We encounter ethical challenges on a day to day basis in matters that involve what we call ethical values. Some of these challenges affect us as individuals but seem beyond our power to influence, such as a political decision about whether our nation should go to war. Other momentous ethical questions confront us in particular situations, such as when a road accident leaves a loved one brain damaged and medical practitioners seek our permission to turn off life support. Understanding Ethics introduces the frameworks of moral philosophy to analyse contemporary moral issues and perennial human dilemmas.
While the early chapters of ethical theory remain substantially the same, the rest of the book is expanded with updated references, new case studies and an improved index. The new edition examines particular issues which reflect many of the social, scientific and cultural changes of the last decade, especially in an Australian context.
Understanding Ethics is constructed in three sections.
- Part A introduces the nature, language and frameworks of ethics concluding with a chapter on ethical decision-making.
- Part B explores topical applied ethics issues of interpersonal and social significance ranging through bioethics, sexual ethics, environmental ethics, business ethics, political ethics and questions of war and social justice.
- Part C considers how we learn ethics and cultivate a moral life by exploring ethics education in schools and the workplace and finally contains an examination of how we sustain our ethical commitments across a lifetime while experiencing constant change.
The Planet and the Environment
Global warming and energy policy
Population and poverty
Global citizenship and the Earth Charter
Stem cell research and cloning
Biotechnology and developing countries
Professional Life and Workplaces
The media and journalism
Teachers, schools and values education
Politics and Policy-making
Social justice in Australian society
Public sector ethics
Conflicts of interest and codes of conduct
Life, Love and Sexuality
Honesty and truthtelling
Same sex marriage
War, Terrorism and Violence
War including ‘just war’ theory
Terrorism and torture
How to use this book
Part A: What is Ethics?
The Ethical Challenge
Ethical Theory: An Overview
Responsible Ethical Decisions
Part B: What are the Issues?
Truthtelling and Honesty
Sex, Love and Morality
Life and Death: Bioethical Issues
War, Terrorism and Violence
Public Responsibility and Political Ethics
Ethics in Business and the Professions
A Global Ethic for a Global Society
Part C: How to Cultivate an Ethical Life
Sustaining the Good Life
Understanding Ethics explores what it means to lead an ethical life. There is no answer given – rather the book is a journey of various theories, concepts and ideas designed to test or create what an ethical life means to the reader.
The interface of ethics and the law is considered throughout all of these themes. The need for the law to provide certainty and to adapt to changing ethical viewpoints over time is explored, as is the idea that a person sometimes needs to ignore the law in order to be ethical – referencing Martin Luther King Jr’s campaign of civil disobedience against segregation as an example. Broadly the adequacy of international law is also examined as are more specific issues such as codes of conduct in the workplace.
The book is not dedicated to lawyers, but rather is for any person considering their ethical responses in the modern world. Read full review…
Claire Carton, Ethos, ACT Law Society, Dec 2014
Former United States Supreme Court Chief Justice Earle Warren said, “The law floats on a sea of ethics”. Throughout Preston’s book, he explains where the law and ethics interface. Topically, “the war on terror” raises the ethical question of when is it appropriate for one nation to interfere for moral purposes in the affairs of another nation? Preston’s book is an introduction to ethics covering a wide range of ethical conundrums. There are useful analyses of the ethics of honesty, sex and love, public responsibility, war and terrorism, and environmental issues. Preston has produced a highly readable text that is thought provoking and accessible.
Queensland Law Reporter, Oct  38 QLR
I would recommend Dr. Preston’s book as a standard textbook for university ethics, law, political science and business classes or at least a recommended one. Read full review…
Alexis N Gage, Hearsay, October 2014
Reviews of previous editions:
Preston provides a superb introduction to moral reasoning in a world where old certainties have vanished. His comprehensive coverage of contemporary modes of ethical reasoning, written in an elegant, accessible style, makes a marvellous text for law students learning to reflect upon law and its limits.
Sandra Berns, Griffith University
A book that aims to comprehend this difficult subject within an internally consistent framework. … the work affords a thorough and wide-ranging discussion of ethical dilemmas encountered in the endeavour to answer fundamental questions about how our lives are to be thought of and lived.The author has presented the structure of the book in a format of essentially three sections, directed respectively to the nature of ethics, applied ethics and in its later chapters, to a wide variety of topics, of which matters of life and death, public responsibility, politics and the global environment are examples. These culminate in a perspective on ‘cultivating an ethical life’. Throughout Dr Preston develops a benchmark which he calls ‘an ethic of response’ by which the philosophical and practical aspects, and thus the ethics of actions, may be evaluated. …
The book contains in its initial chapters a relatively brief but very useful description of various theories of ethics. This is augmented by a succinct glossary at the end of the volume. Each chapter concludes with a chapter review, a list of suggested further reading and, importantly, questions for discussion and case studies. …
Frank Armer, Alternative Law Jounral Vol 27 No 1
Many issues and themes that arise for consideration in this book lie at the heart of contemporary legal analysis: issues such as individual liberty, protection from harm, the promulgation of a just society; issues of social justice as determined by the “common good” and “public interest’; general principles of justice and fairness; the protection of human rights; exploration of matters of integrity, truthfulness and honesty; appropriate boundary setting for state interevention in a liberal democractic society; the recognition and management of conflicts of interest; and broader perspectives on acting in ways that are consistent with the duties entrusted to persons in professional roles.
Understanding Ethics … would serve well as an introductory text or as a reader for either tertiary or secondary teachers who come to the study of ethics from outside the discipline. It would also find an appreciative audience simply with anyone who is interested in these broader philosophical or contemporty moral questions. The text is easy to read, well written and thoughtfully organised.
Understanding Ethics should be recommended reading for all legal graduates-in-training.
Sally Kift, 2001 QUT Law and Justice Journal, 1(2) 317