From beginner-friendly introductions to comprehensive textbooks on applied ethics, this page features books to suit any learning style. It’s important to note that there is no single best book on applied ethics. The best book for you will depend heavily on your preferred learning style and the amount of time/energy you’re willing to spend reading.
It’s also worth noting that it is not a list of personal recommendations. Personal book recommendations tend to be highly subjective, idiosyncratic, and unreliable. This list is part of a collection of over 100 philosophy reading lists which aim to provide a central resource for philosophy book recommendations. These lists were created by searching through hundreds of university course syllabi, internet encyclopedia bibliographies, and community recommendations. Links to the syllabi and other sources used to create this list are at the end of the post. Following these links will help you quickly find a broader range of options if the listed books do not fit what you are looking for.
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
Publishers description: 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. …
Doing Ethics: Moral Reasoning and Contemporary Issues – Lewis Vaughn
Category: Comprehensive Introduction | Length: 720 pages | Published: 2015 (4ed.)
Publishers description: 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.)
Publishers description: 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 Ethics – Hugh LaFollette
Category: Comprehensive Textbook | Length: 792 pages | Published: 2005
Publishers description: 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
Publishers description: 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.)
Publishers description: 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.)
Publishers description: 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.
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- Applied Ethics – Chinese University of Hong Kong
- What are the best books about ethics?
- The best books on Ethical Problems recommended by David Edmonds
You might also be interested in the following reading lists:
- The Best Introductory Philosophy Books
- The Best Introductory Books on Ethics
- The Best Books on Effective Altruism
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A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations – Lennox Johnson
Category: Reference | Length: 145 pages | Published: 2019
Publisher’s Description: A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations is a collection of the greatest thoughts from history’s greatest thinkers. Featuring classic quotations by Aristotle, Epicurus, David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, Michel Foucault, and many more, A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations is ideal for anyone looking to quickly understand the fundamental ideas that have shaped the modern world.