Essays | Length: 376 pages | Published: 2017

Peter Singer is often described as the world’s most influential philosopher. He is also one of its most controversial. The author of important books such as Animal Liberation, Practical Ethics, Rethinking Life and Death, and The Life You Can Save, he helped launch the animal rights and effective altruism movements and contributed to the development of bioethics. Now, in Ethics in the Real World, Singer shows that he is also a master at dissecting important current events in a few hundred words.

In this book of brief essays, he applies his controversial ways of thinking to issues like climate change, extreme poverty, animals, abortion, euthanasia, human genetic selection, sports doping, the sale of kidneys, the ethics of high-priced art, and ways of increasing happiness. Singer asks whether chimpanzees are people, smoking should be outlawed, or consensual sex between adult siblings should be decriminalized, and he reiterates his case against the idea that all human life is sacred, applying his arguments to some recent cases in the news. In addition, he explores, in an easily accessible form, some of the deepest philosophical questions, such as whether anything really matters and what is the value of the pale blue dot that is our planet. The collection also includes some more personal reflections, like Singer’s thoughts on one of his favorite activities, surfing, and an unusual suggestion for starting a family conversation over a holiday feast.

Doing Ethics: Moral Reasoning and Contemporary Issues – Lewis Vaughn

Category: Comprehensive Introduction | Length: 720 pages | Published: 2015 (4ed.)

The most accessible introduction to ethical theory, moral reasoning, and contemporary ethical issues―now shorter and more focused, and still the best value.

Doing Ethics emphasizes that moral decision making is an active process―something one does. The Fourth Edition provides students with the theoretical and logical tools that a morally mature person must bring to that process, and offers a wealth of readings and case studies for them to consider and discuss. Streamlined prose, real-world relevance, and practical pedagogy―all at an affordable price―make Doing Ethics the leading applied ethics text.

Contemporary Debates in Applied Ethics – Andrew I. Cohen & Christopher Heath Wellman

Category: Comprehensive Textbook | Length: 472 pages | Published: 2013 (2ed.)

Now in an updated edition with fresh perspectives on high-profile ethical issues such as torture and same-sex marriage, this collection pairs cogently argued essays by leading philosophers with opposing views on fault-line public concerns.

  • Revised and updated new edition with six new pairs of essays on prominent contemporary issues including torture and same-sex marriage, and a survey of theories of ethics by Stephen Darwall
  • Leading philosophers tackle colleagues with opposing views in contrasting essays on core issues in applied ethics
  • An ideal semester-length course text certain to generate vigorous discussion

The Oxford Handbook of Practical EthicsHugh LaFollette

Category: Comprehensive Textbook | Length: 792 pages | Published: 2005

The Oxford Handbook of Practical Ethics is a lively and authoritative guide to current thought about ethical issues in all areas of human activity–personal, medical, sexual, social, political, judicial, and international, from the natural world to the world of business. Twenty-eight topics are covered in specially written surveys by leading figures in their fields: each gives an authoritative map of the ethical terrain, explaining how the debate has developed in recent years, engaging critically with the most notable work in the area, and pointing directions for future work. The Handbook will be essential reading, and a fascinating resource of ideas and information, for academics and students across a wide range of disciplines.

A Companion to Applied Ethics – R. G. Frey & Christopher Heath Wellman

Category: Comprehensive Textbook | Length: 720 pages | Published: 2005

Applied or practical ethics is perhaps the largest growth area in philosophy today, and many issues in moral, social, and political life have come under philosophical scrutiny in recent years. Taken together, the essays in this volume – including two overview essays on theories of ethics and the nature of applied ethics – provide a state-of-the-art account of the most pressing moral questions facing us today.

  • Provides a comprehensive guide to many of the most significant problems of practical ethics
  • Offers state-of-the-art accounts of issues in medical, environmental, legal, social, and business ethics
  • Written by major philosophers presently engaged with these complex and profound ethical issues

Ethics in Practice: An Anthology – Hugh LaFollette

Category: Anthology | Length: 704 pages | Published: 2014 (4ed.)

The fourth edition of Ethics in Practice offers an impressive collection of 70 new, revised, and classic essays covering 13 key ethical issues. Essays integrate ethical theory and the discussion of practical moral problems into a text that is ideal for introductory and applied ethics courses.

  • A fully updated and revised edition of this authoritative anthology of classic and contemporary essays covering a wide range of ethical and moral issues
  • Integrates ethical theory with discussions of practical moral problems, and includes three essays on theory written specifically for this volume
  • Nearly half of the essays are written or revised exclusively for this anthology, which now also features eleven essays new to this edition, as well as expanded sections discussing theory, reproductive technologies, war and terrorism, and animals
  • Content allows teachers to discuss discrete practical issues (e.g., euthanasia), focus on the broader grouping of topics (e.g., life and death), or focus on common themes which bridge sections (sexism, moral standing, individualism and community)
  • Section introductions not only outline the basic issues discussed in the essays, but relate them to theoretical perspectives and practical issues discussed elsewhere in the book.

Practical Ethics – Peter Singer

Category: Textbook | Length: 356 pages | Published: 2011 (3ed.)

For thirty years, Peter Singer’s Practical Ethics has been the classic introduction to applied ethics. For this third edition, the author has revised and updated all the chapters, and added a new chapter addressing climate change, one of the most important ethical challenges of our generation. Some of the questions discussed in this book concern our daily lives. Is it ethical to buy luxuries when others do not have enough to eat? Should we buy meat from intensively reared animals? Am I doing something wrong if my carbon footprint is above the global average? Other questions confront us as concerned citizens: equality and discrimination on the grounds of race or sex; abortion, the use of embryos for research, and euthanasia; political violence and terrorism; and the preservation of our planet’s environment. This book’s lucid style and provocative arguments make it an ideal text for university courses and for anyone willing to think about how she or he ought to live.


This list was created by following a method that I’ve found to be useful when searching for introductory philosophy books. It involves:

  • browsing required reading lists on university course syllabi
  • searching for books using the Open Syllabus Project
  • browsing the bibliographies of articles on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • searching for recommendations on philosophy forums

The following sources were used to build this list:

University Course Syllabi:

Bibliographies:

Other Recommendations:

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