PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION

THIS BOOK is inevitably the victim of the author’s over-numerous intentions. The most workaday of these is simply to provide some historical background and perspective for the reading of those selected texts which form the core of the study of moral philosophy in most British and American universities. In particular I wanted to give some account of Greek thought for those undergraduate students restricted to the treadmill of Hume, Kant, Mill, and Moore. But this apparently simple intention is complicated by my views of the nature of moral philosophy. A discussion limited to an account of philosophical themes, omitting all reference to the moral concepts for the elucidation and reconstruction of which the theories were elaborated, would be absurd; a history not only of moral philosophies but also of moral concepts and of the moralities embodying and defined by these concepts would fill thirty volumes and thirty years. I have therefore continually compromised, and nobody will be satisfied with the result. I certainly am not.

No one could write in English on the history of moral philosophy and not feel awed by the example of Henry Sidgwick’s Outlines of the History of Ethics, published in 1886 as a revision of his Encyclopaedia Britannica article, and intended primarily for the benefit of ordinands of the Church of Scotland. The perspective of my book is necessarily very different from that of Sidgwick, but the experience of writing has increased my admiration for him. In his journal he wrote, “Went up to London yesterday to see Macmillan about a stupid blunder in my outlines. I have represented a man whom I ought to have known all about-Sir James Mackintosh-as publishing a book in 1836, four years after he was dead! The cause of the blunder is simple carelessness-of a kind that now seems incredible.” Somewhere in this book I am sure that there must be more than one example of an equally simple carelessness. It will not, however, be about Sir James Mackintosh-who does not appear. For, like Sidgwick, I have had not only to compress but also to select. I am unhappily aware, too, that on very many points of disputed interpretation, I have had to take a point of view without being able to justify it. I could not be more certain that students of particular authors and periods will be able to find many faults.

My debts are many: in general, to philosophical colleagues and pupils at Leeds, Oxford, Princeton, and elsewhere; in particular, to Mr. P. F. Strawson, Mrs. Amélie Rorty, and Professor H. L. A. Hart, who read either the whole or parts of the manuscript and made of this a better book than it would otherwise have been. To them I am profoundly grateful. I am especially conscious of how much in general I owe to Princeton University and to the members of its Department of Philosophy, where I was Senior Fellow to the Council of the Humanities in 1962-63 and Visiting Professor in 1965-66. This book is in no way adequate to any of these debts. I must also thank Miss M. P. Thomas for all her secretarial help.

ALASDAIR MACINTYRE