Book Review: Talking About Ethics: A Conversational Approach to Moral Dilemmas

By Michael S. Jones, Mark J. Farnham, and David L. Saxon

Teaching ethics presents numerous challenges. If we spend a lot of time on ethical theory, the result can quickly become glazed-over looks and loss of attention. But if we move directly into applied ethics, we run the risk of coming to conclusions about various issues without ever really understanding what thought processes we are using in the process. And that leads to the quandary of trying to determine how deep to go into ethical systems and philosophies based on the context of the group you are working with. Talking About Ethics goes a long way towards correcting these issues. 

The authors begin with a short section on ethical theories. This lays the foundation for the rest of the work. It is long enough that readers will receive a basic overview of various ethical theories but short enough that it doesn’t get introductory readers lost in the weeds. After the first chapter, the book turns into a story-based interaction with various ethical issues. The chapters follow several friends who are all taking the same Ethics class and who gather regularly to discuss various ethical issues. This format lends a story-like quality to the book and makes the chapters very easy to read. 

The book divides ethical issues into four general categories: Humanitarian Issues, Medical Ethics, Marriage and Sex, and International Issues. Within each section are a number of chapters that focus on very specific issues such as abortion, gay marriage, and climate change. 

This is a very strong intro-level ethics book. The chapters are very well written, and one of the nice features of the work is the sheer number of footnotes and extra resources listed that give the reader plenty of sources for deeper research on specific issues or theories. This is helpful because the book is NOT a Christian ethics book. The intent is not to give believers a worldview for approaching ethical issues. It is a general overview of the field of ethics. This is an important distinction to make so that confusion is avoided. Multiple ethical theories are applied to each ethical issue in a way that would make this work accessible in both Christian and secular contexts. In a way, this is another strength of the book. The reader is forced to look at issues through the eyes of those who profess faith in Christ and those who deny the existence of God.

Like most books that have multiple authors, the chapters can at times be a little unequal in quality, but there is a remarkable level of consistency throughout the book. The chapters that deal with issues that are moral and biblical are addressed more clearly from a biblical perspective than those that are more purely social in nature. For example, the chapter on abortion is very well written. 

Overall, Talking About Ethics is well written and would be a great resource for an intro-level Ethics class on the college or seminary level, personal study, or a small group or Sunday School class in the local church. It really is that versatile and beneficial. 

I received a free copy of this book from Kregel Publishing in exchange for a fair and honest review.