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AC Grayling surveys the essential literature from Plato to Bernard Williams

By AC Grayling   July 1996

Ethics is the enquiry into how one should live. Two related questions identify its task: What is goodness? How ought one to act? It can usefully be defined as the attempt to answer the sceptic who asks: Why be moral?

As a systematic enquiry, ethics began in ancient Greece. Some of the Sophists argued that morality is a man-made convenience, and cannot therefore be binding; the rational course is to pursue one’s own interests. Plato responded in the Republic that possession of virtues such as justice and courage promotes the good life, consisting of harmony in the soul. Virtue is…

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