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date: 15 May 2021

(p. v) Preface

(p. v) Preface

The very notion of the history of ethics can be understood in at least two ways, both relevant to this volume. First, and most obviously, it refers to past human thought and writing on how we should live. Second, it is the name for that sub-discipline in professional philosophy concerned with elucidating and criticizing that history. Taken as a whole, the chapters in this book aim to provide a broad, though not comprehensive, account of the history of western ethical thought from Homer until the present day, as well as to introduce the main lines of argument in professional history of philosophy from the last few decades on the topics at hand. That professional history, however, has been uneven. Significantly more attention has been paid to Aristotle than to Aquinas, say, or to Kant than to Rousseau. Nor has any balance between the two senses of history been prescribed for any particular contributor. Some have preferred to concentrate more on past thought than on its recent interpretation, others less. The same freedom has been extended to the authors of chapters which focus on themes, such as autonomy or relativism, rather than on individual thinkers or schools.

Knowledge of past ethical thinking may be worth having in itself. But even if it is, that knowledge is valuable also as a resource for answering the fundamental questions of ethics themselves. So authors have been encouraged to bring out ways in which the lines of argument they address may be relevant to contemporary philosophical ethics.

I wish to thank all contributors for providing such outstanding chapters, and for their perseverance. I am grateful in particular to earlier contributors for their patience; Peter Momtchiloff at Oxford University Press deserves thanks for this reason also, and for having the idea for the volume in the first place. For invaluable assistance during the final stages of publication, I am indebted to Tobias Beer, Daniel Bourner, and Christopher Malone.