I recently received an e-mail from a former student proposing a good question: She had recently begun trying to read the contemporary literature in philosophical ethics (the sorts of things you’d find in journals like Ethics, Philoosphical Studies, Mind, Journal of Philosophy, etc.), and needless to say she felt a little lost, as so much of the literature presupposes working knowledge of certain texts, claims, and arguments. She then requested a list of the ten books that would be most valuable in trying to understand the literature in contemporary (analytic) ethics.
Here’s my list, in no particular order. My criteria were those books that have done the most to set the agenda for subsequent research, or that do a particularly good job illuminating the core issues and disputes. Since she was interested in contemporary work, I set myself the arbitrary deadline of books published in the last 25 years. These are not necessarily the works that reflect my own philosophical positions, but the ones that would best help a relative neophyte understand the current literature:
Parfit, Reasons and Persons
Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy
Smith, The Moral Problem
Korsgaard, The Sources of Normativity
McNaughton, Moral Vision
Scanlon, What We Owe to Each Other
Scheffler, The Rejection of Consequentialism
Gibbard, Wise Choices, Apt Feelings
Brink, Moral Realism and the Foundations of Ethics
Harman, The Nature of Morality (this misses my own 25-year cutoff by two years)
Some runners-up: Herman, The Practice of Moral Judgment; McDowell, Mind and World; Dancy, Practical Reality; Rawls, Political Liberalism; Darwall, Impartial Reason; Nagel, The View from Nowhere; Anderson, Value in Ethics and Economics; Slote, From Morality to Virtue.
Anyone want to propose their own list?