This page contains a list of the eight best books on moral psychology. 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 moral psychology” 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 moral psychology. This list tries to account for this ambiguity by recommending different types of books on moral psychology. This list was created by compiling recommendations from across the internet and is not a list of personal recommendations. More information about this process is at the end of the post. Here are the best books on moral psychology in no particular order:
Moral Psychology: An Introduction – Mark Alfano
Publisher description: Moral psychology is the systematic inquiry into how morality works, when it does work, and breaks down when it doesn’t work.
In this comprehensive new textbook, Mark Alfano outlines the five central concepts in the study of moral psychology: agency, patiency, sociality, temporality, and reflexivity. Subsequent chapters each assess a key area of research, which Alfano relates both to the five central concepts and to empirical findings. He then draws out the philosophical implications of those findings before suggesting future directions for research.
One of Alfano’s guiding themes is that moral philosophy without psychological content is empty, whereas psychological investigation without philosophical insight is blind. He advocates and demonstrates a holistic vision that pictures moral psychology as a project of collaborative inquiry into the descriptive and normative aspects of the human condition.
Featuring a glossary of technical terms, further reading sections and chapter-by-chapter study questions, this rich, systematic, and accessible introduction to moral psychology will be suitable for both undergraduates and researchers in philosophy, psychology and related fields.
Moral Psychology: A Contemporary Introduction – Valerie Tiberius
Publisher description: This is the first philosophy textbook in moral psychology, introducing students to a range of philosophical topics and debates such as: What is moral motivation? Do reasons for action always depend on desires? Is emotion or reason at the heart of moral judgment? Under what conditions are people morally responsible? Are there self-interested reasons for people to be moral? Moral Psychology: A Contemporary Introduction presents research by philosophers and psychologists on these topics, and addresses the overarching question of how empirical research is (or is not) relevant to philosophical inquiry.
The Moral Psychology Handbook – John M. Doris
Publisher description: The Moral Psychology Handbook offers a survey of contemporary moral psychology, integrating evidence and argument from philosophy and the human sciences. The chapters cover major issues in moral psychology, including moral reasoning, character, moral emotion, positive psychology, moral rules, the neural correlates of ethical judgment, and the attribution of moral responsibility. Each chapter is a collaborative effort, written jointly by leading researchers in the field.
Moral Psychology: Historical and Contemporary Readings – Nadelhoffer et al.
Publisher description: Moral Psychology: Historical and Contemporary Readings is the first book to bring together the most significant contemporary and historical works on the topic from both philosophy and psychology.
- Provides a comprehensive introduction to moral psychology, which is the study of psychological mechanisms and processes underlying ethics and morality
- Unique in bringing together contemporary texts by philosophers, psychologists and other cognitive scientists with foundational works from both philosophy and psychology
- Approaches moral psychology from an empirically informed perspective
- Explores a wide range of topics from passion and altruism to virtue and responsibility
- Editorial introductions to each section explain the background of and connections between the selections
The Republic – Plato
Publisher description: This is a completely new translation of one of the great works of Western political thought. In addition to Tom Griffith’s vivid, dignified and accurate rendition of Plato’s text, this edition is suitable for students at all levels. It contains an introduction that assesses the cultural background to the Republic, its place within political philosophy, and its general argument; succinct notes in the text; an analytical summary of content; a full glossary of proper names; a chronology of important events; and a guide to further reading.
Nichomachean Ethics – Aristotle
Publisher description: The Nicomachean Ethics is one of Aristotle’s most widely read and influential works. Ideas central to ethics—that happiness is the end of human endeavor, that moral virtue is formed through action and habituation, and that good action requires prudence—found their most powerful proponent in the person medieval scholars simply called “the Philosopher.” Drawing on their intimate knowledge of Aristotle’s thought, Robert C. Bartlett and Susan D. Collins have produced here an English-language translation of the Ethics that is as remarkably faithful to the original as it is graceful in its rendering.
Aristotle is well known for the precision with which he chooses his words, and in this elegant translation his work has found its ideal match. Bartlett and Collins provide copious notes and a glossary providing context and further explanation for students, as well as an introduction and a substantial interpretive essay that sketch central arguments of the work and the seminal place of Aristotle’s Ethics in his political philosophy as a whole.
The Nicomachean Ethics has engaged the serious interest of readers across centuries and civilizations—of peoples ancient, medieval, and modern; pagan, Christian, Muslim, and Jewish—and this new edition will take its place as the standard English-language translation.
Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals – David Hume
Publisher description: In this highly influential work, Hume sets out his theory of justice and benevolence and the other virtues and argues that morality is founded on the natural feelings or sentiments of humankind. The text printed in this edition is the Clarendon critical edition of Hume’s works. Designed especially for students, this volume includes detailed explanatory notes on the text, a glossary of terms, a full list of references, and a section of supplementary readings.
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.
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:
- Bibliography for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Moral Psychology: Empirical Approaches
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