We’re glad to announce the latest in our on-going author interview series. This week we've spoken with Robin Attfield, the author of Ethics: An Overview: the definitive companion to the study of ethics. Though Robin officially retired from his Professorship at Cardiff University in 2009, he has remained very active in the field of Philosophy – he is currently revising his book The Ethics of the Global Environment for a second edition, and this summer he will be presenting a defence of environmental stewardship and a talk on the meta-ethics and meta-politics of climate change. Today he talks to us about his career, his work on Ethics and the importance of philosophy today:
'The age of positivism is over, and the rise of feminism has opened up both the study of philosophy and careers in philosophy to more people than ever before'
Tell us a bit about yourself and your career. How did you come to be the writer of this book?
After taking a theology degree at Oxford in the early 1960s, I became a Lecturer in Philosophy at what later became Cardiff University. I taught philosophy for two spells in Africa (in Nigeria and in Kenya), and in 1975, while in Nairobi, I was introduced to environmental philosophy by the late Henry Odera Oruka.
I began teaching applied philosophy alongside more traditional courses in normative ethics, meta-ethics, and (separately) philosophy of religion in the late 1970s. As student classes grew larger, I ran more seminars alongside lectures, and also trained research students as tutors for first-year undergraduates. The range of teaching materials that I collected during that period is reflected in 'Ethics: An Overview', and particularly in the Companion Website (accessible even to people who have not bought the book!).There are many Ethics books on the market, including a number of your own. What sets this work apart from the rest?
Ethics: An Overview is distinctive in several ways. One is its comprehensiveness: it covers the history of ethics, value-theory, normative ethics, applied ethics, meta-ethics, and issues surrounding responsibility and free will. Another distinctive feature is the conciseness and focused nature of its sections. Another is the way that it combines clear conclusions with an invitation to be or become one's own philosopher and arrive at different ones. A fourth is the way that difficult issues, such as those surrounding free will, are made accessible through the adoption of an historical approach. A fifth is its up-to-date coverage of no less than six fields of practical areas and issues, from medical ethics to the ethics of war, discussed in the light of the values and principles introduced elsewhere in the book.
Meanwhile, the Companion Website offers additional features that few ethics books can compete with.
What, if anything, would you like to say to the budding philosopher/ethicist at this time in the history of our world?
Much of the most exciting work of recent decades has been done in applied ethics, and I would advise young philosophers and ethicists to pay attention to and take part in some of the relevant fields. Young philosophers who do not yet have a post should consider taking up posts in Colleges for 16-to-18 year-olds, and not only in institutions in North America and Europe: try Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.
Contemporary trends, such as globalisation, secularisation and the decline of established forms of religion in the West, make this quite a good time to be or become a philosopher. The age of positivism is over, and the rise of feminism has opened up both the study of philosophy and careers in philosophy to more people than ever before. Millions of people are grasping the importance of preserving the natural world and of questioning traditional attitudes of domination.
What do you see as the most urgent and thorny ethical problem facing the world today?Confronting the issues of poverty and inequality, tackling climate change and taking swift and concerted action to prevent a disastrous increase of more than two degrees Celsius in average atmospheric temperatures.
Do you have any other new projects underway?
A paper of mine on the ethics of geo-engineering is due to be presented at the World Congress of Philosophy at Athens in August 2014; but to travel there would involve too great an increase of my own carbon footprint, and so that paper will be presented by a friend.
Pub date: 8th March 2012 (UK), 10th May 2012 (US)
Price: £65/$130 (Hardback) £19.99/$34.95 (Paperback)
If you'd like to find out more, take a look at Ethics: An Overview on its preview site. The book’s companion website is also available, even without purchase of the book, and includes summaries, reading lists, and PowerPoint presentations for each of the twenty-eight sections. You can purchase a copy of the book, and read about our other great ethics titles, on our website.