The Church Newspaper (available online at www.churchnewspaper.com SUNDAY, MARCH 31, 2013 No: 6170)
Peter Vardy is well known to many involved in teaching Religious Studies. He runs popular day conferences for students in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Hong Kong; he has produced a number of scholarly but accessible books on ethics and the philosophy of religion; and he has written articles for educational publications and taken part in broadcast discussions.
Now he has produced a new book on ethics in conjunction with his wife, Charlotte, who helps him to run the Candle Conferences for RS students. In ‘Ethics Matters’ the authors look at both ethical theory and at practical moral questions. Natural Law, Utilitarianism, Kantianism, intuitionism, relativism, and situation ethics are all examined before the focus falls on abortion and stem cell research, euthanasia, business ethics, environmental ethics, the ethics of warfare, and freedom and conscience.
This is a comprehensive survey that is always clear and accessible and strives to be fair to different points of view. Anyone involved in teaching RS will find this an excellent resource and it is a book that students at AS and A level should be able to use. The authors do offer their own opinions butthey do so in a way that does justice to other points of view. Although he is not a Roman Catholic, Peter Vardy was for many years Vice-Principal of Heythrop,the Jesuit college thatis part of the University of London.
This is both a disadvantage and an advantage.
It is a disadvantage in that the authors show less familiarity with works by Anglican and Protestant writers than they do with works by Roman Catholics. On environmental ethics there is no reference to the work of Richard Bauckham challenging the concept of stewardship and on abortion there is no consideration of Michael Banner’s work. The Protestant ethics of such theologians as Karl Barth, Oliver O’Donovan, James Gustafson and Stanley Hauerwas are never mentioned.
The advantage is that the authors are familiar with debates in Roman Catholic theology over such issues as natural law and proportionalism and are able to explain the issues clearly. They draw on Richard Gula’s work to distinguish between Ulpian’s approach to natural law based on how humans do behave and the approach of Gaius based on how humans should behave. St Thomas Aquinas normally followed Gaius except when it came to sex where the influence of Ulpian is apparent. Gula concludes that Aquinas’ “vacillation between the ‘order of nature’ and the ‘order of reason’ has caused great confusion in Catholic moral thought.”
There is a good chapter on natural law theory today and on virtue ethics with discussion of Germain Grisez, John Finnis, Alistair MacIntyre and Bernard Hoose (on proportionalism). In discussing utilitarianism the authors examine the work of RM Hare, Peter Singer, JJC Smart and the criticisms of Bernard Williams. Close attention is paid to Kant’s work on ethics and some modern Kantians are briefly examined. There is an interesting section on Christine Korsgard’s defence of abortion from a Kantian perspective and a short discussion of Baroness Onora O’Neill. In the chapter on Situation Ethics attention is paid to the work of Protestant theologians. William Temple, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Joseph Fletcher are all discussed.
Although only Kant receives lengthy attention the authors are adept at weaving the many people they do discuss into a coherent narrative. Potted summaries of the work of many different philosophers are skilfully drawn together to make a bigger picture. There are references to films and books to illustrate the argument in a number of places. A website offers recommendations for further reading, questions for discussion and an anthology of primary texts. There is some reference to non-Christian religions but a surprising omission is any treatment of biblical ethics.
Within the confines in which they have chosen to operate, Peter and Charlotte Vardy have written a stimulating and readable book that is likely to be widely used.
The Church Times
Freedom for the thinkers…
Posted 1- May 2013 @ 00:12
Robin Gill finds this book a place to start, if not to end.
Peter Vardy has a long and impressive track-record for giving charismatic lectures and writing clear and incisive popular books on the Philosophy of religion and ethics. Before his retirement to Australia [??? where did this come from? ed.] he was Vice-Principal of Heythrop College, and well-known for his dazzling lectures to sixth formers.
His background as an entrepreneur in business sets him apart from many other academics. He is passionate about effective communication. Now, with his wife, Charlotte, a secondary school teacher, he has written a highly readable introduction to moral philosophy. If you are puzzled by utilitarianism, natural law, moral relativist and Kantian and virtue ethics, and wish to understand them better, then this is an excellent basic introduction.
Ethics Matters is divided into four sections. The first is quite short, introducing the concept of meta-ethics and looking in turn at truth in ethics, and moral realism and relativism. The Vardys illustrate many of their discussions with brief references to films and novels. The second part is the longest, with separate discussions of natural law, utilitarianism, situation ethics and Kantian ethics. The Vardys do not commit themselves at this point to any position. Instead, they set out the strengths and weaknesses of each of these positions.
In the third part, they show how these different positions might address particular issues such as embryonic stem-cell research, euthanasia, business and environmental ethics, and the ethics of warfare. All of these applications are fairly brief, but they do help to show how different moral positions function.
Only in the final section do the authors come slightly off the fence. There is a brief reference to one of Peter Vardy’s previous books What is Truth? (John Hunt, 2003) reaching the conclusion that “most people are, indeed, determined – they are like prisoners in Plato’s cave… but through philosophy and coming to self-understanding they may be able to come to freedom. Freedom therefore, is an achievement which few human beings manage to realize.”
This is not, perhaps, a very inspiring conclusion, and one that appears remarkably elitist, and takes little account of grace.
That apart, this is an introduction to recommend strongly to those wishing to get some grasp on the complexities of moral philosophy. It is a good place to start, even if its own conclusion is a bit weak.
Canon Gill is the editor of Theology
The Good Book Stall
Discerning the difference between right and wrong is rarely clear cut – especially if one is at the heart of the issue in question. Ethics Matters is a hugely valuable contribution to the minefield that is ethics in today’s complex world. It will prove of enormous practical help to teachers, clergy and students, but not exclusively so. This is a book that many will enjoy and benefit from reading.
In the first two parts of the book, the Vardys consider Meta-Ethics and Normative Ethics, surveying the broad variety of approaches that philosophers have explored from Plato onwards. Their ideas are presented in a clear and engaging way, a refreshing change for those of us who remember the stultifying trek through original sources at university. In the third section of the book, the Vardys turn their attention to applied ethics and consider the application of philosophical approaches to a variety of contemporary debates.
One such debate is euthanasia. The authors begin with a clear summary of the various categories of euthanasia and then reflect on the contemporary debate along the continuum from prohibition to acceptance in the light of natural law, proportionalism, situation ethics, Kantianism and Utilitarianism.
Ethics reveals our attitudes to life, but also to death and the relationship we perceive to exist between our physical life and the possibility of life to come. Peter and Charlotte Vardy approach all these issues with a balanced openness (posing questions rather than presenting dogma) that encourages the reader to think for themselves.
This is an excellent book which, with the accompanying website resource – is highly recommended.
from the Catholic Leader (Brisbane, Australia)
One of the formative forces in Australian Catholic education, over the last twenty years has been an English academic, Peter Vardy. He is a mixture of philosopher, theologian, author and public speaker. It is as the latter that thousands of secondary school students best know him as he tours the world explaining the intricacies of Catholic morality in an entertaining yet scrupulously honest manner. I remember, going back about six years, tutoring a senior student from one of our most prestigious girls’ schools. When I arrived at her house after her day in class, her usual, tired, anxious manner was replaced by a vibrancy I had not seen from her before. She told me of a school visit by a speaker who had brightened not only her day, but her whole attitude to life. She identified this wonder man as Peter Vardy. Having already being familiar with his work, her words only confirmed my own experience; but it was even more significant that this accolade came from a worldly teen who, until that moment, showed minimum interest in any kind of study, let alone matters of the spirit.
“Ethics Matters” is a valuable guide to the Queensland Studies Authority’s Study of Religion syllabus. Parts one and two relate to the theoretical details that underpin the systematic study of morality. Basic terms, concepts and principles are explained and the moral laws that govern our actions are analysed. In part three, theory becomes practice as it is applied to all the contemporary problems with which our youth are confronted. Abortion, Embryonic- Stem Cell research, euthanasia, the environment, war, and business ethics are comprehensively analysed. The striking aspect of this content is its integrity. Again let me use an anecdote as evidence. In July of last year I had the pleasure of attending one of Peter’s conferences delivered to an auditorium of our secondary school students. As is always the case, the speaker had them magnetised by his ideas and his delightful manner. After a particularly lucid explanation of the intellectual basis for Catholic thinking on abortion, one of the young people asked if there was compelling evidence to prove that life begins at conception. Dr Vardy’s answer was an overwhelming, ”No.” I was impressed that the response was so direct and so honest. Later, as the students and teachers reflected over lunch, I heard several comment on the speaker’s honesty which they found as impressive as his expertise.
This is written in conjunction with Mrs Vardy. It would be an ideal text book to complement the QSA course in Year 11 and 12 Study of Religion. Peter will be visiting again this year. Any Catholic school will be enriched by his presence or by attending any of his presentations.
Terry Oberg. 14 January, 2014.
Comments from teachers…
“An enlightening guide to those moral questions that don’t go away. It should go to every politician, civil servant, teacher and bishop; not to mention the rest of thoughtful humanity!” Dr. Kenneth Wolfe, former Head of Philosophy & Religion, Godolphin & Latymer School and Director, London Society for the Study of Religions
“We all think we know what is meant by right and wrong until pressed to give a plausible account of what me mean by these terms. This is where this book begins and eventually concludes. In between it offers an admirably clear account of the key strands in ethics from the classic thinkers, via the medieval theologians to the post-Enlightenment philosophers. Whether one is an for A Level student wanting a more sophisticated discussion of the ethical landscape or an undergraduate needing a very clear outline of the issues this book has the great virtue that it provides just enough to understand the scholarly debates but not so much to overwhelm.” Michael Wilcockson, A Level Chief Examiner & Head of Philosophy, Eton College, Berkshire
“Ethical theories are placed in their philosophical and historical contexts so much better than in other textbooks; set out in a more complete and interesting way whilst remaining highly accessible. This is the best introduction to Ethics at A Level bar none… ” Philippe Mathieu, Head of Divinity, The Leys School, Cambridge
“The authors draw upon a wide-ranging, up to date and excellent scholarship to achieve a lucid and eloquent exposition of the subject. The book gives the reader the confidence to understand the issues and participate meaningfully in ethical dialogue.” Rev. Andrew Stead, Chaplain, Aldenham School, Hertfordshire
“A most welcome book and a ‘must’ for every committed teacher and departmental library. I wish I had read it before now. Not only does it clarify theories, giving additional information but it offers valuable insights into how some ethical theories have greater similarities we have sometimes been given to understand and teach. Bright students will find this book accessible and helpful in raising grades.” Judy Grill, Head of Religious Studies, Churchers College, Hampshire
“Wow! I wish I could lock myself away for a few weeks and really do justice to the book. It makes me hope to win the lotto and go off and study philosophy without the cares of the ‘job’! Throughout this book the authors explore the universal themes of truth, freedom and conscience in ethics. Even the novice philosopher will find the book accessible.” Helen Smith, Director of Mission, St. Joseph’s College, Sydney
“My IB Philosophy students always find Peter Vardy’s books invaluable guides to enhance their knowledge. This new book is a ‘must have’ for all teachers and students of ethics. It is highly engaging and provides an extremely comprehensive guide which will increase the readers breadth and depth of knowledge.” Lucie Purves, Head of Philosophy, Sha Tin College, Hong Kong
” I thoroughly enjoyed it… Well laid out, thoughtfully written and clearly expressed, and provides a scholarly overview of the main three areas of ethics.” Andrew Wilkinson, Senior Tutor, Hampton School, Middlesex
For anyone wishing to wrestle with the key ethical issues of the 21st Century, ‘Ethics Matters’ is required reading. Ideal for the specialist and newcomer alike, as a stimulating, accessible guide it raises vital questions about the quality of future debate. In a world where relativism often goes untested, this book clarifies the alternatives. Our students find their own voice in this intriguing, indispensible work – highly recommended.‘ Esmond Lee, Head of Religious Studies, Trinity School, Croydon”