This page contains a list of the best books on deontological ethics. Just to be clear, there is no single best book on deontological ethics. The best book for you will depend on your preferred learning style and the amount of time that you want to spend reading about deontological ethics. An 800-page scholarly overview is unlikely to be best for someone looking for a short beginner-friendly introduction, for example. This list aims to take this ambiguity into account by featuring books that will appeal to a variety of learning styles.
Secondly, this is not a list of personal recommendations. It was created by compiling recommendations from a variety of online sources including bibliographies, course syllabi, and community recommendations. You can find out more about this process here. Links to the sources used to create this list are at the end of the post. Following these links will help you quickly find a wider range of options if the listed books do not fit what you are looking for.
Here are the best books on deontological ethics in no particular order.
Kantian Ethics – Allen W. Wood
Publisher description: Allen Wood investigates Kant’s conception of ethical theory, using it to develop a viable approach to the rights and moral duties of human beings. By remaining closer to Kant’s own view of the aims of ethics, Wood’s understanding of Kantian ethics differs from the received ‘constructivist’ interpretation, especially on such matters as the ground and function of ethical principles, the nature of ethical reasoning and autonomy as the ground of ethics. Wood does not hesitate to criticize and modify Kant’s conclusions when they seem inconsistent with his basic principles or fail to make the best use of the resources Kantian principles make available. Of special interest are the book’s treatment of such topics as freedom of the will, the state’s role in securing economic justice, sexual morality, the justification of punishment, and the prohibition on lying.
Deontology – Stephen Darwall
Publisher description: Deontology brings together some of the most significant philosophical work on ethics, presenting canonical essays on core questions in moral philosophy. Edited and introduced by Stephen Darwall, these readings are essential for anyone interested in normative theory.
- With a helpful introduction by Stephen Darwall, examines key topics in deontological moral theory.
- Includes seven essays which respond to the classic sources.
- Includes classic excerpts by key figures such Kant, Richard Price and W. D. Ross; and recent reactions to this work by philosophers, including Robert Nozick, Thomas Nagel, Stephen Darwall, Judith Thomson, Frances Kamm, Warren Quinn, and Christine Korsgaard.
The Blackwell Guide to Kant’s Ethics – Thomas E. Hill Jr.
Publisher description: Through a collection of new, previously unpublished essays, The Blackwell Guide to Kant’s Ethics addresses diverse topics crucial to our understanding of Kant’s moral philosophy and its implications for the modern age.
- Provides a fresh perspective on themes in Kant’s moral philosophy
- Addresses systematically Kant’s foundational work, Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals and his more specific treatment of justice and virtue in The Metaphysics of Morals
- Includes essays by both established scholars and rising stars
- Identifies common misperceptions of Kant’s thought and challenges some prevailing interpretations
- Shows how Kant developed and supplemented his earlier ethical thought with specific discussions of practical issues in law, international relations, personal relations, and self-regarding virtues and vices
Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals – Immanuel Kant
Publisher description: Published in 1785, Immanuel Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals ranks alongside Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics as one of the most profound and influential works in moral philosophy ever written. In Kant’s own words, its aim is to identify and corroborate the supreme principle of morality, the categorical imperative. He argues that human beings are ends in themselves, never to be used by anyone merely as a means, and that universal and unconditional obligations must be understood as an expression of the human capacity for autonomy and self-governance. As such, they are laws of freedom. This volume contains Mary Gregor’s acclaimed translation of the work, sympathetically revised by Jens Timmermann, and an accessible, updated introduction by Christine Korsgaard.
The Right and the Good – David Ross
Publisher description: The Right and the Good, a classic of twentieth-century philosophy by the eminent scholar Sir David Ross, is now presented in a new edition with a substantial introduction by Philip Stratton-Lake, a leading expert on Ross. Ross’s book is the pinnacle of ethical intuitionism, which was the dominant moral theory in British philosophy for much of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Intuitionism is now enjoying a considerable revival, and Stratton-Lake provides the context for a proper understanding of Ross’s great work today.
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Interested in philosophy but don’t know where to start? Check out these resources:
- An Organized Collection of Online Philosophy Resources and Reading Lists
- A History of Western Philosophy in 66 Quotations (and 300+ online resources)
- A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations
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