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Ethics is invented, not encountered—why the philosophy of JL Mackie remains essential reading

Born 100 years ago this month, we still have much to learn from the thinker’s work

By James Garvey  

“There are no objective values.” Not one to waste opening lines, that’s the startling first sentence of J L Mackie’s Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong. (He didn’t mince words in subtitles either.) An Oxford philosopher, born in Australia 100 years ago this month, his thoughts about metaphysics, logic, and causation still get a hearing in classrooms and conference halls. But what really grabs those inside and outside the ivory tower are his arguments for atheism and scepticism about ethics. His work, worth returning to as the anniversary approaches, is filled with arguments and…

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