From beginner-friendly introductions to classic books on deontological ethics, this page features books to suit any learning style. It’s important to note that there is no single best book on deontological 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. For example, if you tend to find classic works of philosophy difficult to understand, you might want to start with a short, beginner-friendly introduction. If you prefer more depth, you can choose a more comprehensive introduction or pick up one of the classics.
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 deontological ethics in no particular order.
Kantian Ethics – Allen W. Wood
Category: General Overview | Length: 360 pages | Published: 2007
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
Category: Anthology | Length: 252 pages | Published: 2002
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.
Category: General Overview | Length: 288 pages | Published: 2009
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
Category: Classic | Length: 134 pages | Published: 1785
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
Category: Classic | Length: 256 pages
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.
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- Kant’s Ethics – Prospective Syllabus
- Kant’s Ethical Theory – Philosophy 168 | Harvard University
- Recommendations for Contemporary Deontology in Applied Ethics
- What are some contemporary books on Deontological ethics?
- Canonical readings on deontological ethics?
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 Utilitarianism
- The Best Books on Virtue Ethics
- The Best Books on Immanuel Kant
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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.